It’s sometimes easy to forget that Jozy Altidore is only 23 years old.
It was five years ago, after all, that the New Jersey-born striker departed the New York Red Bulls of Major League Soccer for La Liga’s Villarreal as a teenager—the same season in which he would make his international debut for the United States.
Altidore has been a household name in American football circles since shortly after his 16th birthday, and over the years, fans have lived the highs and lows of his career alongside him. Perhaps that’s why he already seems like a veteran—while his journey hasn’t been all that long, it has taken him and his supporters to so many places.
Four summers ago, Altidore was sent on a second loan stint from Villarreal—this time to Premier League side Hull City. (He had spent part of the previous campaign at Xerez.) And while there was some obvious prestige about the move, it turned out to be an unmitigated disaster, with only a single goal to show from 28 Premier League appearances and a spell in the English top flight that ended with an ejection for violent conduct.
More disappointment was to follow the next season at Villarreal and Bursaspor, where he spent a third loan period, but in July 2011, a permanent move to AZ Alkmaar gave the then-21-year-old both a fresh start and a new, understanding manager to work with in the form of Gertjan Verbeek.
It was in Dutch football that Altidore, with Verbeek’s help, was finally able to polish the rough edges of his game. Slowly but surely he became a more well-rounded forward, and his efforts paid off with back-to-back seasons of 20 and 31 goals.
This past spring he helped AZ Alkmaar to the KNVB Cup, and in a June friendly against Germany he scored his first goal for the United States since November 2011. He would subsequently open the scoring in World Cup qualifiers against Jamaica, Panama and Honduras—each of which the Americans would win.
“I think I’m more complete,” Altidore told ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle in a recent interview. “When I say that—my passes, my holding the ball up, being a better finisher, taking free kicks, taking penalty kicks—I’ve added more to my game, trying to become more all-around.”
No doubt his two seasons in the Eredivisie helped in his maturation as a footballer, and now it seems he is ready to once again test himself in the Premier League.
At Sunderland, Altidore will work with manager Paolo Di Canio, who will employ a traditional 4-4-2 formation at the Stadium of Light this coming season. The system should work to the United States international’s advantage, as he will be able to work off a more solitary centre-forward such as Steven Fletcher while benefiting from the supply of wingers Sebastian Larsson and Stephane Sessegnon.
This time around Altidore is arriving in England confident in his abilities and with a recent track record of success on which to build. It’s an entirely different set of circumstances from his Hull City days, and it’s an entirely different player who, this time, will be looking to make an impact at club football’s highest level.