U17 players enjoy ‘inspiring’ training session with MLS star

U17 player Jonah Sigsworth passes the ball as Jozy Altidore looks on.

For emerging star footballer Corey Smith, it was an inspiring moment to get up close with Major League Soccer (MLS) star Jozy Altidore and to pick up tips from him.

Smith was among about two dozen young footballers from the Cayman Islands National U17 Boys Team and Academy Sports Club who got a chance to share the training pitch with the United States national team players on Saturday, 6 January 2018 at Academy’s Outpost Street facility.

“It was inspiring for me because he came from the Caribbean and he made his way up the ranks,” said Smith, a 15-year-old, who starred for the Cayman Islands U15 team at the 2017 CONCACAF U15 Boys Championships last summer.

“To have a player like that come here to the Cayman Islands and tell us that we are good enough to play and that we just need to keep working is inspiring for me.”

Altidore, who scored the decisive goal in the 2017 MLS Cup Final for Toronto FC to take the MVP honours, said although he didn’t have much time with the youngsters, he tried to pass on as much as he could.

“It’s tough when you only have a day with a group of the kids but just to give them a different type of energy, to show them what it’s like at the highest level and what a training session intensity and focus should look like,” he said.

After a variety of warm-up exercises, the United States national team player led the youngsters in a series of drills.

“The focus for them was looking at the small things, the specifics, and how we could improve on the little things that would make our overall game better,” said Bruce Sigsworth, the head coach of the U17 team. “Even if it is a two-yard pass, it should be an accurate, firm two-yard pass.”

“It was reinforcing a lot of what we already do but it was really good to get it from a professional. The biggest thing I get from Jozy – and I wanted it for these boys – was I wanted them to hear his story,” Sigsworth said.

Altidore, 28, is the son of Haitian immigrants who worked his way to stardom. He made his professional debut at 16 for the New York Red Bulls before making the move to Europe. The forward has made over 100 appearances for the Unites States national team, having also representing the country at U17, U20 and U23 levels. After returning to the MLS in 2015, he’s made his presence felt as a star for Toronto FC.

He said his message to young players in the Caribbean that stardom is not out of their reach. “I think that is the biggest misconception. It’s about how hard you work and how hard you want it, not where you’re coming from…it’s about how hard you want to work. The more you put in, the more you get out,” Altidore said.

Smith, who hopes one day to emulate Altidore’s success, said he left with a lot from the 90-minute session. “The one thing he kept saying is ‘no pressure, just have fun’ and football is about having fun,” he said. “Altidore is a great guy. I look up to him and it was a great session.”

For his part, the visiting professional also enjoyed himself. “It was great to spend some time with the kids. It brings back the memories from when I was this age, getting to come out and play like this and learn. It was just a lot of fun,” Altidore said, adding “they’re really talented kids”.

Altidore was on island for a series of appearances, including a gala dinner. The gala hosted by 7 Mile Society and the Jozy Altidore Foundation raised funds for development programmes in Caribbean countries affected by hurricanes last year. He was also on hand for a Mini Slam tournament at the Academy field featuring U11 and U13 players, where he presented winners and runners-up trophies.

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