The United States inched closer to World Cup qualification with a 1-0 win over Honduras Tuesday night, with three players standing out in the victory. Jozy Altidore scored his fourth goal in four games for the national team, Michael Bradley controlled the midfield with his will and grit and Tim Howard kept a second straight clean sheet, as the US looks poised to be in the world’s biggest tournament next year in Brazil.
Altidore, Bradley and Howard are three of the main cogs for the US Men’s National Team. All three players cut their teeth in Major League Soccer before making the jump abroad, developing into key players for both club and country. All three were born and raised in the state of New Jersey. And they all made their names with the Red Bulls/MetroStars franchise.
Of the three players mentioned, Tim Howard might have had the hardest road to national team stardom, beginning his career in the humblest of places.
The North Brunswick native actually started his professional career in 1997 with the now-defunct North Jersey Imperials of the USL. After just six appearances, the now 34-year-old was signed by New York after being watched by then-goalkeeping coach Tim Mulqueen. He would work his way into starting lineup and became the unquestioned starting goalie in 2001. He led the Metros to a playoff berth that season and won MLS goalkeeper of the year honors, the youngest goalie to win the award at the time.
His performances with the MetroStars put him on the radar of one of the biggest clubs in the world – Manchester United. In 2003, the imposing 6-foot-3 keeper was bought by the Red Devils for $4 million and took the first-choice goalkeeper spot as his own. He won the Community Shield in 2003 and became the second American to ever win an FA Cup winner’s medal in 2004, helping United to beat a Tim Cahill-led Millwall side in the final.
Howard had to endure a rough two seasons with Man U and was relegated to the bench before a move to Everton in 2006 revitalized his career. He has been a consistent performer with the Blues – the 34-year-old recently recorded his 100th clean sheet with Everton this past season – and will be the United States’ starting goalie in the 2014 World Cup should it qualify.
A solid performer, Howard is built like a colossus and has adapted to the rough-and-tumble world of Premier League soccer. While all goalies make mistakes, Howard has shown mental toughness to ignore his gaffes and persevered, becoming one of the Premier League’s best shot stoppers.
Michael Bradley may have the spent the least amount of time with the Red Bulls/Metro Stars franchise, but on the national team, the Princeton, New Jersey-born central midfielder might have the biggest impact.
The son of former men’s national team and Metro Stars coach Bob Bradley, Michael played just one season in New York, making 30 appearances in the 2004-05 season. He became the youngest MLS player to be sold to a foreign league in 2006, making the move to SC Heerenveen, a Dutch club. After stints in Germany, England and Italy, the 25-year-old has found a home in the Eternal City with popular club AS Roma.
Bradley combines the technical prowess of the European game with the hard-working ethic and rugged athleticism that his American upbringing has provided him. Bradley is an old fashioned “box-to-box” midfielder, proficient in both attacking and defensive areas of the pitch. He is a tough tackler, has the ability to play killer passes and can get forward and join in the attack. During the 2012-13 season, Bradley even supplanted Roma legend Daniele De Rossi as one of the starting central midfielders for the Giallorossi.
Still young enough to improve on his game, Bradley could go down as one of the best Americans to ever play soccer if he continues his development.
The scouting report on Jozy Altidore has been one of a player who had yet reached his potential – that is, until this season.
The Livingston, New Jersey made his professional at the age of 16 with the Red Bulls in 2006 and has always had the physical tools to succeed. A big, battering ram of a striker, Altidore tallied nine goals in 2007 with the Red Bulls before earning a big-money transfer to Spanish outfit Villarreal in 2008.
But the forward never did find his form in Spain and had trouble scoring when given the chance to play. Loan moves to Turkey and England didn’t do the 21-year-old much good and it was looking like Altidore’s career was going to stagnate. US national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann had his doubts about Altidore’s future national team hopes and even dropped him from the starting lineup.
Turns out all he needed to do was move to Holland. Altidore signed with Dutch club AZ Alkmaar in 2011 and his career has shot skyward. He scored 20 goals in his first season and broke through with 31 this past year, leading AZ to a Dutch Cup win, the first Cup victory in 31 years.
For Altidore, Bradley and Howard, the foundations for their success were all laid with the Red Bulls franchise. While the club has not enjoyed team success, the individual success of the young American talent is something to be proud of and not to be overlooked
Up Next for the Red Bulls
After being eliminated from the US Open Cup by the Revolution last week, New York is back in action Sunday against the Philadelphia Union. The Red Bulls return to MSG Thursday, July 4 against the Colorado Rapids.