Soccer star Altidore mixes with local players

Victor Thompson, 15, got perhaps the greatest thrill of his young soccer career on Saturday.

Victor was one of about 30 elite players taking part in a clinic at Academy Sports Club. The players got some training and technique tips from Major League Soccer star Jozy Altidore, who just last month won the MLS Cup MVP title.

The training session was followed by a half-hour of scrimmaging, where Altidore manned one of the goals, shouting encouragement and directions to the players on the field in an almost constant banter.

“Take your time,” he called out as players moved the ball up the field. “Open up. Open up. Good tackle! Now we’re talking.”

When the action came near him, he encouraged the players to engage with him.

“You can press me if you want,” he told one tentative youth, admonishing another, “You can’t score on me, brother.”

Moments later, Victor proved him wrong. The tall, thin youth slipped a shot past the Toronto FC’s top player, into the low corner of the goal.

Soccer star Jozy Altidore, wearing a black shirt, runs with Academy Sports Club players as they warm up before a clinic. Altidore was in Cayman to work with the young players and raise funds for both their program and hurricane relief. – PHOTOs: TANEOS RAMSAY

“It felt amazing,” Victor said after the scrimmage was over. “It’s always a good feeling to score and it felt even better. It felt really good to know I could score on a professional player.”

The young athlete, who said he one day hopes to be a professional player himself, expected the experience of scoring the goal, along with getting to work under Altidore’s guidance, to stick with him.

“It’s going to push me even more,” he said. “I know I can make it like him because he was once in my shoes.”

Altidore, who is of Haitian descent and has stayed close to his Caribbean roots, was in Cayman for a weekend of appearances, including a Saturday evening gala fundraiser. A joint effort by the 7 Mile Society and the Jozy Altidore Foundation, the funds raised will go to support the Academy soccer programs and to relief efforts on islands hit by last year’s hurricanes.

This was Altidore’s first visit to the Cayman Islands. He said a friend suggested the trip and tying in some work for his foundation and hurricane relief.

“Anybody affected by the hurricane deserves our help,” he said.

It was also an enjoyable time for him.

“It’s not often I get to come and train with the kids,” he said. “It was a lot of fun.”

Toronto FC soccer star Jozy Altidore demonstrates passing techniques during a Saturday morning clinic with Academy Sports Club players.

He said he tried to impress upon them the idea that the training drills they do are the same ones he and his teammates do. The only difference is the level of commitment, he said.

“It’s just to give them a little bit of insight,” he said, and showing them, “the kind of intensity you [need to] bring to a training session.”

Cayman Islands national coach Bruce Sigsworth said meeting such a top-level player makes things more tangible.

“The boys watch MLS, they’ve seen Jozy win the MLS Cup,” he said. “It’s also good to see that the same things he does, they do here. He just does it at a higher level. We need to get to a higher level and go for it.”

Player Micah O’Garro, 15, said he learned several good tips from Altidore. More importantly, he said, he learned that he’s not a god.

MLS Cup MVP Jozy Altidore addresses Academy Sports Club players during a clinic he conducted Saturday morning. Altidore was on the island to work with the players and attend a fundraising event to benefit local soccer programs and hurricane relief efforts. – PHOTO: TANEOS RAMSAY

“It’s the first American professional player I’ve met,” he said. “You think of them as superheroes, but when you meet them they’re human, just like us.”

O’Garro’s teammate, Victor, said the team benefited from Altidore’s direction.

“Not many professional players come to Cayman,” Victor said. “We don’t get that level of training. He showed us different ways to control the ball and always control it forward.”

And, of course, he got to score a memorable goal.

“I’m not a goalie,” Altidore pointed out, “but he should feel good about that.”

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