USA-Haiti offers Jozy Altidore an opportunity to bond with his heritage

FOXBORO, Mass. —

Past experience provides Jozy Altidore with instructive knowledge now. He spent much of his childhood following the Haitian national team. He grew up in a Haitian-influenced household in Boca Raton, Fla. and kept careful watch over the trials and the tribulations of his parents’ homeland. He tracked the Haitian national team carefully and watched them intently as he dreamed of a career of his own.

For the first time, Altidore boasts an opportunity to summon those memories and potentially apply them on the field. This meeting between the U.S. national team and Haiti on Friday (live, 8 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1, FOX Sports Go) combines his heritage with his career. And the links that bind the two lend him some insight into the challenges ahead.

"Haiti’s always unpredictable," Altidore said before the U.S. trained in the shadow of Gillette Stadium on Friday morning. "From the times I’ve been watching them since I was young and the games I went to all the way up until now, you never know what you’re going to get. A lot of that is a good thing. Sometimes, they have players that can make something out of nothing, something you hadn’t seen before. It’s something we have to be aware of."

It is a message Altidore took to heart long ago. His parents, Giselle and Joseph, brought him to Port-au-Prince as a child to visit his extended family and establish ties with their native land. He reveled the stories they told about their life on the island and soaked up every last detail about how they made the transition from their homeland to south Florida.

Once Altidore established himself as a professional, he figured out a way to leverage his career to help those in need back in Haiti. He created the Jozy Altidore Foundation to assist underprivileged children around the world, and raised more than $6,000 to build a well for a Haitian village in need of fresh water in the wake of the devastating earthquake on the island five years ago.

Altidore’s charitable work provides yet another way to connect him to his ancestral home. His busy schedule restricts his opportunities to visit the island, but he remains tied to it through his work and his willingness to invest time and resources to the island.  

"I’m always doing stuff," Altidore said. "I’m always making donations myself and taking donations. I’m working on the next project right now. Hopefully, I’ll have some news on that in the future. But I’m looking forward to the game and seeing all of the Haitian fans out there tomorrow. It’ll be nice."

It is yet another step forward for Altidore in the wake of a frustrating spring. He is in the midst of working his way back toward full sharpness after missing more than a month with a right hamstring strain sustained back in May. U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann included Altidore in his starting XI for the 2-1 victory over Honduras on Tuesday, but he withdrew him just after the hour.

Those precious minutes allowed Altidore to locate his footing once more at the international level. He admitted he felt sore in the wake of that appearance in the oppressive conditions in Texas, but he said he hoped to make further strides as this Gold Cup progresses.

"Hopefully sooner rather than later," Altidore said. "It’s always tough when you have to play catch up, especially in a competition like this, where there is not much time. At the end of the day, I’m happy to be here to help the team. I’m not the guy that’s going to say I won’t come in at all. I’m not going to do that type of thing. I’m happy to be here. Any part I play, I’m happy to play."

Whether Altidore plays a substantial part in the proceedings remains uncertain. Klinsmann is expected to rotate his squad to keep his players fresh during this compressed group stage. Altidore — particularly given his status after that hamstring injury — might step aside at the outset to allow others to carry some of the burden instead.

Either way, this particular occasion presents him with a chance to bond with his heritage in a novel way. It is a moment he has anticipated for quite some time now. And it is one he plans to relish as this Gold Cup journey continues.

"I’m excited," Altidore said. "I haven’t thought much about it, but I look forward to it. Hopefully, if I’m on the field, it’ll be fun and a good moment for me in my career."