Seeking America's first soccer superstar in Beijing

Next week could have been a little like a coming out party.

Ever heard of Jozy Altidore? I would guess not.

But Villareal, the second-ranked team in arguably the world’s best league, Spain’s La Liga, paid his American team $10 million for him. In international soccer, where players are bought outright from other teams, not traded, this is a record transfer fee for an American.

As an Olympian, Altidore could have made his bow here had the US been among the medals. Yet tonight, a US defender picked up a red-card ejection in the third minute and the US never recovered. Playing a man down for 87 minutes, the US lost, 2-1.

Altidore, at least, has something to look forward to: becoming America’s first-ever world-class soccer player.

The others that have come before have so far failed. Landon Donovan decided he would rather live in southern California than test himself in the world’s best leagues, and Freddie Adu, when he leaves Beijing, will likely go back to the bench for Benfica, a Portuguese team.

Altidore is the Next Great Hope.

There are reasons to think he has the best chance of the lot. Even in the days of the weak dollar, $10 million counts as in investment. It means Villareal want him to succeed, and he will be given every chance to.

Moreover, unlike Adu and Donovan, who look like one stiff defender’s elbow could break them in half, Altidore is built like a boxer. He does not dance through defenses so much as bear down on them, as if the field were tilted toward their goal.

Yet the likes of Brazil turn out about 50 players a year like Altidore, of which maybe two or three become world class. Altidore and Adu, still only 19, make a class of two.

Even that is an improvement over the past, however. Altidore might not be the man to break through on the world stage, but he is a sign that America is heading in the right direction.

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