SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Heading into Wednesday night, Jozy Altidore had only one thing on his mind.
The USMNT forward simply wanted to lift a first, and overdue, trophy while representing his country at Levi’s Stadium after what has been an up and down 10-year international journey. Despite it not being a fruitful decade in terms of international silverware, being a valuable veteran in top form placed him only a phone call away from optimizing his chances to end his cup drought weeks prior to Wednesday night.
“Yeah I was excited, I was obviously waiting for [a phone call from Bruce Arena],” Altidore told SBI. “He told us to be prepared, so I was just sitting at home waiting if he needed us. And I’m really happy (I got the call) because I wanted to come in and win this championship.”
Since rising to the USMNT scene in 2007, it has been no problem for Altidore to cement his place as one of the better attacking options with 39 goals to his name. But his reoccurring injuries prior and during massive tournaments have been the crux of it all.
In 2011, a hamstring injury kept Altidore out of the Gold Cup, and two years later the forward was absent yet again. Fast forward to 2014, he missed a chunk of the World Cup due to another hamstring injury, which reappeared a year later during CONCACAF’s big tournament as well as in 2016 prior to the Copa America Centenario.
In particular, 2013’s edition of the Gold Cup stung the most for Altidore, who was pulled out by Jurgen Klinsmann prior to the knockout stages and replaced by an DaMarcus Beasley. The USMNT’s conquering of the Gold Cup then was only salt in the wound for the forward.
“Only one, only one, only ’13,” Altidore said on the absence that hurt the most due to his injuries. “And to be fair, some of the guys (that) had been with the team were with the qualifiers.
“But still, to watch those guys with the trophy and knowing a lot of the guys had won it before and I hadn’t been able to win it, it’s tough,” Altidore added. “To get one now, I’m very happy, very content and I just want some more.”
Arena did confess that Altidore was almost kept back from returning to the field after Wednesday’s first half. But only a stretcher could have done that to the man had trophy-chasing for 107 games.
“I’ve been dealing with a knee problem that I had since January,” Altidore said. “It’s been bothering me, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed with some painkillers.”
So far, 2017 has not been as cruel to him.
The fact that Toronto FC’s big man was not only able to lift an international cup after years of being cut short, but to deliver a stupendous world-class free kick goal to help overcome that nightmare, means the world to him.
“It means a lot,” Altidore told a gaggle of reporters following the USMNT’s Gold Cup glory. “I mean people from the outside might take it for granted but we as players: you don’t get a lot of chances to win trophies.
“For me, I haven’t been able to be a part of some really big moments the past few years,” Altidore added. “To me, this is a massive moment. I’m really happy that I got to share, my family was here and it means a lot to me.”
As for what’s next, being a part of a winning team is what really captivates Altidore despite the USMNT being heavy favorite from the get-go. At the end of the day, the veteran forward is only 27-years-old and when healthy, it evident he can be the USMNT’s difference.
“It’s up there,” Altidore said on where the win ranks in his career. “Obviously, we are one of the bigger teams in the region, we are always expected to make the finals.
“But for me just to be a part of it (means a lot). There was a lot of games in the past two, three years that I wish I could have been a part of, but I wasn’t able to. I feel like I add something to this team when I’m on the field (and) to kinda show that, means a lot to me.”