Altidore gets the last laugh on Spain
BLOEMFONTEIN, South Africa -- Jozy Altidore tried to warn the Spanish. After the U.S. team advanced to a semifinal date with the Spaniards, the American forward sent his Villarreal teammate, Joan Capdevila, a text message, advising of the danger the Americans would pose to the Spaniards' record unbeaten streak.
After 90 minutes of nearly perfect soccer, Capdevila and the Spaniards will now understand as well as anyone what the Americans are capable of, particularly Altidore.
The American front line of Altidore and Charlie Davies found a comfort zone Wednesday night, pressuring the Spanish defense and its litany of marquee names relentlessly with the Americans' superior speed and power.
"He told me before the game they're not that quick and that we're just going to run at them," said Davies of Altidore's pregame advice. "He really instilled a lot of confidence in me early. I think coming into today he knew all the players, and had a lot of confidence that he could get the job done."
Altidore scored the Americans' first goal midway through the first half when he held off Capdevila and secured a Clint Dempsey pass, then rushed into the area and banged a shot off goalkeeper Iker Casillas' right hand and into the back of the net, giving the U.S. the lead and momentum.
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After a nearly $10 million transfer from the New York Red Bulls, Altidore spent the first half of the season at Spanish Liga side Villarreal. Altidore, who appeared in six matches, scoring one goal, said his time in the Spanish league helped him to prepare for Wednesday's matchup with some of that country's -- and the world's -- biggest stars.
"I've played around these guys a bunch of times so I wasn't really nervous at all coming into the game," said Altidore. "I just played my game and things went my way."
On his 25th-minute goal, Altidore found himself in a good position along the Spanish back line, marked by his familiar teammate, Capdevila. Dempsey played a carefully weighted ball into space, and Altidore outmuscled the Spanish defender to put himself in position for the strike.
"It was a good through ball by Clint and I was lucky enough to get onto it," Altidore explained. "I just tried to get my body between the ball and the defender and it worked out for me, and I slotted home."
After showing flashes of promise in the first half of the season at Villarreal, Altidore was loaned to second-division team Xerez. In a development that many in Spain and elsewhere found difficult to explain, Altidore never appeared for the team as it battled for promotion to the first division.
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"I think Jozy was really motivated tonight, and the fact that he played in Spain maybe gave him a little extra motivation," said coach Bob Bradley. "In his first year playing time was hard to come by, but it has motivated him. He's eager to show people that he can play and some of that came out tonight."
While Altidore's primary duty Wednesday night was to put the ball in the net, it turns out he had other responsibilities as well. Davies said Altidore translated for him on the field, explaining to him what the Spanish defenders were talking about among themselves. After the match, Altidore insisted that he got those translations right, offering up the favorable result as proof of his linguistic abilities.
As for the text message to Capdevila, Altidore maintains that he used correct Spanish that time as well, and that his club teammates were just giving him a hard time.
"I got it right before too," Altidore said. "He was playing with me, but we got the last laugh."
Brent Latham covers U.S. soccer for ESPNsoccernet. Based in Dakar, Senegal, he also covers West Africa for Voice of America radio and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.