BY DAVE MARTINEZ
On the club level, Jozy Altidore couldn’t ask for a better 2012. He currently leads his side with 11 goals, is second in assists (3), first in minutes played, top of the list with shots on goal and has become an invaluable part of the AZ Alkmaar system.
The same can’t necessarily be said on the National stage. Though his assist against Italy contributed largely to one of the most talked about results of the year, and his recent outing against Russia was inspired, his stats under the Jurgen Klinsmann regime are less impressive.
The dichotomy of his situation has Altidore aiming high for the new year.
“I’m just trying to be consistent, that’s my biggest thing,” Altidore told SBI. “I always said to myself coming into this year I just want to be consistent and kind of help the team anyway I can and be a consistent scoring threat. Now, I had done that for most of 2012 (with AZ) and I have the challenge of taking that into next year and trying to do the same thing for the second half of the season.”
Altidore was off to a blazing start in the first half of the Eredivisie season, but situations weren’t positive on all fronts. Even as he led AZ with seven goals in eight matches to kick off the campaign, Klinsmann elected not to call up Altidore for two crucial World Cup Qualifying semi-final matches against Antigua and Barbuda and Guatemala.
The exclusion shocked many in U.S. Soccer circles. Despite his lack of production under Klinsmann, Altidore is widely considered one of the very best forward options for the National Team.
The news didn’t really stir the young striker.
“I wasn’t shocked at all,” he recounted. “I think that it’s normal when you have a National Team that has a lot of good players. Sometimes you just don’t get called in. It’s just the way of the beast. I wasn’t shocked at all. I just used it as a way that I can use to work harder and try to get back to the team.”
Many speculated that was the reasoning behind Klinsmann’s decision in the first place. As it turns out, Altidore may agree with that sentiment. “He just wants to push everybody,” he said. “He just wants everybody to be the best he can be and I am no different. He just wants everybody, all his players to kind of push more and more. His message he sent across to all the players. He always wants to push us to be better – that’s all he is trying to do.”
When asked about the differences between the former Bob Bradley regime and Klinsmann’s reign, Altidore gave a rounded view of the situation.
“I think Bradley – we were with Bradley a long time – he obviously had more of an understanding of all the players, what he expected, how we are going to play,” he recalled. “I think we are still trying to find ourselves a bit with Klinsmann. Hopefully we can do that as soon as we can. With the hex coming around, hopefully the guys that are a part of that team can kind of put the pieces together.
“I think it’s still a work in progress and I still think we are trying to understand each other better.”
While he tries to streamline his production on both ends of the playing spectrum, his club play continues to garner the most attention. Last summer he was the subject of considerable interest, and another strong season will only make the list of top European clubs interested in his services a longer one.
“The interest is nice but at the same time I’m just worried about my AZ play,” he explained. “I’m obviously not thinking about that. I am just worried about AZ and playing there. Just trying to be a part of what they have moving forward. I am really comfortable there. The team has big plans for the future and if AZ wants me to be a part of those plans, I’d love to be a part of those plans. I’m just trying to improve myself as a player and build on what we’ve done the last two years.
“I have a great relationship with the coach,” he continued. “It’s an honest relationship. He is the type of guy that likes people to speak out with their actions. He respects that I work hard. He makes sure he has good vets in the team and everybody knows what to expect out of him and he expects us to know what to expect from him.
“We just try to play soccer. If you watch any of our games, we just play out of the back, try to bring out the opponent, we play soccer. It’s kind of two-three touch game and all around patience and when you get to the final thirty, you try to express yourself.”
That expression has allowed Altidore to blossom. Though his goals aren’t always of the highlight variety, they do exhibit signs of growth. He has developed an admirable left footed shot, become smarter off the ball and his awareness, as exhibited with the aforementioned assist against Italy, all point to the continued maturation of this 23 year old striker.
As the New Year approaches, Altidore will look to build on what he has already accomplished.
“Short and long term goals? To be healthy,” he said. “I just want to do that. I believe in my ability and I know if I am healthy through good or bad stretches, I think I can be successful. And just looking at it, I just want to be able to build upon what I’ve done over the past two years. Be consistent and keep it going in the right direction.”