Jozy’s debut was something special and the manner in which he was greeted was unique for an American player and is another indicator of how much international recognition American soccer has grown recently.
I was perhaps just as excited about Dempsey’s debut for Fulham in January 2007 (as were many Americans), but Dempsey was an unknown in England and was still met with that standard international (particularly British) skepticism and disinterest in American soccer players – after all, the refrain went, ‘they don’t even play football.’
What was different about Altidore’s debut is that you could tell everyone – from the fans, to the announcer, to the Hull coaching staff – were excited about his introduction. The cameras throughout the game frequently zoomed in on Altidore sitting on the bench, he was mentioned in the introductory commentary, and as he began to warm up cheers erupted from the Hull supporters. In other words, for perhaps the first time an American debutant was viewed not just as a useful addition but as a potential star. Additionally, the crowd’s embrace of the U-S-A chant almost every time Altidore touched the ball was also recognition that Hull has a player who is the future star of US soccer – and while that might have been met with a yawn ten years ago – now stirs real excitement.
The video below has Jozy-specific highlights. You can hear the chants of U-S-A as he enters. I do wish they caught the moment when he went eye to eye with Zat Knight and the very next move out muscles the big CB and leads a break away.
The great thing about his debut is that the fans are now going to clamor for him every time he is not on the pitch. That’s a lot of pressure. But for a kid who was blogging for the New York Times at 17 and who carries himself like an experienced vet this shouldn’t be a problem.
I know American fans have been very careful about hyping Altidore. We saw what we did to Freddy Adu. We told the world he was going to be the greatest ever, we saw his ego expand, and then saw him fall short of expectations. Adu is still only 20 and we hold out hope, but no one wanted the hype machine to set its sights on Jozy. We were careful, whispering to each other – ‘did you see that?’ ‘man he could be really good’. Asked by non-Americans about potential US stars we sort of meekly responded ‘there is this teenager Altidore who looks good but he’s really young so you never know.’
Screw it. Altidore is primed to be a star. He has Drogba’s physique at 19 and he has the pace, quickness, and touch of a young Fernando Torres or Rooney. I am not saying he is there yet – not even close – but I think back to the U-20 World Cup in Canada, USA-Brazil, and the best striker on the field wasn’t Jo (Everton) or even Pato (AC Milan) it was Altidore. He still has to learn the game and he needs to get on the field – something all young players in top leagues can find a challenge. But he all the tools to become America’s first international soccer superstar.