ALKMAAR, The Netherlands – Fresh from helping AZ Alkmaar best esteemed Europa League guests Valencia in the first leg of their quarterfinal tie on Thursday, Jozy Altidore admitted it was extra sweet to defeat an old rival.
During his time with La Liga side Villarreal, the US striker clocked in for a pair of draws against Los Che, the local nemesis. Thursday's victory kept Altidore unbeaten against Valencia, a feat he'd like to maintain through next week's deciding leg at the Mestalla.
"It was nice," Altidore told MLSsoccer.com with a wide grin. "I played in some derbies against Valencia and it's always great to come out on top."
Though he left the match two minutes before Maarten Martens fired the 2-1 winner, the forward stayed in the dugout to watch the remainder. When the goal was scored, nobody on the AZ bench jumped higher in celebration than Altidore.
"It was great to get that second goal," he said. "It gives a little bit of breathing room – not much, because we're playing against a top quality team."
Altidore said the entire team deserves credit for gutting out the win against a fearsome opponent. Three-time winners of Europa League predecessors the Fairs Cup and UEFA Cup, Valencia out-shot the Cheese Farmers by a 13-9 margin.
"It was one of our not-so-good games in Europe, but we still managed to get a win," he said. "I thought our quality could have been better. They are so good at pressing that it's difficult to play. We have to be happy with the result."
After the Eredivisie leaders handle league business at Vitesse on Sunday, they'll meet Valencia away on April 5 for a place in the Europa League final four.