World Cup 2010 | 15 days

As 2010 World Cup approaches, Jozy Altidore has youthful talent and the impetuousness of youth for U.S. soccer

By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 27, 2010

On most days, Jozy Altidore plays with an authority that makes it easy to forget that the catalyst of the U.S. national soccer team is just 20 years old. On rare days, it is easy to remember.

On Wednesday, Altidore became the youngest player named to the 23-man U.S. squad that opens World Cup play against England on June 12, but even with his team's future so dependent on his performance, the matter of age muddles the picture more than it clarifies.

Signed to a Major League Soccer contract at 16, Altidore proved such a prolific scorer for the New York Red Bulls that within two years the elite Spanish club Villarreal paid a record $10 million transfer fee for his services. As a teenager on the U.S. national team, Altidore became the youngest to score a goal for his country.

But at other moments in his promising career, the 6-foot-1, 175-pound Altidore has flashed the impetuousness of youth. And both he and his teammates have paid a price -- most notably on April 24, when he was ejected from a critical match between his club, Hull City, and Sunderland for head-butting an opponent who had thrown a ball at his head.

Altidore publicly apologized after the loss, which led in part to his team's relegation and left his professional future in limbo. He hasn't played a competitive match since.

Altidore wasn't in the lineup for the United States' 4-2 loss in Tuesday's tuneup against the Czech Republic, the first of three World Cup warmups. His roster spot assured, he looked on with seven teammates while Coach Bob Bradley gave final consideration to hopefuls before paring his 30-man squad to 23.

But the U.S. squad quite clearly will lean on Altidore's skill and poise -- particularly with forward Charlie Davies not sufficiently recovered from an October car crash to earn a spot on the team -- as it takes on England, Algeria and Slovenia for the right to advance from Group C.

U.S. fitness coach Pierre Barrieu, who has known Altidore since his MLS days, says the player has learned from his ejection this spring.

"As much as people have emotions, he knows there's no excuse for it because at the end of the day, he penalized the team, and he penalized himself," said Barrieu, who spoke to Altidore in the aftermath. "These are mistakes you can make, obviously, if you are 19, 20, and that you can make once if you're older. At the end of the day, it's a mistake. And you have to learn from it."

The past year has been difficult for Altidore, who has suffered professional disappointment and personal heartache.

The leading goal-scorer during the United States' World Cup qualifying campaign, he created few offensive sparks during his two-goal season with Hull City. The team's manager voiced displeasure with what he perceived as a lackadaisical approach to training and questioned whether Altidore had been worth the investment.

Asked about that assessment during the U.S. team's training camp at Princeton last week, Altidore defended his work habits but declined to take issue with the coach.

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