For Jozy Altidore, Orlando is as close to home as MLS takes him


Danny Morales / Valencia Voice

Jozy Altidore grew up playing youth soccer just a few hours south of Orlando.

Jozy Altidore grew up in south Florida and played youth soccer for multiple programs including Boca Raton Juniors SC so Sunday’s game against Orlando City SC in the Citrus Bowl is as close to home as the MLS schedule can take him.

Altidore says he plans on having 40-50 friends and family come out to the game on Sunday, joking that there’ll be a “section of Altidores” in the Citrus Bowl during the game. Boca Raton is no more than a three-hour drive from Orlando, making it an easy commute via vehicle.

This is the 25-year-old strikers first year back in the MLS since leaving for Europe following the 2008 season and it is also the first year he’s had an opportunity to play a league match in the same state he grew up in as the MLS didn’t have a presence in Florida following the folding of the Miami Fusion and Tampa Bay Mutiny.

“I used to go to Fusion games when I was young all the time,” said Altidore while adding that he’s happy to see the MLS return to the Sunshine State with Orlando City and “hopefully Miami.”

Times are different now in the MLS from when Altidore made his league debut in 2006, including the shift in world class players making the commitment to come play in America while they still have good soccer left to play. Players like Orlando City’s Kaká, Brek Shea as well as Altidore himself have decided to come to the MLS as recently as this past offseason.

“The obvious difference is the level of play has gone up, you never know what’s going to happen in any given game,” said Altidore about the improvement of the league over the past seven years. “I think it’s exciting that a lot of teams have their own stadiums [and] have their own academies.

“You see the types of numbers teams are getting to support them in terms of the fans that are coming out, the league has grown by leaps and bounds in such a short time.”

Altidore has scored two goals in four games so far this season for Toronto FC after scoring three total goals for Sunderland over the course of two seasons in England. The New Jersey-born forward also has 78 caps for the United States National Team to go along with 27 goals for the Red, White & Blue. He is also the youngest player in U.S. Soccer history to get a hat-trick.

While Altidore was forced to miss the final three games of the 2014 World Cup due to a hamstring injury, the 25-year-old figures to be a staple in the U.S. National roster for years to come.

Orlando City SC and Toronto FC will face off at the Citrus Bowl on Sunday with kickoff scheduled for 7 p.m. EST. The game will be televised on Fox Sports 1.