In His Own Words: Josmer Altidore's World Cup Experience
Almost a week after returning from Canada following a disappointing quarterfinal loss, U.S. Under-20 Men's National Team forward Josmer Altidore sat down with Center Circle to tell his story of the FIFA Under-20 World Cup. In his own words, the 17-year-old talks about arriving in Montreal, playing in front of 40,000 people and scoring four goals in this ussoccer.com exclusive.
We trained so hard in New Jersey for 10 days, so it was great to finally get to Canada. When we got off the plane in Montreal and people immediately knew who we were, and you could definitely tell that the games were something that the whole country of Canada was focused on for the duration of the tournament. There were TV shows about the tournament every day, and you could just see how important the tournament was to the people there.
When we walked out of the tunnel before our first game against South Korea, you could hear the FIFA song and it kind of just hit you - wow, I have the opportunity to play in a World Cup. It was definitely a little bit nerve wracking, but of course very exciting.
I definitely had some butterflies going into the game against South Korea (I was actually feeling a little sick beforehand), but once you get through the first five minutes or so of the game, the butterflies go away and you just settle in and play.
We came away with only one point against South Korea, and the team knew that we were going to have to step it up. Everyone in their own positions was going to have to hold themselves accountable and step up our play as individuals if we were going to advance. Everyone looked deep within themselves and said “hey, I have a job to do here.”
Before the second game, the coaches talked to us about how we didn’t come out the way we wanted to against South Korea. They felt that Poland was an opponent who suited us better than Korea, that they would let us play a bit more. We knew we didn’t play as well as we should have in the first game in a competition like this, and we took it upon ourselves to represent ourselves better and our country better. We decided that we wanted to make a statement.
Scoring a goal against Poland, even though it was a tap in and it was 5-1, was such a good feeling. The game was already decided but I was ecstatic to score. Not everyone can say that they’ve scored a goal in the World Cup. To be able to do it in an atmosphere like that was great.
I’ve become a little bit of the type of player that feels like once you score a goal you kind of open up the flood gates. Once I score a goal, my confidence builds up and that’s just the kind of player I am. So, moving toward the next game I thought maybe I could get something going.
After the game against Poland, we felt very confident, and showed people ‘hey, we can really play’. Poland beat Brazil in their opener, so we thought if we can beat Poland like that, there’s no reason we can’t Brazil. That’s what our mindset became, that we could play with anybody.
I knew that it was going to be a very tough game, very tight. They were fighting to stay alive, so I thought maybe we’d get a strange goal and maybe come away with a victory. But we beat them playing soccer, we didn’t beat them by sitting back and hoping for counterattacks. It turned out that they were the ones who had to get a scrappy goal just to stay in the game.
Scoring the go-ahead goal at that point of the game was unbelievable. The atmosphere in Ottawa was tremendous. You could hear all 26,000 people in that stadium, and when that ball hit the net the crowd roared, and the bench was ecstatic. It was an amazing feeling, and something that I will look back on as the best memory for me in the tournament. I was so proud of the team after the game. Historically they are always the team to beat and the team with the most decorated history. To beat them the way we did in a competition like that, we were all really happy to be apart of it.
I kind of looked back that night and couldn’t believe what we just did. Did we really just beat Brazil? Did we really just win a group that a lot of people didn’t think we’d even get out of? Did our defense really just shut down Pato?
We had a night to soak it all in, and then it was back to business. Uruguay was a third place team, and our team made it clear that just because they were a third place team doesn’t mean they were going to be a pushover by any stretch. Uruguay has always been a great soccer nation. We knew we had to prepare as if we were playing Brazil again, because they’re a team who tied Brazil in qualifying. They were a force to be reckoned with and we approached that game like we knew we had to. We knew they were going to throw a lot of numbers at us and they did. We expected them to be physical and they were, they like to battle and we overcame everything they threw at us.
On the bench against Uruguay after I came off, I was pretty upset. At that point we were down 1-0, and as I was being helped off the field I was thinking ‘is this really going to be my last game?’ That was a tough thought to take. Thankfully the team came through and we advanced.
The next day, I wasn’t feeling strong at all after the injury. Thomas (Rongen) felt that maybe I shouldn’t play, and that someone else should start. I asked him what I’d have to do to prove that I could play, and I went through tests with the trainers and did everything I had to do to convince him that I could play against Austria.
In the first 30 minutes against Austria I felt that we dominated play. I think when the rain started coming down hard, that benefited Austria a little bit because of their style of play. Not to make excuses, because both teams were dealing with the same adversity, but it just suited them better. They were able to get the ball forward and battle for it and that is their strength. Our team likes to play a little bit with the ball and we’re not accustomed to the kick-and-run style that tends to work better in the rain.
After the game, all we could feel was disappointment. I was mad because I couldn’t believe we let that opportunity slip away. This team was talented enough to have made it to the finals and I feel like we let one get away. That’s how the game is sometimes, and you have to learn from it and move on.
I think people are starting to catch on that the United States is a country that has talent when it comes to soccer. I think that’s the most important thing to have come out of this tournament, that our country has a good future in this sport and that we’ve made strides in the right direction compared to where we were just a few years ago. We have players who can play anywhere in the world. I think it’s clear that our young players have a good future ahead of them.