Overtime: The summer of Jozy

OvertimeSoccer in the United States is still in development. Talk to anyone who thinks they know about soccer and they’ll snap back about how the highest level of the game is played outside of America. And they’ll be correct.

The U.S. is growing, though. It is going through the same transitions countries like Argentina experienced when they were adopting basketball. When the Dream Team steamrolled in Barcelona, Argentina wasn’t even in the field.

14 years later, they won gold. No matter how much of a mess the U.S. team was that year, Argentina had turned into a certified player in the sport.

A large part of cultivating talent within the country is generating interest in the game. David Beckham crossed the pond in 2007 to help do that. The New York Red Bulls signed Thierry Henry in 2010 for the same purpose.

Although, nothing can energize Americans like a successful FIFA World Cup run.

The people who don’t generally care start caring every fourth summer. The better the team does, the bigger the impact it has on the nation – especially the little ones deciding what sport to play.

Some would say the almost guaranteed brain trauma that comes from stepping on a football field should be enough to sell soccer to the youth, but we’re not there yet.

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The current generation of pro American soccer players is bridging the gap. They are beginning to excel both in and outside of the U.S., which is huge. Our country is becoming a serious piece of the soccer world.

The process is in full gear now, and the U.S. men’s team is posturing to hit the NOS button next June in Brazil.

Which brings me to Jozy Altidore. He isn’t the sole catalyst for American soccer; he’s just having one hell of a summer.

Altidore first hit the scene as a 16-year-old phenom – the less popular version of Freddy Adu, basically. He became a pro in 2006 and started fulfilling his potential in 2011.

Over the last couple years, Altidore has turned into an elite striker in the top Netherlands league, and one of the most important players on the U.S. team.

Altidore’s value to our nation’s club exploded last month. He started by scoring in a friendly against Germany, and then went on to net goals in all three World Cup qualifiers over the course of June.

Prior to the friendly with Germany, the former prodigy had not scored in his last 22 Team USA games. He didn’t just end that streak; he ripped it to shreds, and started a much more impressive one.

Four straight goals, four straight wins. And with that, the U.S. is on pace to enter the final qualifying stage in great position.

Altidore also inked a deal with the Sunderland Black Cats this summer. Sunderland plays in the Premier League, which is the world’s most competitive soccer league. If iron sharpens iron, he should be plenty sharp for the 2014 World Cup.

Jozy Altidore and American soccer are quite similar: both are evolving to new heights.

One is maturing into a striker who can make opposing defenses wilt, and the other is blossoming into a true national sport.