Jozy Altidore was hugging U.S. teammates on a field in Sarajevo on Wednesday night, celebrating his second-half hat trick in a 4-3 win against Bosnia-Herzegovina, when his mind traveled straight to Boca Raton.
He thought about his youth coach and mentor Josef Schulz, who died of cancer in late July at age 61. Shulz is a former Austrian player and coach who discovered Altidore when he was 8 years old. Schulz and his wife were walking through their Boca Raton neighborhood one afternoon and stopped to watch a pickup soccer game. Schulz was mesmerized by Altidore, a Haitian-American who had recently moved to the area from New Jersey.
Schulz walked up to Altidore’s parents and told them that crazy as it sounded, their son would one day play on the U.S. national team.
Altidore never forgot that prediction, and he carries his mentor’s memory with him when he wears his U.S. jersey and also his Sunderland jersey in the English Premier League.
“Mr. Schulz saw something in me years ago when I was just a kid and believed I could find success and achieve moments like this, and because of that, I will be forever grateful,” Altidore said after beating Bosnia win. “He would have been very proud to see me in a moment like this.”
Altidore became the first U.S. player to score in five consecutive international matches. He is the fourth U.S. player to score a hat trick on foreign soil, and the first in 45 years. The previous one was by Peter Millar in Haiti in 1968, and before that, it hadn’t happened since the 1930s.
The U.S. win was its 12th in a row, the longest in team history and the longest in the world right now.
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who had left Altidore off some rosters early in his tenure, is thrilled with the forward’s recent performances.
“We see Jozy understanding the demands at this level, to be consistent and always focused,” Klinsmann said. “He went through a lot of maturing the last couple years. The ups and downs are normal. But he really understands when it counts and how he has to be there with his presence. He makes everybody around him a better player and its real enjoyable, real fun.”
The coach said coming from behind to win on U.S. soil should boost the team’s confidence.
“It’s good for the guys to see we can come to Europe and we’re not here to defend, we’re here to play eye-to-eye,” Klinsmann said. “I think everybody here in Bosnia saw that the second half we dictated the tempo and kept the rhythm going. The passing in moments was fun to watch.”
“It definitely prepares us confidence-wise [for upcoming World Cup qualifiers]. If something goes wrong and we’re down a goal or two goals, we know how to react the right way. We know to keep playing at our rhythm and our pace and our passing game. Going into Costa Rica, it will be very dramatic, and we’ll need to have a calm element in our game to say, even if something goes wrong, we’ll still make it through, score and even win the game.”
The United States plays at Costa Rica on Sept. 6.
• Cuban Perez at home with Strikers: When Yaikel Perez snuck away from the Cuban national team during the 2005 Gold Cup in Seattle and sought political asylum, he dreamed of playing in Major League Soccer or in Europe.
Eight years later, he is still chasing that goal and believes he took a big step by signing with the Fort Lauderdale Strikers last week. Perez, a 28-year-old forward, played for Miami FC in 2006, moved to the Puerto Rican league, and spent the past year and a half in El Salvador with Club Deportivo Águila and Alianza Fútbol.
“I’m so happy to be back in Miami with the first club that opened its doors to me,” Perez said of the Strikers, formerly Miami FC. “My father has lived in Miami for 20 years, so I feel at home here. I have learned from my experiences in Puerto Rico and El Salvador, but I felt scouts weren’t seeing me there, so I was eager to get back to the United States.”
He still hopes to reach MLS.
“I am very ambitious, and want to play at a higher level,” he said. “I’m 28, and time is passing, but I never let myself get down. I keep pushing forward, hoping someone notices me and I get lucky.”
In the meantime, he is excited to play in front of his father and friends, and to go watch his father pitch in a local baseball league. His father, Juan Carlos Perez, plays every Sunday in a Nicaraguan league.
“My dad will come watch me Aug. 30 against Carolina, and I will go see him on Sundays,” Perez said.
Asked if he will load up on Cuban food now that he’s back in South Florida, he laughed and said, “Too fattening.”