Tuesday, October 27, 2009
It has been almost a year since Jozy Altidore became the first American ever to score a goal in a Spanish La Liga match, but the journey for the young striker since then has been a series of peaks and valleys.
Altidore netted the historical goal last November 1st in Villarreal's 1-4 victory over Athletic Bilbao at the legendary Estadio San Mames in the Basque Country.
The native of Livingston, New Jersey also saw quality minutes in five other matches for the Comunidad de Valencia club before being loaned to Spanish second division club Xerez in January of this year.
Despite only getting to spend the first part of last season with Villarreal, Altidore still credits his time in southeastern Spain as playing an integral role in his career development in addition to the history-making score.
"It was pretty cool to score the first American goal in La Liga," Altidore recounted to YA. "I had some great opportunities while at Villarreal and I was happy to be a part of the team. My teammates there were very positive and enthusiastic and helped me out alot."
Altidore was also quick to to reference two veteran teammates who helped show him how to improve his approach to the game.
"Guys like Robert Pires and Marcos Senna made a big difference. They're very professional… it's hard coming to a new country and they went out of their way for me. Marcos is a great guy and a great friend. Every team needs a guy like him," added Altidore.
The former New York Red Bull then faced a rocky spring while at Xerez. Villarreal loaned the 19 year-old to the Andalusian club with the agreement that Altidore would see more playing time.
As it turned out, Xerez coach Esteban Vigo decided that he could do without the US international who never saw a minute of action with the club. The low point came in April when Altidore finally got the nod to suit up for Xerez in what many thought would be his debut with the team.
With Xerez sporting a comfortable second half lead over Hercules, Vigo had ample opportunity to bring in Altidore in a non-pressured situation, but the Garden State resident never got the call, much to his chagrin.
"I was ready and fine for that Hercules game," said an adamant Altidore. "I was ready to play but Esteban didn't feel like I could contribute anything so there was really nothing I could do about it."
A toenail operation followed in the days after the match and soon, Altidore was headed back to the US to begin preparation for his breakout performance at the Confederations Cup where he scored the game-winning goal versus then world number one Spain in the semifinal.
Having the opportunity to score against some of his Villarreal teammates, notably Spanish defender Joan Capdevilla, was certainly a source of amusement for Altidore.
"Yeah, it was pretty funny that I had an opportunity to play against guys that I knew from Villarreal," he laughed. "It was really a great win for us and for soccer in this country."
The performance in South Africa by the former US Under-20 star perked the interest of clubs from all around Europe who began inquiring for his services.
With former Villarreal coach Manuel Pelligrini called on to coach the ‘galacticos' at Real Madrid, ex-Espanyol coach Ernesto Valverde took the reins and expressed his desire to loan out Altidore for another season.
Clubs from all parts of Europe were rumored destinations until English Premiership club Hull City finally stepped forward and locked down a deal for the American.
Altidore's start with Hull could not have been better as his first touch on the ball was an assist on a goal scored by Algerian forward Khamel Ghilas in a win over Bolton. Less than a week later, the ex-MLS man notched his first goal in a Carling Cup victory over Southend United.
Hull head coach Phil Brown now elects to use the former Red Bull regularly as a second half substitute which helps keep Altidore locked into the match and ready to rekindle the team's attack.
"Coming off the bench allows me to watch and take in the match so I know what I need to do to provide a spark for the team. I do what I can to make an impact when I'm playing. The key thing is maintaining a mental focus and always being ready to contribute," explained Altidore. "I'm really focused on the now and I'm just looking to play any chance I get."
Another aspect of Altidore's career that continues to evolve is his interest in connecting with fans via social media outlets such as Twitter.
Although his recent 'tweet' about apologizing for arriving late prior to last Saturday's match against Portsmouth ended up landing him in hot water with the club, Altidore, along with players like Maurice Edu, Charlie Davies, Freddy Adu, Stuart Holden and Damarcus Beasley all represent a generation of young American players who are leveraging technology to expand US Soccer's fan base.
"Soccer has to make that great crossover to other fan bases and I think we've been able to do that. We're a very urban group, we're of this generation and we're bringing in fans. It's important for us to make new fans and using Twitter is a great way to reach out," he concluded.
Altidore will look to rebound from missing last Saturday's match when Hull next face newly-promoted Burnley this coming weekend.