ROTTERDAM, The Netherlands – Fresh from raising the KNVB Cup with his AZ Alkmaar teammates on Thursday, Jozy Altidore believes the underdogs saved their season by acing the final exam against favored PSV Eindhoven at De Kuip.
The US striker bagged the 14th-minute winner, increasing his career-best strike total and finishing as the tourney's top scorer with eight goals. When asked if winning the cup had turned the frown of their Eredivisie season all the way around, Altidore exulted in the moment.
"Of course, any time you can be a champion, [the season is a success]," Altidore told MLSsoccer.com after celebrating AZ's first cup triumph since 1982 on the winner's podium.
"I'm just so happy to win something. I told the guys, it's not everyday you get in this position. You never know – I may never get this chance again in my career. It's been a tough season, with a lot of ups and downs, but it's great to win a championship."
The Cheese Farmers hit twice on the counter through Adam Maher and Altidore inside the opening quarter hour to stun PSV. However, the striker admitted that AZ's fast start was not actually according to plan.
"We wanted to attack and play football, but it wasn't happening," he said. "PSV had most of the ball, but whenever we saw the moment to go, we went. When you have chance in a final, you have to bury them and we did. Adam's goal was fantastic."
The squad put together by former US international-turned-AZ technical director Earnie Stewart then buckled down to keep the lead for 76 minutes, most of which was dominated in possession by PSV. After cutting the lead in half in the 31st minute, the favorites were then denied by the post, multiple saves, desperate last-ditch tackles and even a pair of restart clearances by Altidore.
"I've been involved in two finals with the national team and played in one, so I know that in these matches it's about who will suffer more," he declared. "We had a great start, but we suffered for 80 minutes. When I say suffer, I mean we had to withstand the pressure and fight and show that we want it more."
The powerful forward then rushed off to be last man on the bus, having just been told thousands were already waiting to greet them home at AFAS Stadion in Alkmaar.
"It's going to be a fantastic celebration," said Altidore with a champion's grin. "The city is ready, I think."