Jozy Altidore is a wonderful soccer player from the neck down.  Unfortunately, he is gaining a deserved reputation as a player with a million dollar body and a ten cent brain.  Jozy needs to put away the twitter, stop with the silly antics on the field and become the outstanding professional he has the potential to be.  Otherwise, he is destined to become another American journeyman player in Europe whose only honors will be the Clint-Mathis-Memorial-What-Could-Have-Been Award.

Case in point was today’s game between Hull City and Sunderland.  Hull City is literally fighting for its survival, and if they had any chance of staying in the Premiership for next season, they needed to beat Sunderland at home today.  Three points were absolutely mandatory.  As Altidore took the pitch today, he knew that he needed to be sharp, poised and ready.  Hull have failed to test opposing goal keepers for the past few weeks, and with the striking corps weakened by the injury to Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink, Hull were relying on their young American to play a critical role in the attack.

Near the end of the first half with Hull down a goal, Altidore and Sunderland’s Alan Hutton were challenging for a ball in the air.  As the ball was heading out of bounds, Altidore awkwardly jumped into Hutton and wound up on the turf.  Hutton felt that Jozy was being a bit too aggressive on a ball that was heading out, picked up the ball and threw it into Altidore’s back.

At that point, Altidore had a few options:

  • He could have gotten up, stared at Hutton with a “Give me a f*&%ing break,” expression, and calmly waited for the referee to run over and give Hutton the card he clearly deserved. 
  •  If Altidore really wanted to directly confront Hutton he could have run over to him with his arms tightly clasped behind his own back so as to make sure that the referee saw he had no physical intent, and referred to Hutton’s mother in a particularly anti-social manner.
  •  Altidore could react like a complete loony and get himself sent off.

Altidore chose option three.  He went straight at Hutton and head-butted him, earning for himself a straight red and insuring that, with two games left in the campaign, Jozy’s season and likely his career at Hull are over.

The shame of it all is that, despite his one meager goal this season, Altidore’s play has improved tremendously.  He is holding the ball up much better than he ever has, and has become a far more difficult player to defend against.  His passing, control and hold-up play have all improved, and he is such a physical presence that, with his new-found skills, he is drawing a lot of fouls including creating several penalties for Hull.

However, all those skills are useless unless he can mature as a professional.  The USMNT’s last World Cup campaign was completely derailed by two red cards against Italy and a penalty call against Ghana.  International referees hand out cards at a higher rate than they do in England, and if the United States picks up cards this summer the way they did in last year’s Confederations Cup and 2006’s World Cup, they will be doomed.  Playing mature, intelligent soccer and avoiding cards goes hand-in-hand.  The US needs Altidore on the field and scoring goals, but cannot afford his unprofessional nonsense in South Africa.

Now that Hull is essentially relegated, the odds that they will buy Altidore’s contract from Villarreal are slight.  Instead, unless Altidore has a lights-out run in South Africa, Villarreal will struggle to sell Altidore or find a spot for him in their 2010/11 plans.  Altidore’s career looks set to hit a serious speed bump as he searches for a new team for next season.  He is being labeled the most dreaded of things – a “project.”  For Altidore to reach his potential, he needs to build up the muscle between his ears.  He has all the tools to be an outstanding player – but first he needs to work on becoming an outstanding professional.

UPDATE – Jozy has copped to losing the plot. “I’m so sorry about yesterday. Made a stupid, immature and costly mistake. I apologize to Hull City and the fans who I let down. I let my emotions get the best of me and lost my composure. Believe it or not this year playing for Hull was to date the best trip I’ve ever been on.”