Saturday, April 21, 2007

Jozy Altidore continues to impress -- The announcer for Fox Sports Channel's broadcast of tonight's Red Bulls-Dynamo tilt referred to Altidore's living up to his billing as the "Next Big Thing in U.S. Soccer." I would take issue with that statement in one respect. I think he's the "First Big Thing in U.S. Soccer." O.K. That might be a slight exaggeration. Altidore's new teammate, Claudio Reyna might have been the first true "Big Thing in U.S. Soccer." Reyna, however, has never been a goal scorer -- he's the guy who distributes the ball, and maybe makes his teammates better. Moreover, after he left U.Va., Reyna played his pro ball in Europe. As Americans, we got to root for him, and see him play only in international matches...until tonight's match. Reyna played a good game, but Josmer Altidore was the real star.

Of course, Reyna is now finally playing pro soccer here in the U.S., and he gets to help develop the true "Next Big Thing." Altidore definitely has the tools to become a top-rank striker. Strong, fast, nimble, with some touch, and that undefinable instinct for the goal. I've been writing about Altidore since he first came on as a second-half substitute in a Red Bulls' game last summer. I'm delighted that he is getting national attention.

Altidore was the best player on the field tonight, constantly menacing the Dynamo goal. With a little more precision. Altidore might have scored earlier on one of several chances. Even with the Red Bulls playing a man down for much of the game, Altidore was far more dangerous than anyone on Houston's side. It will be interesting to see how his play changes when Juan Pablo Angel joins the team and, no doubt, takes on Altidore's role as the guy with his back to the goal.

Tonight, Altidore scored the game's only goal, taking a pass at the top of the box, and directing it past the marking defender. He raced around the defender, caught up to the ball and drove a quick shot towards the near post, in the upper corner, beyond the reach of Pat Onstad, the Dynamo goalie. Soon thereafter, coach Bruce Arena sent on a substitute to relieve the exhausted Altidore, who had kept battling despite being taken down repeatedly by the Dynamo defense.

With Altidore, the Red Bulls are a real contender. The Red Bulls are much improved, in many respects, but having Altidore in the starting side is the biggest change from last year. Maybe, with Angel on the way, soccer fans in the New York area will finally turn out to support their side.

This summer, Altidore will be playing for the U.S. in the U-20 World Cup in Canada. After that, I'd like to see him get some chances with the senior team. Even at 17, I think he's the equal of any of the U.S. strikers, with the possible exception of Landon Donovan. Besides Donovan, Altidore is the most exciting American player I have seen.

The U.S. national team coach, whomever it turns out to be, should try to get some senior international experience for Altidore, before qualifying begins for the 2010 World Cup. Altidore will still be only 20 years old in 2010. Nevertheless, I believe, if he is given the chance, Altidore will show that he should not only be included on the 2010 team, he will earn a place in the starting eleven.

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