Jozy Altidore -- Celebrates -- Dempsey

PHILADELPHIA — It was almost 10 years ago when Jozy Altidore scored his first-ever goal for the US national team, rising up to head home a Drew Moor cross in a friendly vs. Mexico.


The historic significance of that moment aside, Altidore remembers it well for another reason: “stealing” the goal from Clint Dempsey, who was right next to Altidore in the box when Moor’s cross was sent in.


“I just remember he had that mop haircut; it was terrible, so I always give him crap about that,” Altidore said before Tuesday’s USMNT training session at the University of Pennsylvania. “But he wasn’t mad. I think he was happy for me.”


A decade later, the two strikers have remained stalwart partners up top for the US national team. And Altidore is excited to get another run with Dempsey at the Gold Cup after they were both called in, along with fellow USMNT veterans Michael Bradley and Tim Howard, ahead of Wednesday’s quarterfinal match vs. El Salvador at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field (9 pm ET | FS1, UniMas, Univision Deportes, TSN2).


“I think it’s a testament to both of us as pros, a decade in, to still be with the national team and still be able to play important games,” Altidore said. “That’s huge. … But there’s no time to reflect or pat yourself on the back. There’s a lot of hard work and a lot of things still to come.”


Considering everything Altidore, Dempsey, Bradley and Howard have accomplished with the national team, you might think this particular Gold Cup call holds less significance, especially since they weren’t with the team during the group stage.


But Bradley called it a fun challenge for the newcomers — Darlington Nagbe and Jesse Gonzalez were also called in — to quickly integrate themselves before making a run at a championship.


“Obviously there’s a dynamic when you have guys that are together for a few weeks and now you make a few changes,” Bradley said. “But it’s on us to make sure we come in and get ourselves into the group in the right ways immediately. … Ultimately when the whistle blows [Wednesday] night, none of that stuff matters.”


Bradley’s Toronto FC teammate agreed with that assessment.


“It’s different, following from afar and then jumping in like this,” Altidore said. “I’ve never had this experience. So it’s a bit different but in a lot of ways the same. These are games you want to win. They’re must win obviously if you want to go on and win the trophy. We recognize we’re one of the bigger teams in the region, so there’s no reason why we shouldn’t win the game.”


Altidore admitted no CONCACAF opponent is ever “easy.” but said if the US wants to become a world power, they need to win games like Wednesday in comfortable and convincing fashion.


“If we want to take the next step and compete with the best of the best, we have to get to the point where these are obviously not automatic but we’re able to go out and control large parts of the game and dominate the game,” Altidore said. “Those are the next steps for us as a soccer nation — and I think we’re on the right track.”


And as for himself, Altidore’s ready to keep doing what he’s been doing for the USMNT for the past decade, even if he knows fans may not always appreciate some of the more subtle aspects of his game.


“At this point of my career, I’m not really worried about plaudits and people patting me on the back,” he said. “As you get older, you play for different reasons. And I play for my family and people that matter most to me.”