The youngest member of the U.S. national squad in El Salvador for the World Cup qualifying game on Saturday is Jozy Altidore. The striker is also the player owned by the biggest club, Villarreal, a Champions League-level club in Spain.
Currently, however, he is on loan to Spanish second division leaders Xerez, and is finding game minutes particularly difficult to come by. The experience has only served to make the 19-year-old more philosophical and determined.
“The way I like to think of it is that I'm there for a reason,” Altidore told Goal.com. “There's about 14 games left in the season, so there are still some games left for me to get minutes. Hopefully I can look back after this and apply what I've been doing over the past couple months.
“I'm happy I made this decision, because the things that I'm learning in Spain are the things I want to learn. They're very technical players, and their off-the-ball movement is second to none. That's the reason why I went there and I feel like I'm getting better in those areas. They're areas I feel that at this time of a career are crucial.”
A powerful and pacy striker, Altidore was earmarked as a potential star early in his career, scoring his first professional goal for the New York Red Bulls at the age of 16. Scintillating performances for New York and the U.S. youth squads led to a Major League Soccer record transfer of $10 million last summer when he joined Villarreal. In January, he joined Xerez on loan.
Heading into the qualifying match against El Salvador, Altidore says his main concern is match sharpness, which has dulled a bit from lack of playing time.
“I think the biggest difference is game fitness,” he said. “You're training all the time and doing fitness, and it's good, but there's just a certain fitness you get in a game that you can't get anywhere else. If anything I feel like that's the one thing I'm missing right now.”
Another possible struggle for Altidore, if he sees time in San Salvador, will be the unpredictability of El Salvador and the typical volatile nature of away CONCACAF crowds. Minnows El Salvador will be trying desperately to pull one over the regional power.
“These are hard games, to be quite honest,” he admitted. “To be fair to El Salvador, it's not going to be a 5-0 game, even though we're the favorites. All young players have a hard time with this competition because it's not easy. In fact it's even less pressure going against a bigger opponent.”
The youngster is grounded, but fiercely determined. In typical fashion, when asked which international competition, (Gold Cup, Confederations Cup) he would like to take part in this summer, he deadpanned, “All of them. I'd like to be involved in all of them.”
Zac Lee Rigg, with additional reporting from Andrea Canales in El Salvador, Goal.com