Hometown Hero: Jozy Altidore
By: Pedro Heizer
In 1998, while David Beckham played in his first World Cup, and Ronaldinho tore up the Brazilian league with skills that soon made him a World superstar, Jozy Altidore was an eight year old Boca Raton kid.
At a young age it was evident that Altidore had a natural talent as he would toy with children at the local parks. Josef Schulz, a longtime youth coach in Boca Raton, took note of Altidore when he was 8 years old while Altidore was playing a pickup game at Boca’s South County Regional Park and Schultz was amazed.
“I could not believe his maturity for a player his age,” Schulz said. “I’m from Europe. Soccer is my profession. I know what 8-year-olds normally look like, and Jozy was different. He had an awareness other kids his age didn’t have. I told his father, ‘I see something in your son, and I think someday he could make the national team.’ His dad laughed.”
“Schulz played a very pivotal role for me in my career in a time where soccer wasn’t so big here in the States,” says a grateful Altidore of what Schulz did for him.
As a middle school student at Loggers’ Run Middle School, Altidore harnessed his craft and after only one year he moved to Boca Raton Prep on a soccer scholarship.
At 15, Altidore left home for the U.S. Soccer Residency Program in Bradenton, FL. But, during that time not many knew about Jozy Altidore because of his counterpart, Freddy Adu.
“Despite what people might think, he [Freddy Adu] is one of my closest friends” says Altidore of his relationship with Freddy Adu
Unlike Adu, who drew immediate fame as America’s next big soccer star at age 14, Altidore stayed under the radar as a prospect until he was 16 when he was drafted by a Major League Soccer team.
“We weren’t even sure if I was going to go to the draft,” says Altidore “My mother wasn’t too fond of the idea of me playing professional soccer right away, she wanted me to go to college and get a degree.”
Nevertheless, in the end Altidore declared himself eligible for the 2006 MLS SuperDraft and was picked up 17th overall by the New York Red Bulls (formally known as the Metrostars).
Don’t be fooled, just because he was a Major League Soccer star, didn’t mean that it came without pain. “I would actually stay down here [in Boca Raton] during the week for school and fly to games in the weekends, practice with the team then play,” explained Altidore of his routine during his rookie year. Altidore only appeared in seven games in his rookie campaign.
Although he played only seven games, Altidore scored three goals and impressed the league in the next two years so much so that Spanish club Villarreal thought enough of the prodigy to pay $10 million for his rights, an MLS-record fee.
In Europe, Altidore never really got his feet off the ground as he had disappointing seasons from 2008 until 2010 in which he saw a decline in goals and playing time. He played with five teams during that stint and only appeared in 39 games and scored three goals.
“You go from being a big fish in a small pond to being a very tiny fish in a huge pond. That’s when your career really starts. You’re forced to get better quickly and you begin to understand that every day matters,” explained Altidore about the experiences he had with the European leagues.
“In Europe you have to put in the work every day to reach the highest level” recalls Altidore.
Altidore was called up to play for the United States Men’s National team as a 19 year old and hasn’t disappointed since he first donned the US Jersey.
On February 6, 2008, in a friendly versus Mexico, Altidore made his first start for the national team in which he also scored his first goal.
“It’s an honor playing for the country that has given me so much,” says a grateful Altidore “and scoring my first goal for the National Team is something I will never forget.”
In March of 2009, Altidore scored his first away goal in a 2–2 draw with El Salvador in a World Cup Qualifying match. In April, Altidore became the youngest American to score a hat-trick in an international game in a 3–0 victory over Trinidad and Tobago.
The following summer he appeared in every match the team played in the 2010 FIFA World Cup. No American forwards managed to score in the tournament, but Altidore played a major role in the tournament, getting an assist on Michael Bradley’s game-tying goal against Slovenia and putting a pass into the six yard box against Algeria that ultimately resulted in the game winning goal by Landon Donovan.
This past season, Altidore had by far his most successful season of his career. Signing with AZ Alkamaar in the Netherlands, Altidore appeared in 34 matches and found the back of the net 15 times.
“When I first came to Europe, I didn’t get the opportunity to play,” explains Altidore. “Now I’m more mature then when I first came to Europe and I now understand a lot more of what it takes to play at such a high level. I knew that if I was given an opportunity I would excel.”
Jozy Altidore and the rest of the United States Men’s National Team now set their eyes towards the 2014 World Cup in Brazil with the World Cup qualifiers that will go on from now until 2013 and Altidore is one of the main X-Factors for the United States if they expect to be playing soccer in Brazil for the Summer of 2014.
It seems like it was just yesterday that Josef Schulz was taking a walk around South County Regional Park here in Boca Raton and saw a remarkable eight year old play.
Schulz talked to the parents, convinced them to bring their soon-to be superstar son to play with him in the Schulz Academy here in Boca Raton and from then on, the rest is history. We are witnessing a hometown hero in the flesh, Jozy Altidore, forward for the US National Team.