2014 FIFA World Cup, 32 players to watch, Featured, June 2014

32 Players To Watch In Brazil: #20 Jozy Altidore

Altidore can be brilliant. The US need him to be.

Altidore can be brilliant. The US need him to be.

Guy Bailey

If the United States are to do any damage in the “Group of Death”, they’ll need a player who scored two goals in an entire season while playing forward to lead the line. Naturally, this makes Boca Raton, Florida product Josmer Altidore a player of import, and a player to watch, in the World Cup, which starts next week. 

So much has been written about Altidore stateside that the “American fan and sportswriter” view on Altidore is well-known. We thought we’d ask our resident “Whiney Limey” to give us the view of Altidore from across the pond. Sometimes it helps to view an American player through the lens of another country, no?

Before diving into this piece, see how these pieces work by reading our piece on player to watch #21, Everton and England left back and hipster hero Leighton Baines. Is he the Fifth Beatle?

Number: 20

Country: USA

Position: Striker

Club Team: Sunderland

American-Based Professional Sport ‘Soulmate’ – Tim Tebow

Jozy is a perennial enigma for US, English and Dutch football fans alike. You don’t get to play in the MLS, La Liga, EPL, Eredivisie and now at a World Cup by luck – you have to have some talent, drive and focus yet for a man with 84 senior goals to his name, Jozy does more than occasionally look like a Nebraska John Deere mechanic who won a write-in competition to be a footballer.

Blessed with all the attributes necessary for a modern centre forward, pace, power, intelligence and height, he somehow seems to be less than the sum of his parts when the calibre of the opposition rises to at least his equal.

Bursting onto the MLS scene in 2006, he wrote his name in the record books becoming the youngest player to score in the MLS playoffs with the New York Metrostars spending three seasons before heading to Europe like many of his compatriots. He first went to Villarreal in La Liga, making only nine appearances for the Yellow Submarines who were suitably diving into the second division at the time so Jozy was loaned out for the subsequent years of his contract to Xerez in Spain, Hull City in the EPL where he played 28 times scoring once, and Buraspor in Turkey where he only took 12 games to score his customary solitary goal.  He tried his luck in HOlland next with a move to AZ Alkmaar and whether it is the laid back Dutch defending or the heady atmosphere of the Amsterdam coffee houses, something certainly agreed with him as he started to wrack up the strikes that every stat and experience told you he was capable of. 39 goals in 67 starts including 22 in 2011/12 and another 23 in 2012/13 becoming the leading scorer in AZ’s successful KNVB cup run with 8 goals including the winner in the final against PSV Eindhoven. He became the first American to be voted into De Telegraaf’s Team of the Season.

Like most American’s however, Jozy is not content being a flat-track or flat-country bully and wanted to test himself again at the highest level so made the move to the UK’s rust belt North East and Sunderland where he would first work under certifiable Paulo Di Canio and later Gus Poyet as they had a topsy turvy season, losing to Manchester City in the League Cup Final and escaping from the bottom three with an incredible run of results including wins at Chelsea and Manchester United.  Sadly for Jozy, the curse of the single goal struck again, despite it being against Chelsea, he didn’t score again this season. He is currently still at Sunderland but any reasonable bid coming in and as my Sunderland supporting friend dubs him, he’ll be Jozy Outthedoory.

Dominant on one level. A mystery on another.

Dominant on one level. A mystery on another.

His  International pedigree looks a little brighter though, still holder of most consecutive scoring games for the USMNT, he is the central lynchpin to the striking formation and does hold the ball up well enough but in this year’s ‘Group of Death’ against teams like Portugal, Ghana and Germany, all of whom know how to defend and can roll out centre backs as physically imposing and nasty as he is, will it be enough?

I drew the comparison with Tim Tebow deliberately as an athlete who excelled at his own level, as the star and iconic quarterback at the University of Florida, yet struggled when pitched into the class above, although as we all know, when he got on a roll, sheer force of will and refusal to lose kicked in over and above natural ability and he will always have two collegiate national championships, the 2007 Heisman Trophy, the 2008 Walter Camp Award and the 2009 Maxwell Award, as well as a playoff victory to his name.  Maybe Jozy’s Steelers/Broncos game is going to come in Brazil after all?  Maybe if he looked in the mirror and started to believe, then by the time he turned back into Clark Kent, Superman would have done his damage already.

Good luck Jozy. Perhaps you can capture, once again, some of this magic…

Guy Bailey writes on the Barclay’s Premier League for The Yanks Are Coming. Want more Guy Bailey? We highly recommend his new book, Blessay From America, a collection of writings made while living in America, where he married a southern belle and saw his son born, which you can purchase here.  Guy will also be part of TYAC World Cup coverage.  Follow him on Twitter at @guyrbailey.

Guy Bailey