Jozy Altidore and the importance of soccer in South Florida

By Pedro Heizer

Sports Editor

In 1998, while David Beckham played in his first World Cup, and Ronaldinho tore up the Brazilian league with skills that soon made him a World superstar, Jozy Altidore was eight years old Boca Raton kid.

When Altidore was in elementary, she was toying with children at local parks. Josef Schulz, a longtime youth coach in Boca Raton, took note of Altidore when he was 8 years old. Altidore was playing a pickup game at Boca’s South County Regional Park and Schultz was amazed.

“I could not believe his maturity for a player his age,” Schulz said. “I’m from Europe. Soccer is my profession. I know what 8-year-olds normally look like, and Jozy was different. He had an awareness other kids his age don’t have. I told his father, ‘I see something in your son, and I think someday he could make the national team.’ His dad laughed.”

At 15, Altidore left home for the U.S. Soccer Residency Program in Bradenton, FL. But, during that time not many knew about Jozy Altidore because of his counterpart, Freddy Adu. “The big hype at that time was Freddy Adu, but I told people, ‘By the time they are 18, 19, 20, Adu will be forgotten, and Jozy will still be around,” Schultz said.

Unlike Adu, who drew immediate fame as America’s next big thing in soccer at age 14, Altidore stayed under the radar as a prospect until he was 16 when he was drafted by the New York MetroStars (now the New York Red Bulls) of Major League Soccer with the 17th overall pick in the 2006 MLS SuperDraft.

He impressed immediately in his rookie campaign scoring three goals in seven games. Two years later, Spanish club Villarreal thought enough of the prodigy to pay $10 million for hisrights, an MLS-record fee. At 19, he became the youngest player to score for the U.S. national team.

Just because he was a MajorLeague Soccer star, didn’t mean that it came without pains.

“When I was first approached by MLS, my mother was not too fond of the idea of me playing professional soccer right away. She thought it’s more important to get an education than to pursue personal goals, like athletics.” said Altidore in an interview with yahoo sports.

But, he continued school and received his High School Diploma and was also a star in Major League Soccer.

“All I wanted was for my children to go to college,” His mother said. “I love school, love college sports. Look at [tennis player] John Isner. He went to college and is now playing pro. that’s what I planned for Jozy. He was getting letters from many colleges. My first choice was UCLA. But he kept telling me, ‘Mama, I’m going professional.’ I thought it was a bad idea, but my husband had a long talk with me and convinced me it was the right thing for Jozy. He was different from the other kids.”

Let’s fast-forward to 2010; Jozy Altidore is one of the X-Factors for the U.S National team. It seems like it was just yesterday that Josef Schulz was taking a walk around South County Regional Park here in Boca and he saw one of the greatest eight year old play.

Schulz talked to the parents, convinced them to bring their soon-to be superstar son to play with him in the Schulz Academy here in Boca Raton. And from then on, the rest is history. We are witnessing a hometown hero in the flesh, Jozy Altidore, striker for the US National Team.