It’s been 12 years since Claudio Reyna played for Sunderland AFC and he was the last American to play first team football for the club. There was Stuart Holden, but let’s not get in to that.
After weeks of speculation and a lot of waiting, the Black Cats announced that USA International Jozy Altidore had signed a four-year contract and flew straight to join the rest of the squad in Italy.
Now, we’ve already seen him play, as a then 19-year-old on loan with Hull FC. Sadly, head-butting Alan Hutton and one goal in 28 appearances said it all - BUT it was his first go in the Barclays Premier League, so let’s try to forgive and forget as we rewind.
Jozy first got his real shot at football or soccer, whichever you prefer, back in 2006 when he was involved with the 2006 MLS SuperDraft, where he was picked 17th overall by the MetroStars – better known these days as New York Red Bulls.
His debut arrived in that same year as a substitute against D.C United, with his first goal for the club a month later when he rifled in a 30-yard screamer Against Columbus Crew, not bad for a young man aged sixteen.
Unsuccessful spells with Villarreal, Xerez, Bursaspor and Hull hampered his progress, but it was with Dutch outfit AZ Alkmaar, where his development really began to flourish.
American Soccer Now editor in chief John Godfrey has this to say;
"Big, strong, and precocious, Jozy Altidore demonstrated his enormous potential as a teenager in Major League Soccer. In retrospect, he probably left the domestic American league a bit early, signing with Spain's Villarreal and then bouncing around Europe on a series of loans when he couldn't crack the starting 11 with the La Liga side. If he seemed lost at first, Altidore found himself at AZ Alkmaar. He started earning regular minutes quickly, and in 2012-2013 he lit up the Netherlands, scoring 31 goals across all competitions."
It was those goals that made him one of the hottest properties in European football, and it was Sunderland who made their interest known to complete a deal.
Unfortunately, it was not all plain sailing on Holland for Altidore - he was racially abused throughout a Dutch cup game against Den Bosch. The game was almost abandoned as the abuse continued throughout the first half, much to the credit of Altidore's character he maintained the game must be finished to "send a message". In a post match interview, he was graciously quoted retorting;
"It's a bit disappointing that these things still happen at this time but what are you going to do? You just have to hope that these people find a way to improve themselves. You can only pray for them."
Internationally he has also impressed, starting at the USA Under -17 squad and working his way up to the full national squad, winning 60 caps and scoring 17 goals.
But don’t let me spoil all the fun, please let AZ Fanpage’s Martijn explain the kind of player we have signed;
WAW: The signing of Jozy Altidore has divided opinion in Sunderland, for many of us he is remembered for his poor spell with Hull City (including being sent off against us) - can you tell us what kind of a striker we have signed?
Martijn: I think the Altidore you know doesn’t exist anymore. If you compare him to the Altidore that arrived in Alkmaar you wouldn’t recognize him. He was very eager to learn how to play real football (The Dutch passing game) and he succeeded in a way I’ve never seen before here in Alkmaar. Last season he saved us from relegation!
WAW: Can you tell us what are his strengths and weaknesses?
Martijn: Jozy has the ability to score out of the blue. He’s very strong and he’s lethal in the breakaway. Sometimes he is a little sloppy in controlling the ball, but that also got a lot better last season.
WAW: Players moving to the English league after a successful time in Holland has sometimes been good, for example Luis Suarez, and sometimes poor, like Alfonso Alves - do you expect Altidore to be a success in the Premier League?
Martijn: The Premier League is perfect for Jozy and the way Sunderland plays will suit him very well. With all due respect, Sunderland will need some good break away players to win against better teams and I think Jozy will surprise you next season. He is fast and strong and I am sure he will score some goals.
WAW: Do you have any specific memories of Altidore, on or off the pitch - good or bad?
Martijn: Jozy is the typical American athlete. He is a stand up guy who will never say anything to piss people off. He will show you guys a lot of love because he knows how important wearing your colors is to you. Our stadium speaker/DJ always played ‘Born in the USA’ when he scored, but we all hated that.
WAW: Do you know much about him away from football?
Martijn: No, not really. He’s online a lot and it looks like he’s all about his projects to help kids and poor people in Haiti. I know he has a Dutch girlfriend, but nobody cares about that stuff here.
WAW: Generally are AZ fans sad to see him leave or is he considered easy to replace?
Martijn: We are a little sad, but we know the club had to accept the offer. Altidore cost us just 1,5 million euros and Villarreal paid up to 50% of his salary up to this summer. We could not afford him any more. Having said that, we’re confident that the club signed a player who’s even better than Altidore. His name is Aron Jóhannsson and I think he will be the next money-maker for us.
WAW: Finally - do you think this is a good signing for Sunderland?
Martijn: That answer is very simple. Yes, yes and yes! Like I said, he’s not the Jozy you’ve seen before and I think he will become a very big success at Sunderland.