Just 27, Jozy Altidore is poised for a soccer milestone Sunday.
The Toronto FC striker can earn his 100th cap when the U.S. hosts Serbia at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. He would become only the 17th player in U.S. national team history to earn reach 100 and the second-youngest to do so after Landon Donovan (who hit the mark at 26 years 96 days).
Altidore is no fan of individual accolades, preferring to concentrate more on team goals. But he acknowledges that 100 caps is memorable.
“It’s a special milestone,” he told The Canadian Press at the U.S. training camp. “I’ve always wanted to represent my country, to play on the biggest stages. And to have that (milestone) come now is really surreal for me. You almost think where did the time go?
“But I’m really proud. I’m happy and I’m honoured that I had this many opportunities to represent such a great team, such a great nation.”
Altidore had just turned 18 when he earned his first cap on Nov. 17, 2007, coming on as a sub in the 65th minute of a 1-0 win over South Africa in the Nelson Mandela Challenge Cup.
“I remember it very well,” he said. “A lot of things happened that trip, funny things that you would have think prevented me from playing but somehow I got on the field. Looking back at it now, it was a moment that kind of put my career into perspective in terms of there’s always some highs and lows, some stops and goes, but in the end I managed to always keep churning along.”
He scored his first goal in his first start on Feb. 6, 2008, in a 2-2 draw with Mexico in Houston.
Altidore was 18 years 92 days when he banged home a shot from nine yards out before 70,103 fans at Reliant Stadium. At the time, he was the youngest player to score for the U.S. during the modern era.
“It was a special atmosphere, special game,” he recalled. “To get it against a big rival like Mexico was fantastic.”
In 2009, Altidore became the youngest player in U.S. national team history to score a hat trick in a 3-0 World Cup qualifying win over Trinidad and Tobago in Nashville.
Today, Altidore is sitting on 37 goals for his country.
The burly forward follows in the footsteps of U.S. centurions Marcelo Balboa, Paul Caligiuri, Cobi Jones, Eric Wynalda, Jeff Agoos, Joe-Max Moore, Claudio Reyna, Earnie Stewart, Tony Meola, Kasey Keller, Donovan, Carlos Bocanegra, DaMarcus Beasley, Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard and Toronto teammate Michael Bradley.
Bradley can earn his 127th cap Sunday.
Should Altidore earn his 100th cap, the U.S. will tie Saudi Arabia for most players to hit the century mark all-time, according to U.S. Soccer.
Serbia is ranked 45th in the world, compared to No. 28 for the U.S. The Americans play No. 77 Jamaica in Chattanooga on Feb. 3.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press