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U.S. MEN'S NATIONAL TEAM

September 6, 2012
OFF THE BALL, ON THE BALL
Altidore has improved overall play, scoring

By Michael Lewis
BigAppleSoccer.com Editor

KINGSTON, Jamaica -- Thanks to his work off the ball, Jozy Altidore finds himself on the ball more these days with AZ Alkmaar.

The former Red Bulls striker has found his comfort zone in the Netherlands -- on and off the field.

It certainly hasn't hurt the 22-year-old that he is not only playing, but scoring as well.

"That always plays a part, obviously playing gives you confidence, no matter who you are, no matter what type of player you are," Altidore said on Thursday. "I think the playing part is huge, just getting to play every Sunday and during the week, as well. You just grow, you become a better player, a better thinker off the ball. That for me that's the important thing."

Altidore said his off the ball play has gotten better, but there certainly is room for improvement.

"I'm trying to get better at that," he said. "It may sound like common sense, but you try to move in a way that you get yourself in front of the goal to score more goals. It may sound simple, but it's not so simple. At the highest level it's difficult to find those spaces."

Altidore found enough places to strike four times in Alkmaar's first two games in the Dutch Eredivisie this season.

In fact, he has picked up where he left off last year, when he tallied 22 times to lead AZ and finish seventh in the league.

"It's huge, man," he said. "I'm just coming into an environment that I already know. I know what to expect. It's the little things. I already have my house and stuff like that and coming back into my comfort zone. That was kind of great for me. I didn't have anything I had to learn or any new thing I had to try. I just kind of went back into what I was doing last season and picked up where I left off."

Since joining Villarreal in Spain for a record $10 million transfer fee for an American, Altidore was loaned to Xerez, Hull City and Bursapor without much success before finding a home with AZ.

Altidore is raring to go for the U.S., which meets Jamaica in a World Cup qualifier at The Office on Friday night before playing its Caribbean foes in Columbus, Ohio on Tuesday.

"Of course. now it counts," he said. "The staff has done a great job of preparing the guys in terms of mentality. we have done that type of work over the past few camps. Everybody's ready. . . . We've had enough preparation that we can come into a hostile environment and hopefully and get a result."

Speaking of comfort zones, Altidore, who is of Haitian descent, said that he is very comfortable in Jamaica.

"It feels at home. I love it," he said. "The weather's great. I feel more relaxed because it feels kind of a more of my climate, my atmosphere, just being from the Caribbean."

Last year he was caught in a club vs. country struggle. AZ manager Gertjan Verbeek did not always want to allow Altidore take roundtrips to the U.S. for international friendlies while criticizing U.S. coach Juergen Klinsmann. He hopes that rift has been sorted out.

"I hope would hope so, I would hope so, man," he said. "With those things, it's difficult to tell. They have different priorities, especially club teams. I try to stay out of it and when I'm called, I try to do what I can."

Altidore took three weeks off after AZ's season and did not enter U.S. training camp for its qualifiers in match fitness.

"I was fine then," he said. "Of course, I am much better now because I did not come off of three week break. Obviously, there is a difference there. I feel good. I feel fine. If he needs me to suit up, I'll be ready."

And if he suits up and plays next to Terrence Boyd up front on Friday night, that will suit Altidore as well.

"Terrence is a great player," Altidore said. "I think he has shown that he can quickly make a lot of damage. He has been on the scene a little bit. not having played a professional year yet. I think that says a lot about him and his character. It's difficult with the national team. I've only trained with the team once because we played basketball one day because of the weather. It's always difficult in that sense to get that chemistry going. It'll come. He's a young guy. I'm a young guy. Hopefully, he'll be part of the national team for years to come."


   
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