Jozy Altidore is a man-child. Just 17 years old, the American-born soccer phenom stands more than 6 feet tall and weighs no less than 175 pounds. As a boy playing a man's game-- professional soccer with New York Red Bulls of Major League Soccer-- he needs every ounce.
Altidore missed a game last May so he could take his girlfriend to her prom, and when he's not enjoying a mid-afternoon nap at his mom's house in New Jersey, the recent high school graduate just might be busy updating his blog on The New York Times Web site.
In a sports culture that is forever reaching for the "next big thing," continued success and development for Altidore would make him the first big thing to come out of our confounding soccer nation. His friend and teammate on the U.S. under-20 national team, the superhyped teen Freddy Adu, has, according to many, taken his millions from Nike and done little else.
As much as the two men -- boys, really -- swear allegiance to one another, Adu and Altidore are remarkably different players, playing different positions. Adu is a midfielder who can appear nifty in spurts, but is prohibitively inconsistent, critics say. Altidore's game remains unrefined, but he plays a straightforward style -- and a position where quality is easy to measure.
Altidore is a striker. His job is to score goals. The measurements are simple. The person is not.
"I think that soccer is the most beautiful game, period," Altidore tells ABC News, having just arisen from another nap. "It has an art to it that no other sport can grasp, not even close. I understand you have to be a person who believes the same, but it's a belief that's growing here in the States."
Altidore's personal growth, here in the States, may be nearing an end. The MLS season finishes in late November. He will turn 18 Nov. 6, and thus become eligible for a move to Europe. There is little doubt that interest exists overseas. Altidore is well-thought of enough that FIFA and EA Sports decided to put him, along with Ronaldinho and Mexican star Guillermo Ochoa, on the cover of the North American version of this year's "FIFA 2008" soccer video game.
"I would love to go to [play in] Europe," the new cover boy said. He pauses to consider the proclamation, then goes on, "But I can't just sit on the phone and say 'Hey, I want to go to Europe.' Like anyone else, I would love to go. But all I can do in the States is play and play well, and wait for the clubs to come calling."
Bruce Arena, Altidore's coach in New York and manager of the U.S. men's national team from 1998-2006, is even more cautious. Arena has coached in two World Cups, and knows how fickle the footballing world can be.
"This guy is playing in a position where we've never had a top level player," Arena said. "I've forewarned the media before ? and I've said we've made some major blunders in the past in terms of proclaiming players this or that. Jozy needs time. He needs to be patient."
You'd be hard-pressed finding anyone to contend that point. But the question that follows is more difficult. Where, exactly, is the best place for Altidore to take his time, be patient and develop the technical intricacies of his game?"
There are Americans succeeding in Europe, but most are goalies. Midfielder/forward Clint Dempsey has been coming up trumps for the Premier League's Fulham this year, but he is not a prototypical strike threat.