In an editorial titled “Flops Hurt U.S. Export Market,” Soccer America editor Paul Kennedy claims that the European careers of Freddy Adu, Eddie Johnson, and Jozy Altidore have hurt the United States’ reputation “in Europe as a producer of attacking talent.”
We say: file this one under “three makes it a trend.”
Kennedy needed a third U.S.-bred “bust” in Europe to legitimize his premise, so he stuffed the square peg Altidore into the round hole of his argument, made after all three players were loaned at the close of the winter transfer window.
It’s indisputable that Adu has been a bust in Europe (even though he’s still only 21), and fast becoming so regarding Johnson, who’s now 26.
But Altidore? We beg to differ.
He moved to Villareal from Red Bull New York in the fall of 2008 for an MLS-record $10 million transfer fee. In his first season there, he made nine appearances and scored a goal (against Atletico Bilbao) to become just the second American ever to score in La Liga.
The Yellow Submarine loaned him to second division Spanish side Xerex in 2009, a move that went off the rails for two reasons: 1. Xerex was winning the second division at the time, and were in very much of a ‘if it ain’t broke’ mode regarding their lineup. 2. Altidore got hurt and missed more than a month of the season.
Last season, he was loaned out to Hull, and though his stat line of two goals in 30 appearances was meager (and his stint there ended ignominiously), he was effective in other ways. He was always a handful for opponents’ backlines, he drew multiple penalties and fouls in dangerous areas, and he set up his teammates. His finishing needed work, for sure, but his time at Hull looks much worse on paper than it did on the field for the Yorkshire club.
Now, at this point—after two underwhelming loan spells—a player who was proving to be a bust in Europe might also fall out of his country’s national-team picture. The opposite has been true for Altidore, and his international career has some parallels to his time at Hull in particular.
Altidore appeared in every game for the U.S. at the 2010 World Cup, got the assist on Michael Bradley‘s critical game-tying goal against Slovenia, and made the centering pass that resulted in Landon Donovan’s iconic goal against Algeria. He also hit the bar after an overpowering run against England in the opening game, a play that missed winning the match for the U.S. by about three inches.
Many dismissed him as ineffective in South Africa because he didn’t score a goal in the tournament. The truth is he made a significant impact in all three of the U.S.’s group-stage games, and was consistently problematic for opposing defenses.
When he returned to Villareal for this season, Altidore scored two goals in the Copa del Rey, but only made two La Liga appearances. The reason? He was stuck behind Villareal’s other American-born striker, Giuseppe Rossi, who’s having the season of his life with 20 goals in 32 appearances (in all competitions).
It’s never a straightforward proposition trying to integrate yourself into a new culture and a new team, especially a successful one. It might even be harder, we submit—and Clint Dempsey backs us up*—if you’re American.
In any event, Altidore is still over there, slugging it out, and in a decidedly different category than Adu and Johnson.
Now he goes to Bursaspor, the defending Turkish champions who are just two points off the pace this season. They’re gunning for another title, they’re in a good position to clinch a Champions League berth, and they want Altidore (flew him to Turkey on a private jet, according to Kennedy). He’s in a great position to boost his career.
All that, and Villareal—the third place team in La Liga—retains his rights.
Altidore’s CV may not constitute a rousing success, we admit, but it’s also far—very far—from being a bust. Let’s see how he does at Bursaspor.
*In late 2009, Dempsey told ESPN’s Luke Cyphers: “Being an American in Europe, you can’t just be as good as another player. You have to be better.”