South Florida’s Jozy Altidore, Alejandro Bedoya eager to excel at World Cup

Their long, arduous and often lonely journey to the U.S. World Cup team began on South Florida youth soccer fields. Jozy Altidore and Alejandro Bedoya are living proof that, improbable as it might seem, it is possible to go from the Boca (Raton) Juniors and Weston Fury to the sport’s grandest stage.

Both of their stories define the American dream.

Altidore is the 24-year-old son of Haitian immigrants who met on a bus in Orange, New Jersey. The family moved to Coral Springs when Altidore was 2 because his father, Joseph, a FedEx carrier, had allergies. Jozy spent his childhood playing for Boca Juniors, and was discovered at age 8 by the club director, who saw some fancy footwork one afternoon at South County Regional Park.

Bedoya, 27, is the son of Colombian immigrants. His father, Adriano, a South and Central American director of sales for Sony, played pro in Colombia as did his grandfather, Fabio. Alejandro played youth soccer with the Fury and was known for his boundless energy and work ethic.

Altidore went on to play at Boca Prep, and Bedoya at Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, where he led the team to the 2005 state championship. From there, they took divergent career paths.

Finding their way

Altidore has traipsed from Bradenton to New York to Spain to England to Turkey to the Netherlands and back to England. Bedoya also has led a nomadic adult life. After playing college soccer at Fairleigh Dickinson and Boston College, he signed with Orebro in Sweden, then went to the Glasgow Rangers in Scotland, back to Sweden with Helsingborgs, and in 2013, Bedoya signed with Nantes of the French first division.

The move to Nantes was exactly what Bedoya needed to impress U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who urges American players to step out of their comfort zones and play in Europe whenever possible. Bedoya was one of the final players cut from the 2010 World Cup roster. This time, he vowed to earn a spot on the 23-man roster.

“Last time, I was just happy to be in camp,” Bedoya said. “It was a learning experience for me. But I’ve grown a lot as a player, and I’m a lot more confident. I was an unknown American name when I arrived in France last year, and I ended up having a solid season, scoring goals in one of the top five leagues in the world. I feel like I belong on the World Cup team.”

Klinsmann agrees.

“Alejandro definitely had a very good season with Nantes, and also the fact that he went there in the first place, he stepped it up and became more mature,” Klinsmann said. “He developed more drive and consistency in his game. When you play games against Paris Saint-Germaine, Olympique de Marseille, AS Monaco, and you play well and might even score or create chances against those teams, that’s great and makes us proud. He’s taken a big step forward over the past 12 to 18 months, and now comes another big step.”

Bedoya said there were many lonely moments as he joined new teams and had to pick up foreign languages and customs. But he kept his compass pointed at the World Cup, and everything fell into place.

Things have not gone quite as well for Altidore of late. After scoring 31 goals in the Dutch league with AZ Alkmaar in 2012-13, he scored just one in 31 matches with English club Sunderland this season and lost his starting job. He has not scored in six consecutive U.S. matches, either.

But Klinsmann continues to support the powerful forward and believes he will break out of his slump just in the nick of time.

The coach even named Altidore Man of the Match against Azerbaijan on Wednesday, an odd choice considering he didn’t score.

“Jozy did what we asked him to do — kind of keep that defense on their toes, go at them, get these one-against-one battles and create something,” Klinsmann told reporters after the game.

“He’s full of energy. He’s sharp. He’s going for the goal, looking for his chances and creating himself some chances. He did very well. … He will come through and he will start to score. Obviously, the sooner the better for every striker, but I’m very, very positive.”

Staying positive

Klinsmann went on about Altidore, saying, “He is on a very good path. From what we see, obviously psychologically he has to leave behind that entire season with Sunderland. It is a season that ended thankfully positively for the club being not relegated after being in the danger zone.

“But for him personally, it was not what he expected. So the good thing about sports in general is that you are always looking forward to the next game or the next challenge and he has already forgotten what happened during the whole of last year.”

Altidore has been making headlines since he was drafted by the New York Red Bulls in 2007 as a 16-year-old. In 2009, Spanish club Villarreal took a chance on him, and thought highly enough of him to pay a $10 million transfer fee, which was an MLS record. But other than his time at Alkmaar, the European leagues have not been good to him. He scored just one goal in 28 games for Hull City before the 2010 World Cup.

Klinsmann shrugs off the naysayers. He likes having a big, physical forward up top ahead of Clint Dempsey, and Altidore is that guy.

“Jozy is still a very young player, and he’s going into his learning curve,” Klinsmann said. “We have worked with him for three years, and he’s gone from a much younger player to a more mature player. Still, we see Jozy in his development phase. Jozy is not built yet, has not reached him potential yet. I think the next two months will be a big part of that next learning curve for Jozy. I’ve always said he has an upside; he hasn’t shown it yet in different places.

“We believe Jozy can play a very big World Cup.”

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