US Soccer’s Player of the Year Jozy Altidore Talks World Cup & the Toughest Places to Play

The American striker hopes for the best. (The best being world domination.)

First, congratulations on being named the US player of the year. What does that honor mean to you?

Oh, it’s huge. I mean, when I started out playing I never envisioned this. You dream of getting to this level, but I never thought it’d be possible. Especially coming up in the States, where it’s not easy to get seen playing soccer – so it’s a huge honor. My family and I hold it in the highest regard. It’s definitely a privilege.

You have had a chance to play around with the Brazuca, the new World Cup ball. How does it feel to you?

It feels great. I think Adidas did a great job in terms of really testing up the ball in every way. It plays well on a lot of surfaces and I think the way it feels on your foot is important. I think it’s good for control and it’s good for players who like to dribble. Overall, it’s a really balanced ball.

So you think this is the ball that finally manages to satisfy everybody?

Yeah. It’s easy to control, the grip is great, and I think that’s important in soccer. The ball flies when you shoot it, which is also great for attackers. So I think overall it’s a good, balanced ball and it gives everybody a fair chance.

What are the main differences, in your eyes, between club and national play?

I don’t think you can compare the two. I mean, obviously, club is extremely serious and extremely important. It’s where you apply your training and it’s the place that pays you throughout the year. But playing for your country, I don’t think anything can add up to that. I think that’s self-explanatory and special in its own right. If anybody’s ever had the opportunity to do it they would tell you how special it is.

The US has picked up a bit of a difficult World Cup draw. Do you feel ready for it?

Oh, definitely. I mean, I think it is what it is. The World Cup is the best of the best. That’s why it’s the most prestigious sporting event in the world. It doesn’t get any bigger than that, so I’m excited. Like I said, if you want to go somewhere in the tournament, you have to beat the best teams. So I’m excited and looking forward to it.

You open against Ghana, who took the US out of the World Cup four years ago. Do you see the match as sort of a measuring stick for how US soccer has progressed over the past four years?

Not really. I mean, I always feel the World Cup is sometimes unforgiving because it’s such a short period of time and anything can happen on any given day. And I think the progress has to be looked at over the past two or three years. Obviously the World Cup is what matters in people’s eyes, but also if you look at the past couple years the team has progressed really well and I think we’re peaking at the right time. So I’m looking forward to that first game against Ghana.

The team has some new blood – most notably John Brooks and Aron Johannsson. What have those guys brought to the team?

Brooks is a young guy who is good on the ball. He’s a tough guy to beat which is good for a defender. And Aron is a guy that can do a lot of things, and I think we’re seeing the tip the iceberg of what he can do with his potential. So he’s going to be an exciting player to have with us. I think he will continue to get better and better.

You’ve played all around the world for clubs and for country. What comes to your mind as the toughest stadium to play as a visitor?

I mean I’ve had a few. I think the old stadium in Costa Rica and Azteca in Mexico – it’s difficult to go to places like that and get victories.

Would you – at some point in your career – consider playing for the MLS again?

Oh, absolutely. It’s definitely an option and hopefully going forward it can become a reality. At this very point in time maybe not, but definitely at some point. You never know. Never say never.

One more question” who is your favorite Tim Howard- with beard or with no beard?

[Laughs] My favorite Tim Howard is the Tim Howard that’s stopping every ball that comes his way – so if that’s with a beard, then I’m for beard. If that’s no beard, I’m for no beard.

Photos by Adidas