Jozy Altidore couldn’t wait to start 2016. While the U.S. Men’s National Team was due to report for the annual winter camp on January 11, the Toronto FC forward arrived in Southern California a week early to begin training on his own and reflecting on what he wants to achieve in the upcoming season.
“I just wanted to come in and start moving a little bit early…getting ready for the year thinking about all the competitions coming up, the MLS season and some fine games that you circle on the calendar,” Altidore told ussoccer.com. “I’m just looking forward to it and was just trying to get myself out here a little bit early and get ready for it.”
For many that have followed his career it might be surprising to remember that he’s only 26-years-old. Altidore made his U.S. senior team debut in 2007, when he was just 17-years-old. Since then he’s earned 89 caps, scored 31 goals, and played in two FIFA World Cups.
Now in his tenth year with the MNT, Altidore is one of the veteran anchors on the current roster that includes a mix of Senior Team members and a host of player's age-eligible for the U-23 MNT.
“That’s pretty crazy ‘cause I never thought of it that way,” Altidore said of entering his 10th year with the national team. “I’m happy that I’ve stuck around this long and I hope that I can help these guys anyway I can and try to be a guy they look to for guidance and support.”
Last January Altidore signed with Toronto FC after spending seven years with various clubs in Europe. He went on to have one of his best seasons as a professional, scoring 13 goals in 25 games for his club while adding six goals in 13 games for his country.
Even so, he was left frustrated that nagging injuries prevented him from playing at his best. Two months removed from his last match, he is approaching the January camp healthy and with a fresh mindset.
“Excited,” he said of his outlook for 2016. “I’m excited to take part in another year with the national team hopefully and hopefully go a little bit further with Toronto in the MLS playoffs. And just overall, try to stay healthy - that’s the biggest thing for me. The last couple of years have been rough, so I just want to stay healthy, stay fit and try to help my team the best that I can.”
MNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has seen Altidore develop both on and off the field for the past four and a half years. On Wednesday the coach praised Altidore for his drive to continue improving and his aim for future successes both on a personal level and for his club and country.
“He has big goals,” Klinsmann said of Altidore. “He’s dreaming about the next World Cup; he’s dreaming about the Copa America; he’s dreaming about winning the MLS Cup with Toronto. He wants to put his stamp on the National Team program. And so over the years in his maturing process, he’s gathered all that information from the other older players, and now he becomes one of those as well. So he now wants to make sure that he makes the right decisions. So we see a Jozy now coming in prepared. He’s eager to take advantage of every training session, not wasting a minute on the field, preparing himself the best way possible for the next day.”
Altidore is just the fifth MNT player to reach 30 goals scored in his career. He’s four goals away from the third spot on the all-time goals scoring chart, and 11 games shy of the 100-cap milestone, a feat accomplished by only 16 MNT players all-time.
And while he understands no player’s job is guaranteed, he also accepts his responsibility as a leader in helping new players adjust to the National Team.
“Look, you’re always playing for your spot, for your position on this team. With the National Team it’s always been like that,” Altidore explained. “But at the same time you kind of help them to understand what they’re going expect, help them understanding what the games are like and what those competitions are like since they haven’t had that opportunity yet. And overall, just try to be a friend to them. At the end of the day we’re all teammates here and we all have one goal which is to try to be as good as we can for the national team, for our country.”
Klinsmann also noted Altidore’s increasing leadership role.
“I think that’s the stage of Jozy Altidore right now, and we are all obviously excited about him becoming more and more important to the entire group in order to make things happen,” the coach added.
The USA is preparing for a pair of friendlies against Iceland on Jan. 31 [TICKETS] and Canada on Feb. 5 at StubHub Center in Carson [TICKETS]. In March, some players will form part of the U-23 MNT that will be playing a home-and-home series with Colombia for a berth at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil, while others hope to be part of the senior squad that will play Guatemala in a two-leg series in the Semifinal Round of 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifying. This summer, the U.S. will also host the prestigious Copa America Centenario, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the world’s oldest international soccer tournament.
“We start this year with our whole mindset on getting fit, getting ready for the season,” Altidore cautioned. “But obviously the competitor in you has one eye on the future and one eye on a huge tournament with the Copa America. But for now we’re just focused on these two friendlies and two huge qualifiers and then we’ll let the rest take care of itself.”