Jozy Altidore reflects on being racially abused by fans

Posted by Jeff Carlisle

Jozy Altidore has delivered some special performances this season in the Netherlands, amassing a career-high 20 goals so far in all competitions for club side AZ Alkmaar. But on Tuesday, he revealed that his considerable ability is accompanied by extraordinary character as well.

Altidore and his AZ teammates were on the road at FC Den Bosch in the quarterfinals of the Dutch Cup, when midway through the first half the home fans began showering him with monkey chants.

"At first, I really didn't want to believe it," he said by telephone. "And then there was a time where it was just clear that it was intended for me. At that point ... I was a little upset, but more disappointed than anything."

Altidore is no neophyte when it comes to the cauldron of European soccer. At just 23 years of age, he already has played in Spain, England and Turkey, as well as the Netherlands. One would expect he has heard every kind of insult. He also was well aware of the incident earlier this month involving AC Milan midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng, who left the field with his teammates when he was racially abused by fans of fourth-tier side Pro Patria during a friendly.

Yet when asked if he had ever experienced such abuse elsewhere, Altidore said, "No, never on the field like that. It was just really surprising, and a bit disappointing, because I've had a good stay in Holland. I haven't had any problems with anybody. It was definitely tough to swallow in a sense because everyone has been so nice."

Referee Reinold Wiedemeijer asked the AZ players if the match should be abandoned, but Altidore and his teammates asked him not to.

"I just tried to focus on my game in that match and just tried to help my team," said Altidore.

That he did, earning and converting a 39th-minute penalty that made the score 4-0. The goal, along with the final score of 5-0 proved to be the sweetest kind of revenge.

"It was great," Altidore said of the result. "I don't think anybody expected that scoreline. It was a big game for them and for us as well because the [Dutch Cup] is a chance to get into Europe, a direct ticket, so it's a big opportunity for both teams. That final scoreline, especially how the game ended up turning out, I'm sure they weren't happy about that."

But Altidore delivered his most impressive performance in the postmatch interview. Rather than berate his tormentors, he insisted on turning the other cheek, stating that he would "pray for them." At which point the outpouring of public support worldwide revealed that in the battle against racism, Altidore has immense backing. He was inundated by emails, tweets and calls to his charitable foundation.

"Just real positive," was the way Altidore described the feedback from fans. "It was really nice to see people reach out and be supportive of just the whole situation and the understanding that it wasn't something that anybody wants to go through. And also understanding that being out here and playing in Europe, these are some of the things that might happen unfortunately in the time we're in."

The support from the public has left Altidore in a good frame of mind heading into the weekend's home match against FC Groningen. After the match, he's expected to join up with the U.S. national team as it prepares to open the final round of World Cup qualifying against Honduras. The fact that Altidore is arguably in the best form of his career should give the Americans a boost, but the AZ striker insists he still has more to offer both club and country.

"I think I'm a young guy, I would hope I have a lot more good things to come if I keep working hard," he said. "That's the biggest thing for me. I'm not worried about statistics and things like that. I feel good, my team is playing good soccer, and I'm just going to try and get in front of the goal and score as many goals as I can for my team."

After last Tuesday, chances are he'll have plenty of fans, both new and old, cheering him on.

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