After a career season with Dutch Eredivisie club AZ Alkmaar and a record setting 2013 for the U.S. Men’s National Team, Jozy Altidore was voted the 2013 U.S. Soccer Male Athlete of the Year. Altidore spoke with ussoccer.com about winning the award, what helped the team achieve so much in 2013 and what he is focusing on ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
ussoccer.com: Congratulations on being voted the U.S. Soccer Male Athlete of the Year for the first time...
Jozy Altidore: “It’s a huge honor. I’m really excited. It’s nice to know people thought I had that much of an influence on the National Team. It’s an amazing feeling and I wouldn’t have done that without the great play of my teammates.”
ussoccer.com: When you found out you were winning, who is the first person you told?
JA: “My family. It’s something I’m not going to take for granted. It’s an honor. I am lucky enough to play for a country that’s given so much to my family and I coming from Haitian immigrants. I respect everything the country has done for me and my family, so it’s an honor to have been voted by my peers and fans as the Athlete of the Year. It’s an amazing feeling and something I won’t forget any time soon.”
ussoccer.com: This last year was your most consistent for club and country. What was the difference between last year and the previous years in your professional career?
JA: “It was all the things I was focusing on. I always had it balanced. I was doing well from one team to the other. I worked really hard on mentally staying locked in. I was really happy to put together that year. I think it shows my progress as a player and that I can continue to get better and better.
ussoccer.com: Were there specific things that allowed you to have that focus?
JA: “I just tried to keep a routine and keep it when I was with the National Team which is difficult because it’s a whole different environment with different needs. I tried as much as possible to replicate what was working for me. Fortunately it worked out that it was a really successful year for me and the team.”
ussoccer.com: You went on a recording-setting scoring run in the summer. How satisfying is that for you that you were able to contribute goals?
JA: “I always believe that you make contributions in other ways, but obviously scoring is a great way to do it. I was just happy to do it, to score goals. If you look at the games and the play from the boys, it was really superb and I give all the credit to them because without them, I’m nothing.
ussoccer.com: The other candidates for the award this year: DaMarcus Beasley, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard had some impressive performances. You have been together with these guys for a long time with the National Team. What is the leadership like in the core group of players?
JA: “It’s unbelievable. You have six, seven, eight, nine sometimes 11 leaders on the field at one time because so many guys have so much experience. Any of those guys could have gotten this award. Especially a guy like DaMarcus Beasley, who is a great example of a guy who just stays consistent, always believes in himself and his ability. What he’s done this past year has also been very amazing. He’s an important player.
“Tim Howard, he’s never not making a difference for us. He’s always going to be a key player. It could very well have been those guys to have won this award.”
ussoccer.com: Do you feel like the guys in the back don’t get enough credit?
JA: “I just hope people understand their contribution. Guys like Clint, Michael and I are always getting praise because we’re attacking players, but I think Beas and Tim don’t get enough credit for what they do for us.
“Beasley, he’s had an incredible year. He led the team at the Gold Cup. He came back and showed everybody he’s a quality player and what he’s made of. I don’t know if he’s won the award before but I’d love to share it with him because he’s very deserving.”
ussoccer.com: It has been a record setting year for the National Team in a number of ways. How have you seen the team develop and progress in 2013?
JA: “I love that throughout the qualifying process we were scoring goals and creating chances. We were ruthless and that helped us big time. We choked games off; we didn’t allow teams to get back into games, especially in bigger games. We were always pushing the issue, which is something I think we’ve grown from in the past. It’s a testament to how hard the guys have worked the past two-and-a-half years and the coaching staff as well. Hopefully we can build on that going into Brazil.
ussoccer.com: As a veteran player, you have seen the growth of the team not only on the field but off it as well. What’s your perception been of the fan base and how it has grown both in and outside the U.S. in the last year?
JA: “If you look at the support we got throughout the qualifying process, Seattle sticks out so much just because it was overwhelming for us as players because we felt so at home, so loved by the fans. It was a feeling I don’t think a lot of us had before in the [United] States and it was a special feeling that brought out a special performance. The more we can have that moving forward the better.
“If you’re looking at the World Cup tickets [sold], the U.S. is right up there with the most tickets bought. That just goes to show how eager the fans are to watch and support their team and how the game has grown overall in the States.”
ussoccer.com: You spoke about the focus you had in the last year. Now as you look ahead to next year and the FIFA World Cup – another huge opportunity for you and the team – what do you do between now and may to get yourself ready for Brazil?
JA: “Now it’s my main focus. I think any player would be lying who has qualified for the World Cup, that they don’t have it in the back of their mind. Everything you do now works up to that. I have to get my situation right so that in Brazil I can be ready to play and be one of the 23 [players on the roster] and then show the coach I’m a guy you can count on going into the tournament.”