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At World Cup, Boca Raton's Jozy Altidore is the man to beat

Reporting from Irene, South Africa — Landon Donovan got the goal. Jozy Altidore got the cuts and bruises.

On Thursday, the day after the most memorable victory in recent U.S. soccer history, both players were holding court near the American team's rural base in Irene.

For obvious reasons, the larger media crowd was gathered around three-time World Cup veteran Donovan. The argument could easily be made, however, that Altidore was just as responsible for beating Algeria.

Certainly, Algeria was responsible for beating him.

As the main U.S. target man up front, Altidore was constantly hacked and kicked and tripped and shoved and generally roughed up during the 1-0 win — as much as anyone can rough up a player of his size and strength.

Altidore wound up suffering a team-high six fouls, the second successive game in which he has been the most-fouled U.S. player.

U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard, who takes more than a few knocks of his own, brushed off the statistic.

"Jozy's a big boy," Howard said. "He can give as good as he gets. He won't tell you that, but I think he does."

Donovan, who benefits more than most by Altidore's willingness to soften the opposing defense, said the 20-year-old from Boca Raton, Fla., was the key to the win.

"When Jozy plays the way he's been playing, we are a different team," Donovan said. "He puts fear into every defender he comes against. He hasn't scored, but he's done a lot of things for our team, and you have to assume at some point he's going to get his goal."

Altidore has scored nine goals in 28 games for the U.S., but his most valuable single contribution so far in South Africa has been providing the cross on Wednesday night that resulted in Donovan's game-winning goal in injury time.

Defensive midfielder Maurice Edu is another teammate who recognized Altidore's value.

"I thought Jozy had a great game," Edu said. "He took a lot of knocks, a lot of kicks, a lot of bumps along the way, but he fought through it all and he showed his true talent. He went at defenders and terrorized their back line for most of the game."

After the match in Pretoria, Altidore spent some time with another athlete who takes his share of bruises — former USC and now New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush, who is in South Africa watching the World Cup.

On Thursday, Altidore talked about the game, the winning goal and the physical punishment he takes.

"We always felt like we were in the game," he said. "We never really felt like there was a point where, you know, we're not going to get this. That play just happened to be a play where a couple of us looked at each other and said this is going to be our chance.... We got a little bit lucky, I think, but you need a little luck in these types of tournaments.

"I don't know, going into the games, that I'm going to be hammered. I just think the best way to approach any game is to be fearless. Chances come from that, when guys are putting their bodies in places where you know it's going to hurt, because that's how goals come. In crucial moments of the game, that's how you create opportunities."

Bob Bradley, the U.S. coach, said Altidore has earned his starting spot.

"Jozy's done very well," he said. "For a young player, we rely a lot on him, we ask a lot of him, we challenge him, and I think his responses have always been good.

"In this tournament, in tough games, he's been a presence, he's kept going. In the second half, when we've needed him to be stronger, he's been there.… He's become a real important man in our team."

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