Hoping to ease sting of painful year

Hoping to ease sting of painful year

It was night in England on January 12, just before his bedtime, when Jozy Altidore began to get the troubling news that an earthquake had struck Haiti, birthplace of his parents, home to more than two dozen relatives.

He had helped buy cellphones for his uncles and aunts and cousins, and they kept in daily contact through text messages. But the earthquake was devastating, and communication with many of his relatives was difficult. Some would remain out of touch for days.

"My mom was struggling for a very long time," Altidore said of Gisele Altidore, who with Jozy's father, Joseph, left Haiti in the mid-1970s for New Jersey to escape the authoritarian Duvalier government. "Fortunately, she heard from her brother; that was one of the best days of her life."

The past year has been troubling, even beyond the brutal earthquake, for Altidore, a 20-year-old forward for the US soccer team. His close friend Charlie Davies, a forward, was seriously injured in a car accident. He scored only two goals for Hull City, and his club was relegated from the English Premier League. His manager criticised him for an indifferent attitude in training. His club season ended with a loss of composure and suspension as Altidore head-butted an opponent, raising questions about his maturity.
"It was a tough year for me as a whole, soccer, life," the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Altidore said. "I'm happy it's all getting better now. Hopefully, it can start off right with the World Cup."

The earthquake crumbled much of the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, and killed more than 200,000 people, including 32 officials who died when Haiti's soccer federation headquarters collapsed. Altidore was given a compassion leave by Hull City and began speaking out, talking to reporters about Haiti's desperate situation, helping to raise money for earthquake victims. He spent days of horrible unknowing, hoping that his relatives and friends were safe. Some days, he just sat in front of the television and watched. Some days, he could not bear to watch. "It was difficult not to be able to hear from them and not get ahold of them," Altidore said of his relatives.

He said he donated his own money for the relief effort and helped raise about $300,000 in England, much of it channelled through Yele Haiti, a foundation established by the musician Wyclef Jean.

There was turbulence, too, in his soccer career, one that has been full of promise and commotion. Altidore scored his first goal for the national team at 18, the youngest of any American in the modern era. Last June, at the Confederations Cup, he wheeled and scored an emphatic goal in a victory against Spain, then the world's No 1 team.
Yet his club career has been largely one of rust and a lack of fulfilment. He played little in Spain with Villarreal and Deportivo Xerez during the 2008-9 season. Hull City sank out of the English Premier League in 2009-10. His season ended prematurely, though, on April 24 in a match against Sunderland. Altidore head-butted Alan Hutton, who had thrown a ball at him, and was ejected and suspended. He apologised on his Twitter account, saying the head-butt was accidental but acknowledging that it portrayed him in a bad light.

"It was a tough way to end it," Altidore said. "It goes down as experience. You just look forward. The World Cup is a great opportunity. You take that and keep looking forward."
As the World Cup approaches, at least Altidore can count on reliable fitness from the beginning. At the Confederations Cup, he essentially had to play himself into shape after a fallow club season in Spain.

With Davies unavailable, Altidore, who has eight goals in 24 international appearances, seems to be the one sure bet to start at forward for the United States in the World Cup. He said he felt his style was resourceful enough that he could play with anyone up front. Before the World Cup training camp opened, Altidore ran into David Beckham at a Los Angeles Lakers game. Beckham is injured and will not play for England against United States in a World Cup opener June 12. Without him, Altidore told Beckham, the Americans would win, 3-0.

"I was just joking around," Altidore said. Given the year he has had, he needed a laugh....

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