At 27 years old, Jozy Altidore boasts a globe-spanning career for both club and country, dating from his teen years, when he turned pro with the MetroStars, to today, where he stars at both Toronto FC and with the US Men’s National Team.
Now, as he finishes up an electric run during this summer’s Gold Cup tournament, we caught up with him to reflect on his career path around the world and back to MLS.
“One of the best parts of this career has been just being able to see different people and cultures from all around the world. You get to see all different lives and different ways to do things,” he says.
“It’s a gift; it’s a blessing to be able to do that, especially for me, starting really young. Looking back at it now, I’ve been to places I never thought I’d be. I’m very lucky, and it’s made me a better person.”
Image by Diego Valenzuela, CC by 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
After growing up in South Florida and distinguishing himself at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, Altidore turned pro at the tender age of 17, when he was selected 17th overall in the 2006 MLS SuperDraft.
"It was always my dream to turn pro. It wasn’t easy, because I had a lot of opportunities from schools across the country, but I pushed my parents to let me sign pro and it was great. I got to grow up as a professional in New York. New York speaks for itself – I grew up a lot there, both on and off the field, learning about myself both as a player and a person.
It was a big two-and-a-half years for me because I had good coaches, but I had a lot of good teammates who helped me learn and set me up for the rest of my career.
Carlos Mendes was a good guy to play with, one of the Metro guys who was there for a while. Mike Magee was great, being that we had similar backgrounds with the youth national teams. Youri Djorkaeff was there, and obviously his reputation speaks for itself; he’s a legend."
"That summer, I started getting offers from around Europe. I wasn’t necessarily looking to leave Red Bull, but the opportunity with Villareal just felt right at the time. It was a battle with my family, but my agent and I felt it was the right time to make the next step.
My Spanish was already pretty good at the time, since I grew up speaking Spanish in South Florida with teammates and everyone else in the area. Obviously it got much better when I went to Villareal.
I really enjoyed Spain for a lot of reasons. The soccer there is great, but the lifestyle is fantastic and it’s probably closest to me, and my background, with my family being from the Caribbean. I probably took it for granted in that every day is sunny and 75 degrees, especially compared to other places in Europe.
I had seafood every day, I lived on the beach. It doesn’t really get better than that in terms of lifestyle. It was perfect for me with what I was used to, growing in South Florida."
Xerez loan, 2009
During his time signed for Villareal, Altidore would spend time at several other teams on loan. The first was for another Spanish side, Xerez.
"Xerez was a little difficult – I had a small surgery on my toe, and it got a little complicated for me. I just had some bad luck and I wasn’t really able to fully able to take advantage of the opportunity with a team that was trying to get promoted.
At the same time though, I learned a lot. There were a lot of good players there. The city was great. In hindsight if I had been able to get on the field more, I could have been a little more successful."
Hull City loan, 2009-2010
"Hull was interesting. It’s not easy to go to a club of that stature at that age and be expected to be one of the people leading the team; at the time they were battling relegation.
I got to play with Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink, who was a guy who did great things in his career, so I learned a lot from him. It was a different culture, obviously, playing over there, and a different style of play. It was just kick and run, really; not really possession-oriented. We didn’t spend a lot of time on tactical things. It was about being tenacious and getting after it and being a workhorse."
US Men’s National Team, 2008-present
After playing in the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 2007, by the next year, Altidore graduated to the senior team. Since then, he’s appeared in multiple major international campaigns and tournaments; in 2009 World Cup Qualifying, he became the youngest American to score a hat-trick in an international game, in a 3-0 victor over Trinidad & Tobago.
Since then, major international tournament appearances have included the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup and the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup, as well as two World Cups, in South Africa in 2010 and Brazil in 2014.
Most recently, of course, he’s proven a breakout star in the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup, scoring against Costa Rica in the tournament semifinal.
Bursaspor loan, 2011
"The fans were awesome. I loved it. I landed in Turkey to thousands of people there in the airport. It was a different experience that I didn’t expect to take to so much, and it was fantastic.
They were the most passionate fans I’ve ever come across. Every game you’d play, home or away, the fans would be there and made themselves heard. Every team was like that, across the country. From all the leagues I’ve played in that was one of the best for that.
I’d say the food was one of my favorite things, too. I loved the food there. One of my favorites was iskander – I love it; so good! It’s a dish made up of grilled lamb basted with hot tomato sauce, over pita bread, with melted sheep butter and yogurt.
I also loved Turkish Delights – those Turkish desserts were great too. I love Turkish tea; it’s really strong. If you’re not careful, you could definitely rack up the pounds in Turkey. "
AZ Alkmaar, 2011-2013
After his time signed to Villareal and on loan at other clubs, Altidore moved on to this Dutch team, where he played under manager Gertjan Verbeek.
"It was great. I had a coach who was strict in a lot of ways, in a good way. He was really a players’ coach. I learned a ton from him, and I really enjoyed training with him. He brought out a lot of good things I didn’t think I had in me as a player, and I improved a lot.
In Holland, most people speak English, and life was good because I had no problems with the language. There was tons to do. Amsterdam wasn’t too far away, which was cool to get away and be a tourist for a little while. I really enjoyed my time there; the culture is not far off to what we’re used to here in the States."
From the Netherlands, Altidore headed back to the U.K. to join this Premier League club.
"That was a big lifestyle change, and at first it was okay. I think the issue for me was that after the first, like, five months, just things off the field started to creep in more to what was going on, on the field. I was still growing both as a player and a young man. I wish it had been different, but you can’t really pick when things happen in your life.
Still, my son was born while I was playing in Sunderland and that was one of the best days of my life. It’s been incredible watching him grow. He’s two-and-a-half years old now, and I take great pride in being a dad."
Toronto FC, 2015 – present
"I didn’t really know what to expect, but I was 25, and Toronto matched what I was looking for, and would give me a place to improve in a lot of ways. It seemed that we both had the same long-term interests, and that was important to me – that this would be a long-term thing, where we were committed to building and getting better.
Coming here, obviously there were a lot of eyes on me, and Sebastian Giovinco and Michael Bradley as well, so we had to make sure from day one that we were going to come in and perform. Now, every time fans come to Toronto, they expect to be entertained and to see a good game and to win.
To be able to do that in the space of three years has been incredible. We have an amazing front office that’s supported us all the way. But to be a part of that in such a short time says a lot about the city and the club and what they’re trying to do moving forward.
The city is such a melting pot which really makes it great. The environment is different – it’s special with how the fans interact with the game. They’re soccer-savvy. I think anybody who has come to watch us to play in Toronto sees that we have something special here."