Altidore celebrates a goal versus Mexico/Getty Images
As the excitement of Jozy Altidore’s sale to Villarreal FC begins to fade and we take a longer term view of Altidore’s prospects of developing for the US National Team, questions must be asked. Despite the lofty sale price, the most ever received by Major League Soccer, Altidore has seemingly tailed off in his development since last year’s FIFA U-20 World Cup. While he gave a few credible performances for the senior US National Team earlier this year and scored a goal against Mexico in Houston, his focus seems to be missing. Altidore’s performance in the CONCACAF U-23 Olympic qualifying tournament was below par and quite honestly had Freddy Adu not been so dominant in those matches the US likely would not have qualified for this summer’s Beijing Olympics.
Altidore’s performances with his former MLS club side in New Jersey hasn’t been up to the lofty standards expected either. This season quite honestly he’s been in the bottom tier of starting strikers in the league. But at only 18, he was still by a number of years the youngest starting forward in MLS. Moreover, the tactical setup of Juan Carlos Osorio wasn’t conducive to his talents, and the constant rumors of transfers certainly took its tool on Altidore’s psyche.
Last week, Ives Galarcep wrote a piece for ESPN Soccernet about the loss of focus by Altidore. While I agree with many of the arguments in the piece, I have spoken to a number of people here in Altidore’s home area, south Florida who were involved with Altidore’s development at the youth level. Every single person I have spoken to is of the opinion that he remains a driven individual with a clear understanding what it takes to succeed at the highest levels of the game. I have even been told the thing that most set Altidore apart from the other talented youth players both in south Florida and at the Bradenton Academy was his attitude and his embrace of every bit of teaching and criticism that goes on at the youth level.
But what has become obvious is that Altidore has hit a wall in his development. His performances a year ago at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Canada while outstanding were simply another example of a young American excelling in a youth tournament. More impressive was Altidore’s performances in MLS beginning in October 2006 when he was still only 16. But now almost two years later MLS seems to have caught up with the young phenomena and Altidore is quite frankly one of just many touted youngsters that heads to Spain as a teenager. But to continue his development Altidore had to leave New Jersey. He didn’t have to necessarily leave MLS as history has taught us Americans who go to Europe at a young age don’t always effectively develop due to various factors, but he had to move somewhere.
Will Europe chew up and spit out Altidore as it has so many hyped American teenagers in the past such as Jovan Kirovski, John Thorrington, Kenny Cooper, Jonathan Spector, Zac Whitebread, Gabe Ferrari and many many other lower profile American players? Or will Altidore join John O’Brien and possibly Michael Bradley as the only true development successes among Americans who went to the continent or British Isles as a teenager? My bet is on the later as Altidore appears more driven and a far more finished product than any of the previous names I mentioned. That’s why Altidore was sold for a fee upwards of $11 million by MLS, almost twice the previous high transfer fee for an MLS player.
Whatever the case Altidore is now behind in his quest to stake a claim to the starting strikers spot for the US National team as qualifying begins. Altidore has also fallen behind fellow teenager Freddy Adu as the great hope for US Soccer. That may be a good thing as the amount of pressure put on Altidore to revive a failing national team was quite frankly unfair for someone so young. If Altidore develops adequately in Spain and the US qualifies for the 2010 World Cup, Jozy Altidore much like Landon Donovan before him in 2002, could at 20 years of age make a big impact on the world’s biggest stage.