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Joe Gyau on life at Hoffenheim, Dortmund, the USMNT, and FC Cincinnati

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FC Cincinnati winger Joe Gyau has packed so much into the first 27 years of his life that his career resembles that of a man 10 years his age.

Gyau made his first team debut for Hoffenheim at 19 alongside a 20-year-old Roberto Firmino. His full USMNT debut came three weeks before his Borussia Dortmund debut, when Jurgen Klopp subbed him on for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

[ BUNDESLIGA: Week 27 predictions and preview ]

He tore his meniscus weeks later in his second cap for Jurgen Klinsmann, and battled two years to get back onto the field. Gyau went to the 3.Liga then back to 2.Bundesliga before relegation saw him make a move back home to Major League Soccer.

What we’re saying is it takes a lot to surprise him. The match that sealed Duisburg’s relegation to 3.Liga last season did just that.

So begins our conversation with Gyau.

ProSoccerTalk: A little background for the reader. You and I connected because I was headed to Germany with a soccer team and we had tickets for the Duisburg-Heidenheim match. I thought it would be neat for them to meet an American who’d made it to the top level and you were cool enough to agree to it, even inviting us to training.

This was months beforehand, and Duisburg was unbeaten in four matches. By the time we got to Germany, losing the match would’ve meant relegation. It was a sensational game, but Duisburg lost 4-3 and we witnessed an incredibly intense ending where fans were screaming across the pitch at players, beating sticks against the barriers that kept them from getting onto the field.

Understandably we didn’t meet. What was that like?

Joe Gyau: “Being in a relegation battle is one of the most pressured, anxious feelings that you have. You know that week-in week-out, for the well being of the club you’ve gotta get some points. Going into that game, we had won against Holstein Kiel 2-0 away. We knew if we won, we still had a chance. We left it all out there. Obviously the fans are heated. We had to go there to show them appreciation for supporting us. We had to show face out of respect. But that situation being in the 2.Bundesliga or Bundesliga is bragging rights for the city. The people felt like we let them down. They let us know that. They were screaming. They were mad. Some of the players felt attacked and they lashed out at the fans. It got really hectic.”

PST: That’s the point where, honestly, I was worried. The supporters were still packed in there, chanting in the players’ direction. A few fans hopped over the barrier and the ones in the stands were shaking the poles that hold up the protective netting (around the 4:20 mark of this video). What are you thinking at that point?

Gyau: “When I was walking over, I knew they were pissed. You know they’re really passionate about everything. For some people the club is their life, you know? They go to the stadium every weekend. And they felt like us getting relegated was them losing a big chunk of themselves. Walking over there, I recognized some of the fans from our training ground to watch practice. It’s funny how nice they were at the training ground compared to the cuss words then. I wouldn’t say I was scared, but it was shocking to see how enraged they were. Then in the locker room, it was just dead silent. Everybody’s got their heads down. The president, the coach, the general manager, they’re in the locker room and everybody’s quiet.”

PST: Duisburg has been the class of 3.Liga this year and looks to be getting promoted straightaway. Have you been pulling for them? And do you generally root for your former clubs?

Gyau: “(With Duisburg) There’s no bitterness at all. They had a great season this season. I still have friends that play there and we still talk. To see them get back in there is bittersweet with what happened in Copa 19, but that’s good for them. In Hamburg (on loan to FC St. Pauli). I met lifelong friends. At Dortmund I had the best moments of my career, and I was at Hoffenheim for four years. You could say that’s where I grew up. Germany is my second home. My wife’s from there.”

PST: Knowing that, and with an experienced career and name over there, why did you decide to come back to the United States and FC Cincinnati?

Gyau: “After being away for so long, my late teenage years and most of my 20s, I just wanted to switch things up and give my people over here a chance to see me a little bit closer (Gyau was born in Florida and grew up in Maryland). I was also at a good enough age that I could transfer markets.”

PST: I’m always impressed by the guys who come off a European season and then jump right into an MLS stretch run. I know there was a little break between 2.Bundesliga and your August debut, but what were your first impressions?

Gyau: “It was a short break because that summer I was with the national team. I typically keep myself in pretty good shape but getting right back into games I definitely needed a week or two. It was definitely a different style of play. It was a more open game, a little less tactical than I was used to in the Bundesliga. There was more space and I kinda liked that. There’s a lot of Central and South Americans as opposed to a lot more of a European-based pool.”

PST: I’m glad you brought up the call-up. After dozens of youth national team appearances, we saw you make your USMNT debut for Jurgen Klinsmann in impressive fashion versus the Czech Republic 2014, then suffer an awful knee injury in your second cap. There were multiple surgeries and grueling rehab. Then you get back into the fold with Gregg Berhalter against Jamaica in 2019.

Gyau: “It was a great moment, just getting that call. It kind of put the cherry on top of everything because that was one of my main goals after my injury was to get back to where I was. The two years, that whole process of rehab, was an unforgiving process. Getting that cap was the reward and it was great to revel in the moment. The game was in DC where I’m from and my whole family was able to come.”

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

PST: Let’s go back to the start. You signed for Hoffenheim at age 17. Your father and grandfather were both professional players, so you had some advice and expertise to lean on. What made you choose Hoffenheim?

Gyau with Ryan Babel and Sandro Wieser at Hoffenheim (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Bongarts/Getty Images).

Gyau: “Germany was the first league that gave me a really concrete offer. I had gone and tried out at Chelsea before, but I was like 13 and my whole family would’ve had to relocate. Hoffenheim came at the right time. I was 17, able to be on my own, and I always wanted to play in Europe.”

PST: Hoffenheim was a loaded side, even simply by ‘Americans abroad’ standards. You subbed on for Fabian Johnson for your first appearance and Danny Williams was on the pitch at center midfielder. You’ve played with and against a lot of stars. Who stands out the most in terms of the wow factor.

Gyau: “When I was at Hoffenheim. Ryan Babel was an absolute monster when he was just coming off his time at Liverpool. And then I got to play with Firmino when he first came from Brazil. You could see his raw talent and as it became more refined where the flicks and tricks started working in the game. Aubameyang at Dortmund was a monster. Mkhitaryan as well, I was there for one of his best seasons. And for the national team, just being able to link up with Jozy Altidore was a great thing.”

PST: What makes those players so special? Everyone at that level is good, but what makes those players pop?

Gyau: “It’s about work ethic, confidence, and positive reinforcement. I’ve come across lots of players who have equal amounts of talent but maybe the situation with the coach isn’t great. The coach was behind Firmino 100 percent, at Dortmund the same for Aubameyang. You could see it.

“When (Aubameyang) first came to Dortmund he was playing on the wing cause Lewandowski was still there. He was still scoring and doing his thing, but it wasn’t what you see now. After Lewandowski left, that’s right when I came. They put him up top. Marco Reus would be behind him or Mkhitaryan and that’s when most of the plays would end up around him and he was always a natural finisher. He came into his own, and Jurgen Klopp always gave him the positive reinforcement to be able to excel. The guys always had it, but the reps and the experience pushed them to the next level.”

Joe Gyau
Gyau (right) with Ciro Immobile and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Photo by Team 2 Sportphoto/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

PST: Surely you’re tired of being asked about Klopp, but we all hear the Liverpool players raving about him. Does that match with your experience with him at Dortmund?

Gyau: “Man, just getting to know the guy, that’s the player’s ideal coach. For me, I was working with him and (now Schalke boss) David Wagner. Both of them were personable guys. They took me under their wing. They give you free reign. They still had their system but they let players express themselves. They let you work the way you work within their system. If you work hard, they are always going to be behind them. It’s one of those things where you go out on the field and you want to give 100 percent because you see how genuine they are and Klopp was really genuine.

“I remember when I got my first cap against Czech Republic, Klopp called everybody in the locker room and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got young player Joseph here, he made his international debut and had a great game.’ Everybody gave me a round of applause.

“After I got hurt he called me into his office. He knew that I was devastated and he said, ‘Hey I know the doctor didn’t give you good news but just know I’m behind you 100 percent. Whenever you come back I’ll be waiting for you. We’ll be ready. It was comforting because a coach doesn’t have to say that, especially to a young guy coming up. You don’t have to take him into your office and give him any type of reassurance but he took his time to do that.”

PST: You’ve also spent time in recent years with Sonnenhof Großaspach in 3.Liga and on loan from Hoffenheim a while back with FC St. Pauli. The latter is known for being a different kind of club. What do you recall from then?

Gyau: “Probably one of the best times I had in my career. Hamburg as a city is great but the club, the people, the stadium, the fans, they have their own progressive views. The support that you get game-in and game-out. The history behind it. You have St. Pauli and then HSV. The city is split in half and if you’re on that St. Pauli side, they love you. I’m 19, 20 at the time playing at the Millerntor. No matter you’re winning or losing the fans are cheering you on and positive.

“Not every club has that type of tradition that atmosphere. I remember there were times during the season where there was an amusement park outside the stadium. The Hamburger Dome. We’d be playing a game and before the game there was a roller coaster and people are going crazy. Then they come in for the game and afterwards the amusement park is rocking again. Then you have the Reeperbahn, and the restaurants. It’s just a buzzing city.”

Joe Gyau
(Photo by Oliver Hardt/Bongarts/GettyImages)

PST: Wrapping up, FC Cincinnati has a year under its belts and you had a full offseason plus additions of Siem de Jong, Yuya Kubo, and Jurgen Locadia. How are you feeling the club will look once it’s back to playing soccer?

Edit: FCC announced the hiring of Jaap Stam a day after this conversation.

Gyau: “We definitely have a real talented team this year and we’ve been given a chance to mold together. We had a couple late transfers. We’re not able to train full team yet but everyone’s able to grasp the philosophy behind the club all at once. Playing with Locadia, that dude can strike it with both feet, he’s mobile. We have a good group of guys, a good balance. I’m excited to get back when things get back rolling. And the fans here are also crazy. Our last game against Orlando, or when we played against Columbus, it’s 20,000 fans every game. It’s good to jump from getting a lot of fans in Germany right into the same atmosphere.”

PST: What’s the biggest difference you’ve noted since you’ve arrived in MLS?

Gyau: “In Germany it’s more strict. The fans really critique things so much harder than they do over here. The fans here are hoping to see a good game and ready to have fun. You would never see what happened in Duisburg happen over here. You wouldn’t see fans spitting on people, and it’s totally different style of play. They make the field so compact in Germany.”

Premier League On this Day: Mourinho’s Stamford Bridge streak snapped

Jozy Altidore
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A week before Steven Gerrard’s slip against Chelsea cost Liverpool a title, a Chelsea hero’s slip cost the Blues’ their shot and Jose Mourinho an incredible streak.

Relegation-threatened Sunderland came back from an early Samuel Eto’o goal to beat the Blues 2-1 in London to hand Mourinho his first home loss in 77 matches at Stamford Bridge.

Cesar Azpilicueta fell over on the flank and gifted the ball to Sunderland striker Jozy Altidore, then chopping down the American for a penalty that Fabio Borini converted for a 2-1 win.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Altidore had a tough time with the Northeast set, but he enjoyed his time against the Blues, scoring his only Premier League goal for Sunderland in December at the Stadium of Light, then drawing the match-winning penalty at Stamford Bridge,

Chelsea wound up affecting both its failure to win the league and Liverpool’s by beating the Reds a week later, opening the door for Manchester City’s fourth top-flight title (City, for what it’s worth had slipped into third early in April by losing to Liverpool and drawing… Sunderland).

Chelsea would finish in third place, four points off leaders Man City and two back of Liverpool.

It’s a match that looks so odd in the rear view mirror, and not only because Gerrard fell over a week later; Chelsea star Marcos Alonso was on the field for Sunderland. Mohamed Salah was taken off the pitch for Andre Schurrle in the 66th minute, while David Luiz and Frank Lampard were saved for a midweek draw at Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Champions League.

Weird, weird game.

MLS Cup: Five key questions on Seattle Sounders vs Toronto FC

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Despite the emergence and rise of the Atlanta United’s and LAFC’s of the world, MLS is going to complete its first MLS Cup trilogy in front of a sold-out CenturyLink Field on Sunday, as the Seattle Sounders take on Toronto FC for the third time in four years.

Make no mistakes, however, the stakes remain high – perhaps higher than ever before – as both sides look to add a second star above their crest. With the financial and quality bar consistently being raised across the board, this may be the first and last MLS Cup trilogy for a pair of decades.

So, who will win it? Will Jozy Altidore even make the visitor’s 18? Pro Soccer Talk answers some of the most pressing questions ahead of the highly-anticipated final.

Will Jozy Altidore take the field for Toronto? 

Let it be clear: Even if Altidore was ready to go, Toronto are still in Yakima, Washington looking in. Now, without the striker in the equation entirely, things start going from bitter to sour instantaneously for the Reds.

Which begs the question: where does Altidore’s health stand less than 24 hours away from the final?

“I got on the field yesterday, it felt good going through the motions and set-ups,” Altidore told reporters on Saturday. “It felt good. Today is another day to push it more and try to make myself available. This is it, the last day before the game. See how it reacts, put it under a little more stress.”

And according to coach Greg Vanney, Toronto are preparing for an MLS Cup with the 30-year-old healthy and ready to go – not 100 percent, just healthy enough to see some minutes on the field.

“We were able to get him through training yesterday, he was okay coming out of it,” Vanney said. “This morning we did as much as we felt we could do. If he comes out of it okay tonight, we’ll see what kind of role — if any — he can play tomorrow. He’s battled through this injury, I’m still hopeful that tomorrow when he gets up and feels great. If there’s nothing really wrong with him, we’ll try and make use of him as much as possible. I’m encouraged with the steps he’s been able to take so far.”

So, it sounds like it won’t take a miracle after all for Altidore to feature in the biggest game of the season. Or maybe the miracle already occurred.

Now is there enough pixie dust on the striker for him to step up and make a difference like the one he did against Seattle on a blistering cold night in Toronto back in 2017?

Is CenturyLink Field’s atmosphere going to outshine last year’s venue?  

Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium was loud in last year’s final, and the record-breaking 73,019 spectators in attendance had everything to do with it.

On Sunday, the attendance won’t be up to par to last year’s, but if CenturyLink Field has been known for something over the past 17 years, it’s the decibels and seismic activity it can generate. 69,000 are expected for the final, with the strong majority boasting Sounders blue, rave green, and cascade shale.

The Sounders already put on a spectacle at home throughout the regular season. With anxiety, thrill and excitement that finals bring to them by association, expect a couple of tremors in Seattle, if the Sounders deliver in emphatic fashion.

Raul Ruidiaz or Alejandro Pozuelo: Who needs to step up more? 

With Toronto being the unapologetic underdog, instinctually, one would immediately turn and point at Pozuelo.

After all, the least one can ask for in that position is for your best player to live up to the billing in the most meaningful game of the season. Espcially with Altidore’s participation still in doubt, there are more reasons to pile the pressure on Pozuelo, who has scored two goals in Toronto’s playoff run.

After taking the league and Seattle by storm, doesn’t Ruidiaz have a world of business to finish, though?

“It would be very special,” Ruidiaz said of winning MLS Cup against Toronto. “It would be my second title overseas. I won a championship in Chile. I think when you arrive at a club you always have the desire to give the team the biggest joy, which is a star (above the crest) for the team.

“I’m a small step away from that and from achieving what we we all want, which is to give a moment of joy to a city and club that deserve it.”

Long story short, he does.

Like Pozuelo for Toronto, Ruidiaz is one of Seattle’s most lucrative investments ever. His impact on and off the field has been invaluable for a team that was desperately trying to fill the shoes of Clint Dempsey. He’s elevated teammates Nico Lodeiro and Jordan Morris. They’ve gotten everything from it besides the cup, the star above the crest.

Ultimately, it’s a world of choice. But keep in mind that one player is encouraged to be at his best, while the other is expected to deliver for a city ready to see its team lift the cup at home.

What will another MLS Cup mean for either team? 

Only five teams have two or more MLS Cups, but that will change by the time Allen Chapman blows the final whistle.

Another piece of silverware for Seattle would expand their total count to seven, while Toronto can add a ninth to their trophy case. There are no doubts that both teams are embodiment of historical success in their respective countries.

As the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., how do you pump the brakes on being MLS’ highest payroll spenders with a fresh, second star above the crest in a market that has showcased true, organic hunger for not only the sport in general, but for the Toronto FC?

You don’t, and it’s unlikely that Ali Curtis comes back to the office with a tighter financial proposal. If anything, a win would encourage higher investment all across the board and especially on the first-team, regardless if Michael Bradley’s $6.5 million option is triggered. After all, they can get creative, hence Pozuelo’s sitcom episode-esque arrival.

The same goes for the Sounders.

A second star would generate a soccer buzz unlike any other for the proper and great community of Seattle, while it would also invites majority owner Adrian Hanauer to keep the Sounders within the top six spenders of the league. With Xavier Arreaga likely to be demoted from his Designated Player role in the offseason, there will be room for the Sounders to make an additional splash.

In the end, as it is anywhere in the world of sports, titles bring bragging rights and an influx of cash. Seattle and Toronto will not be the exceptions.

When all is said and done, who will hoist the cup?

Arguably better on all sectors of the field, the 2019 MLS Cup is Seattle’s to lose, there are no ifs, ands or buts about it.

However, when the ball starts rolling on the artificial turf, determination and hunger will quickly weave out the side that holds lower levels of the aforementioned. With over 60,000 chanting to the tune of their crest and colors, it’s unlikely that Toronto will gain the cognitive advantage.

That said, the visitors are outweighed in both departments, and will need to lean on heroic moments like the ones showcased by Nicolas Benezet and Nick DeLeon against Atlanta United. An MLS Cup seems fitting for pure, sacred MLS soccer, no?

Sure, but there have been times in which MLS doesn’t MLS for the sake of just MLSing. The feeling in the air is that Sunday is one of those, which in practice, looks like a physical, choppy and segmented battle in which Seattle will come out on top.

Altidore needs ‘a miracle’ to suit up in MLS Cup Final

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It may take divine intervention for Jozy Altidore to return for Sunday’s MLS Cup Final in Seattle, which doesn’t bode well for his chances to suit up for the USMNT later this month.

[ MORE: Emery attacker use in focus ]

Altidore has 11 goals and 8 assists in 22 matches for Toronto FC this season, but has not played since the final match of the regular season.

And while TFC manager Greg Vanney responded that he believes in miracles, Altidore says it’s gonna take just that to have him ready by Sunday at 3 p.m. ET.

From The Canadian Press:

“It’s been a while. At this point, it’ll take a little bit of a miracle to be out there on Sunday,” he said, referencing the MLS Cup final in Seattle against the Sounders. “But that’s where I am. And I’ve just got to try to keep trying to get myself there.”

That means more run for Tsubasa Endoh and Patrick Mullins, and the Reds are a big underdog for Sunday’s afternoon match.

It also means, which perhaps it should have any way, that Josh Sargent should be front and center for a massive CONCACAF Nations League match against Canada on Nov. 15.

Altidore withdraws from USMNT camp with injury

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The United States men’s national team announced that star striker Jozy Altidore has withdrawn from camp ahead of CONCACAF Nations League matches against Cuba and Canada, meaning he’ll miss the chance to play for the squad at the home of his club.

[ MORE: Schweinsteiger retiring ]

Altidore, 29, has the ninth-most caps in American history (115) and his 42 goals are 15 shy of the record shared by Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan. He was set to feature along with Michael Bradley when the Yanks meet Canada at BMO Field on Tuesday.

When healthy, he’s still a force for the Stars and Stripes and scored 11 times with eight assists in 22 MLS appearances for Toronto FC this season. The Reds have a playoff date looming with DC United on Oct. 19, and are 4-4-4 when Altidore doesn’t play this season (9W-6L-7T when he does).

Altidore went uncapped in 2018 and missed plenty of the Copa America Centenario in 2016. He has a goal and an assist for Berhalter in five appearances.

His injury means more playing focus on Josh Sargent and Gyasi Zardes, and perhaps an increased role for Corey Baird. Jordan Morris has been excellent as a wing, but could also play as a center forward if needed.