Sunday, June 24, 2018
Sports

Jozy Altidore in spotlight for U.S. team in World Cup

SAO PAULO, Brazil — Jozy Altidore settled into a white plastic chair beneath a blazing sun at the U.S. team's World Cup training facility in Sao Paulo last week, sweat beading on his furrowed brow.

But he knew it was about to get much hotter.

Altidore has known feast and famine during a sometimes brilliant, sometimes brutal soccer career. And at his second World Cup, reporters pushed in to ask him, for the millionth time, why.

"Sometimes you go through times where you're not scoring. It's just like that," he said. "If things aren't going well individually, or you're not having as much success as you want, you just have to make sure that you're helping and you can add value other than that to the team."

Altidore brought the United States a lot of value June 7, scoring both goals in the team's final World Cup warmup, a 2-0 victory over Nigeria in Jacksonville. And that should be a good sign as the Americans open World Cup play today against Ghana, because when Altidore scores, the goals come in bunches. When he doesn't, the dry spells can last months.

He was 19 when his fourth goal in seven games beat top-ranked Spain in the 2009 Confederations Cup. But over the next four years, he scored only five times and got shut out in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. He rebounded last year with a team-high eight goals and was selected U.S. Soccer male player of the year. That came on the heels of a 31-goal season with Dutch club AZ Alkmaar.

Then Altidore joined Sunderland of the English Premier League, and his scoring went south again. He ended the season on the bench and in the midst of a six-month, 27-game scoreless drought for club and country.

Yet U.S. coach and former striker Juergen Klinsmann, a World Cup winner with West Germany, saw things he liked.

"He's sharp, he's hungry," Klinsmann said. "So we build on that. … Go out there and be hungry, and once you get an opportunity, you've got to put the ball in the net. I think he's on a really good path."

The path for Altidore started with his parents, Joseph and Gisele, Haitian immigrants who married and moved from Orange, N.J., to South Florida, where they raised four children.

All played soccer as kids, just for fun. But the fourth child, Josmer, was different.

When Jozy was 8, Josef Schulz, a former Austrian player and coach who ran a soccer academy, saw the boy playing and told his father that some day Jozy would play for the national team.

At 16, Altidore signed with the New York Red Bulls of MLS. From there he has played in Spain, England, Turkey, the Netherlands and England again.

All the while he became the sixth-leading scorer in U.S. history, with 23 goals. And he's just 24.

Today, as the Americans face Ghana — which knocked them out of the past two World Cups — Altidore looks to end an odd distinction: No U.S. striker has scored in the World Cup since Brian McBride in 2002.

If Altidore has proven anything, though, it's that sometimes dreams come true. And as for that latest dry spell, how's this for an omen: Natal, the northeastern city where the Americans play today, is known as Brazil's "City of Sun." But for the past three days it has poured.

"Nobody cares about what you did a year, two or three years ago," Altidore said. "It's what you do now that matters."

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