An extra time defeat to its closest rival, while losing out on a place at the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup, was tough to swallow for the U.S. Men’s National Team on Saturday.
After a long day of travel from Los Angeles to Newark, N.J. on Sunday, the team began to move forward with a return to the training pitch Monday for their lone session ahead of Tuesday’s friendly against Costa Rica.
Undoubtedly, it’s a short turn around with little prep time, but with Tuesday being the team’s final match before kicking off the semifinal round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying in November, the game gives players a quick chance to move on from the defeat and demonstrate they belong in the team that will face St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad & Tobago next month.
“There’s always something on the line when you play for the National Team,” Jozy Altidore told ussoccer.com, “especially on the back of a heavy defeat, a heavy one to swallow against Mexico. That’s what’s great about soccer – the next one is always around the corner. Hopefully we’ll put in a good performance against Costa Rica and put our focus now on qualifying.”
Jozy Altidore holds of Danny Williams during a scrimmage as the USMNT prepares to face Costa Rica at Red Bull Arena on Oct, 13.
Having returned to the U.S. fold last month following a year-long international sabbatical, goalkeeper Tim Howard acknowledged that with the loss on Saturday and qualification looming, now is time for the MNT to put the last year in the past.
“The sky isn’t falling,” he told ussoccer.com. “This team is unified and we still have the resolve to want to get results and push for one another. We’re trying to pick ourselves up from the loss and make sure we get a result. Results are always important for the team, it allows you to feel good and November is about qualification and there are no more friendlies. It’s important that we have that mindset and that the senior players set the tone.”
With 104 caps, 29 of which have come in World Cup Qualifying games, Howard is the most senior of the 20-man U.S. roster. Still, following his year off, he has as much to prove as anyone after serving as a back-up to Brad Guzan the last three games.
“Every time you pull the shirt on, you’re given the opportunity to make a statement,” Howard continued. “I think you always have to reinvent yourself every World Cup cycle. Being a part of so many qualification cycles is a challenge because we know how hard it is. Us senior players that have been there before know it’s a gauntlet and it’s tough, it’s never easy.”
Though he’s far from the oldest player on the team, Altidore will begin his third World Cup Qualifying cycle next month, just days after his 26th birthday. Understanding the rigors of the two-year process, the striker agreed that Tuesday’s game against Costa Rica will be a good test before taking on the next journey.
“Every game is an opportunity,” agreed Altidore. “Every game with the National Team is a chance on the biggest stage to show that you belong. Is it hard sometimes? Absolutely, we’re human, but at the same time, going into this game, it’s another opportunity to showcase yourself, another opportunity to show the coaches that you are a guy that belongs in the heart of this team as we begin our run to the World Cup.”
As the U.S. Men’s National Team returns to Red Bull Arena for a third time on Tuesday, three players on the roster also come home to a place that helped launch their careers.
Goalkeeper Tim Howard, forward Jozy Altidore and defender Tim Ream, at different times, all began their professional careers in New Jersey with either the MetroStars or New York Red Bulls before progressing to European clubs.
Howard began his career with the North Jersey Imperials in 1997 before joining the MetroStars as a 19-year-old late in the 1998 season, doing so while living in his childhood home in North Brunswick, N.J. He’d go on to make 85 appearances for the club, winning back-to-back MLS Goalkeeper of the Year and Best XI selections in 2001 and 2002, before making a high-profile move to Manchester United in July 2003.
“I had a great start in professional soccer and my career has been nothing short of a dream for me,” Howard told ussoccer.com.
Howard has remained in England the last 12 years, moving to his current club Everton in 2006. Though he’s made over 300 appearances in one of the top leagues in the world for the Toffees, returning to play in front of friends and family near ‘the Big Apple’ still makes him anxious.
“It’s always hard for me to come home because I get so nervous playing in front of my hometown crowd,” he said. “I’m just happy to be back here playing in a beautiful stadium. Red Bull Arena was only a dream back when I was playing for the MetroStars. To see the fan base they’ve created is special. I’m a Jersey boy – I always will be and it’s nice to see the hometown team doing well.”
Howard training with the U.S. MNT ahead of its friendly with Costa Rica at Red Bull Arena on Oct. 13.
A heralded prospect with the U.S. U-17s following at the World Cup in 2005, Altidore, who was born in nearby Livingston, N.J. began his professional career as a 16-year-old with the Red Bulls the following season, finding early success with the club in 2007 when he scored nine goals in 22 matches.
That summer he also led the U.S. attack at the FIFA World Youth Championships in Canada, where he finished tied for third on the tournament’s Golden Boot list with four goals.
After making his full MNT debut in November 2007, Altidore scored his first international goal the following February in a 2-2 draw with Mexico. After two-and-a-half seasons with the Red Bulls and rising international interest, Altidore made his move to Europe, signing with Spanish club Villareal. After loan moves in Spain, England and Turkey, Altidore found success with AZ Alkmaar in Holland, where he scored 38 goals in 67 matches from 2011-2013. After a move back to England with Sunderland, Altidore returned to MLS this season, signing with Toronto FC.
Being back with both the National Team and Toronto FC affords Altidore numerous trips to Red Bull Arena, which he always looks forward to.
“It’s always great coming back here where it began for me professionally, there are a lot of memories in this city and a lot of good times with the fans,” he said. “It’ll be great to come back here and play a game here in front of a lot of family and friends.”
Following a collegiate career with Saint Louis University, center back Tim Ream was selected 18th overall by the Red Bulls in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft. Ream would play 58 matches in two seasons with the club, earning his first National Team call-up in his second season before transferring to Bolton Wanderers in early 2012.
After winning back-to-back Player of the Year awards with Bolton, Ream moved to Fulham in August. Now into his fifth season in Europe, Ream credited the Red Bulls with setting him on a path to success in his club career.
“For me being a rookie in 2010 and coming into a quality team really set the tone,” he told ussoccer.com. “Having a manager in Hans Backe who really wanted to play a different style than what was played here before – a more European style – it fit me personally.
“You bring in a guy like Thierry Henry and he automatically brings the level up,” he continued. “That was the foundation for becoming better as a player and a person on and off the field, trying to do the things he’s done throughout his career – obviously from a defender standpoint – it put me in a position to really succeed, not only here but across the pond in Europe as well.”
Beyond the joys a U.S. win against Mexico brings or the chance to lift a trophy, the biggest prize in Saturday’s CONCACAF Cup match is claiming the region’s berth at the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia.
Having morphed over the years from a four-team competition to one that moved around the world, since 2005 the Confederations Cup has found its home as a World Cup curtain raiser played the year before in the host nation. It has become an important piece of the international soccer calendar, with the nations that play in it getting a better all-around view towards the country they’re hoping to return to the following year.
“It’s a dry run for the World Cup,” said MNT captain Michael Bradley. “You get to spend time in the country a year before, you play in the stadiums, you stay in the hotels, you get a feel for what the weather is like and the way things work.”
Bradley’s experience came with the MNT at the 2009 Confederations Cup in South Africa, where the team’s mettle was put to the test after opening losses to Italy and Brazil. Looking like they’d head home early, the U.S. defeated Egypt 3-0 in their final group match and Brazil did the same to Italy; an unlikely combination of results that advanced the United States to the semifinals. From there, the team pulled off a stunning 2-0 upset against world No. 1-ranked and defending European champions Spain in the semifinal, and even went up 2-0 on Brazil before losing 3-2 in the final.
USMNT striker Clint Dempsey scores the opening goal against Brazil in the 2009 Confederations Cup final.
“The biggest thing about the Confederations Cup is the competition you get to play against,” said forward Jozy Altidore, who scored the game-winning goal against Spain. “Those teams you play against are usually the ones in the World Cup.”
“I think it gives you confidence,” said Dempsey, who scored in the semifinal and final. “You get used to the facilities, you get used to the environment, the atmosphere. We were able to advance from our group that year, and we were in a tough group.”
In fact, during the tournament’s three-week span, the MNT played five matches – four of which came against teams ranked in the Top 10 in the world – all in a competitive environment.
“Given the region we play in, the opportunity to play games against the best teams in the world typically only comes in the form of friendlies,” added Bradley. “Obviously they are important moments for us, but friendlies aren’t the same as real games. They’re not the same as tournament games where teams are trying to advance and win. For us, the chance to play in a mini-World Cup against the best teams in the world is a huge thing for us to keep pushing ourselves forward.”
Jozy Altidore and strike partner Charlie Davies celebrate Altidore's game winning goal against Spain in the 2009 Confederations Cup semifinal.
Ultimately, 15 of the 23 players that were on the 2009 Confederations Cup roster were part of the 2010 World Cup team which won its group for the first time since 1930.
“In South Africa we arrived for the World Cup feeling like we had been there before and we knew what to expect,” added Bradley. “You can’t understate how important that feeling is.”
Now a veteran presence at age 25, Jozy Altidore has added seasoning and sophistication to an already physically imposing game. He has developed range and positional sense in addition to superior body control. The two-time World Cup veteran moved into double digits in goals scored for the senior team, and is a critical part of the U.S. attack. After stints at five clubs in three years throughout Europe, Altidore found stability in 2011 with Dutch outfit AZ Alkmaar, where he finished with 51 goals in all competitions through two seasons and helped the team reach the quarterfinals of the 2013 UEFA Europa League. Following an 18-month spell at English Premier League side Sunderland, he returned to MLS and became a part of the massive project at Toronto FC.
- Named 2013 U.S. Soccer Male Athlete of the Year for his record-breaking performance during the year
- Set a U.S. MNT record by scoring in five straight games on his way to becoming joint top scorer for the U.S. in 2013 - tying Landon Donovan on eight goals
- His four goals in 2013 FIFA World Cup Qualifying gave him 10 total and moved him into a tie for fourth on the MNT’s all-time WCQ goals scored with fellow forward Brian McBride
- A critical force in the USA’s march to the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup final, scoring game-winning goals against Canada and Guadeloupe and earning Man of the Match honors in both games
- His assist on Michael Bradley’s game-tying goal against Slovenia in the 2010 FIFA World Cup voted Best Assist for 2010 Best of U.S. Soccer Awards
- Started all four 2010 World Cup matches, earning ussoccer.com Man of the Match honors in the USA’s 1-0 victory against Algeria
- Finished as the leading scorer for the U.S. in qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup with six goals
- Became the youngest player in U.S. Men’s National Team history to score a hat trick, tallying all three goals in the 3-0 victory in qualifying against Trinidad & Tobago on April 1, 2009, in Nashville
- Part of Peter Nowak's Under-23 side that qualified for the Olympics in Beijing and appeared in all three games at the Olympics, scoring during the 2-2 tie on Aug. 10 against the Netherlands
- Became the first U.S. international to score in Spain's La Liga when he grabbed a goal on Nov. 1, 2008, against Athletic Bilbao
2015: Named to the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup roster...Has played and started in six games for the MNT this year... Tallied the 27th goal of his career against Denmark on March 25, 2015, making him only three goals behind Brian McBride for fourth on the USA's all-time scoring list... Scored his 26th career goal in his 77th cap against Chile on Jan. 28, 2015... 2014: A bad hamstring strain suffered in the 23rd minute of the opening match against Ghana ended Altidore’s 2014 World Cup aspirations … He’d been on fine form in the lead-up, scoring a pair against Nigeria on June 7 in Jacksonville, Fla., in the final match of the Send-Off Series … Started and appeared in 10 matches … Scored in back-to-back matches against Honduras and third-ranked Colombia in London … 2013: With nine appearances (eight starts) and four goals in the 2013 Hexagonal, he has now amassed 26 career caps in World Cup qualifying and notched 10 tallies, tying for fourth on the USA’s all-time WCQ goals scored chart with Hall-of-Fame forward Brian McBride … Set a U.S. MNT record when he scored seven goals in five consecutive appearances from June 2-Aug. 14 … Handed the captain’s armband by head coach Jurgen Klinsmann for the first time in the team’s final 2013 FIFA World Cup Qualifier, a 3-2 win in Panama that handed the U.S. first place atop the Hex … Notched his second career hat-trick in an epic 4-3 comeback win at Bosnia-Herzegovina on Aug. 14 … 2012: Appeared in seven matches, starting three … Used his size and skill in the area to tee up Clint Dempsey for the game-winner in the historic 1-0 win against Italy on Feb. 29 in Genoa … Finished the year with a strong effort in the 2-2 draw against Russia on Nov. 14 in Krasnodar … 2011: Made 13 appearances for the MNT, scoring three goals to raise his career tally to 13 … Scored a penalty against Slovenia for the U.S.’s third goal in the 3-2 win on Nov. 15 … Played in four games in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, including the opening win against Canada when he converted a pass from Donovan in the 15th minute, and against Guadeloupe when he scored the game-winner in the ninth minute …. Earned Man of the Match honors for both games … A hamstring injury prevented him from playing in the final … 2010: Started all four matches at the 2010 FIFA World Cup … Registered an assist on Michael Bradley’s game-tying goal in the 2-2 draw on June 18 against Slovenia, knocking down a header to put the ball in the path of Bradley for the goal that kept the U.S. alive in the tournament … Earned ussoccer.com Man of the Match honors for his efforts in that game … Pushed his career goal tally to double digits, scoring on May 29 against Turkey in the Send-Off Series, tapping home a feed from Landon Donovan and in the 2-2 draw on Oct. 9 against Poland when he took down a great through ball from Jermaine Jones … 2009: Finished with a career-high 17 appearances and six goals … Earned back-to-back ussoccer.com Man of the Match honors by scoring in the 2-2 comeback draw on March 28 in El Salvador before potting a hat trick three days later at home against T&T in Nashville … Scored the game-winning goal against No. 1-ranked Spain on June 24 in the Confederations Cup semifinal, turning on Villarreal teammate Joan Capdevila before firing past goalkeeper Iker Casillas … Recorded his second game-winning goal in World Cup qualifying when he headed home a Donovan cross in first half stoppage time of the 2-1 win against El Salvador on Sept. 5 in Sandy, Utah … 2008: Earned his first start and scored his first MNT goal against Mexico during a 2-2 draw on Feb. 6, 2008, in Houston … Set a record at the time for the youngest player to score for the U.S. during the modern era … Made his first World Cup qualifying appearance as a substitute against Cuba in October, scoring the fifth goal of a 6-1 rout at RFK Stadium … 2007: Earned first cap with the MNT on Nov. 17, coming on as a sub in the 65th minute of the USA’s 1-0 victory against South Africa in the Nelson Mandela Challenge Cup … Under-23s: A member of the Olympic team that competed in Beijing in August 2008, he appeared in all three games during the tournament … Came on as a sub against the Netherlands and promptly scored when he tapped in a cross from Michael Orozco-Fiscal to give the U.S. a 2-1 lead … Started three of the four games he appeared in during Olympic qualifying, twice drawing fouls that set up U.S. goals on free kicks … Under-20s: Earned 17 caps for the Under-20s, scoring six goals … Started all five games at the 2007 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, scoring four goals … Tallied both goals in the USA’s 2-1 win against Brazil … Also scored against Poland and in the quarterfinal match against Austria … Made his first U-20 appearance against reigning World Champion Argentina … Part of the CONCACAF qualifying team that finished at the top of the group … Played in two games during qualifying … Under-17s: Joined U.S. Soccer’s Residency Program in August 2004 … Youngest player on the roster when he joined Residency … Was a prolific scorer in 2005 with the ‘89s, scoring 19 goals in 26 games and adding four assists … Appeared in the 2005 Under-17 World Cup against Italy and the Netherlands … Was one of only three players born in 1989 to make roster … Tallied first international goal with the Under-17 team against Australia at the 2004 Nike Friendlies … Scored two of the team’s four goals to help the U.S. win the Toyota Football Championship in Japan in 2004. First Appearance: Nov. 17, 2007, vs. South Africa … First Goal: Feb. 6, 2008, vs. Mexico
2014: Struggled to find consistent form at Sunderland, experiencing a managerial change in the first part of his tenure … Finished his time in England with 42 appearances … 2013: Secured a transfer to English Premier League club Sunderland from Dutch side AZ Alkmaar after scoring 31 goals across all competitions, a record for American players in Europe … His 13th-minute goal in the KNVB Cup Final proved the game-winner and gave AZ its first Cup title since 1982 … 2012: Capped off an impressive first season with AZ by scoring 20 goals in all competitions, including 15 in league play that contributed to a fourth-place finish in the Eredivisie table … Finished seventh on the league goalscoring chart …Recorded four multiple-goal games, including a pair in a Europa League qualifier on Aug. 25 against Aalesund …Scored in his club debut, a 3-1 win against PSV on Aug. 7 … 2011: Transferred to AZ Alkmaar on a four-year contract on July 14, 2011, whose sporting director is former U.S. international and 2011 Hall of Fame Inductee Earnie Stewart … Scored five goals in his 16 Eredivisie games in the first half of the season, including a brace in the 4-0 victory against NEC Nijmegan … Scored a goal in his first game with AZ, a 3-1 win against PSV Eindhoven … Made seven appearances in the Europa League, scoring four goals … 2010-11: Loaned to defending Turkish League champion Bursaspor to close out the 2010-11 campaign … Finished the loan spell with 12 appearances and one goal … Scored his first goal for the Turkish side on April 8 … During the first half of the season, appeared in nine matches in all competitions for Villarreal, including four starts in the Europa League … Scored in both legs of the Copa del Rey fourth-round series against Polideportivo Ejido, helping Villarreal to a 3-1 aggregate goals victory …Made one league appearance, entering as a sub on Oct. 31 against Sporting Gijon … 2009-10: Moved to Hull City on loan for the 2009-10 campaign … Started his tenure in fine fashion, coming on the 60th minute and quickly setting up the game-winner in the 1-0 win on Aug. 22 against Bolton … Followed with the lone goal in the 1-0 victory in the Carling Cup against Southend United three days later … Appearances reached into double digits before the new year … Finished the loan spell at Hull City with 26 league appearances and one goal … 2008-09: Transferred to Villarreal of Spain's La Liga in June of 2008 for an MLS record fee thought to be around the $10 million mark … Debuted for Villarreal as a second half substitute against Deportivo La Coruña on Sept. 14 … Scored his first goal for the club on Nov. 1 when he netted in the 90th minute against Athletic Bilbao … Loaned to second division leaders Xerez in January, but the team’s form and minor toe surgery prevented Altidore from cracking the lineup … 2007: Had a breakout season with the Red Bulls in 2007, scoring nine goals and adding four assists in 15 games in his second season … 2006: Scored the game-winning goal in a 1-0 win against Columbus on Sept. 30, 2006, in just his second professional game … Played every minute (180) of the playoff series against D.C. in 2006, scoring the team’s lone goal of the series on a header in the second match … Finished rookie season with nine appearances and four goals … Drafted in the second round (17th overall) by the MetroStars (now the N.Y. Red Bulls) of Major League Soccer.