HARRISON, N.J. – Jozy Altidore's trajectory of his US national team career has taken a more positive turn since a midsummer transfer to Dutch side AZ Alkmaar – especially with one of "our guys" there.
"Our guy," as Jurgen Klinsmann put it, is former US international Earnie Stewart, who is now AZ's technical director. Since joining Stewart at AZ in July, Altidore has been a revelation, with seven goals in 12 appearances across all competitions, including the Europa League.
Klinsmann praised Altidore’s club form on Monday, citing the influential presence of Stewart.
“You can see now already in Jozy’s development over the last two months that there is really a big difference to see,” Klinsmann said. “He came from an injury, got into preseason, kind of just got step by step into this season and got more and more playing time. Obviously it helped that he got a couple goals, confidence-wise.”
Altidore brings his hot hand into Tuesday night’s friendly against Ecuador (7 pm ET, ESPN2, Galavisión, live chat on MLSsoccer.com) and he is now finally emerging as the answer to the team’s goalscoring woes of the past five years. The US have yet to find a reliable body up front, but Altidore may yet become that player based off his evolving form with AZ.
That’s a nice change for the New Jersey native. Altidore’s three-year foray in Europe hasn’t gone quite to plan since he left the New York Red Bulls in June of 2008. He struggled for playing time after being sold to La Liga side Villarreal, and had mixed results in loan stints across Europe at Xerez, Hull City and Bursaspor.
“Playing, that’s the biggest thing,” Altidore said Monday, “and I’m getting that there and, not only that, but playing at pretty good level against some pretty good teams. Europa League as well, you’re playing against good competition. For me, it’s important. I am more confident on the pitch now, I feel fitter, I feel stronger. I think that all counts towards playing all the time.”
The 21-year-old got his start in 2006 for the Red Bulls, where he emerged during his three seasons in MLS as one of the league’s top scorers as a teenager. For a player born about 30 minutes west of Red Bull Arena, Altidore is looking forward to his first-ever appearance at the stadium of his former club.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “I can’t wait till the game starts. Hopefully I’m in the team so I can be a part of it. It’s something that this organization – the people in New Jersey – have needed for a long time and they finally got it.”