As the U.S. Men’s National Team returns to Red Bull Arena for a third time on Tuesday, three players on the roster also come home to a place that helped launch their careers.
Goalkeeper Tim Howard, forward Jozy Altidore and defender Tim Ream, at different times, all began their professional careers in New Jersey with either the MetroStars or New York Red Bulls before progressing to European clubs.
Howard began his career with the North Jersey Imperials in 1997 before joining the MetroStars as a 19-year-old late in the 1998 season, doing so while living in his childhood home in North Brunswick, N.J. He’d go on to make 85 appearances for the club, winning back-to-back MLS Goalkeeper of the Year and Best XI selections in 2001 and 2002, before making a high-profile move to Manchester United in July 2003.
“I had a great start in professional soccer and my career has been nothing short of a dream for me,” Howard told ussoccer.com.
Howard has remained in England the last 12 years, moving to his current club Everton in 2006. Though he’s made over 300 appearances in one of the top leagues in the world for the Toffees, returning to play in front of friends and family near ‘the Big Apple’ still makes him anxious.
“It’s always hard for me to come home because I get so nervous playing in front of my hometown crowd,” he said. “I’m just happy to be back here playing in a beautiful stadium. Red Bull Arena was only a dream back when I was playing for the MetroStars. To see the fan base they’ve created is special. I’m a Jersey boy – I always will be and it’s nice to see the hometown team doing well.”
Howard training with the U.S. MNT ahead of its friendly with Costa Rica at Red Bull Arena on Oct. 13.
A heralded prospect with the U.S. U-17s following at the World Cup in 2005, Altidore, who was born in nearby Livingston, N.J. began his professional career as a 16-year-old with the Red Bulls the following season, finding early success with the club in 2007 when he scored nine goals in 22 matches.
That summer he also led the U.S. attack at the FIFA World Youth Championships in Canada, where he finished tied for third on the tournament’s Golden Boot list with four goals.
After making his full MNT debut in November 2007, Altidore scored his first international goal the following February in a 2-2 draw with Mexico. After two-and-a-half seasons with the Red Bulls and rising international interest, Altidore made his move to Europe, signing with Spanish club Villareal. After loan moves in Spain, England and Turkey, Altidore found success with AZ Alkmaar in Holland, where he scored 38 goals in 67 matches from 2011-2013. After a move back to England with Sunderland, Altidore returned to MLS this season, signing with Toronto FC.
Being back with both the National Team and Toronto FC affords Altidore numerous trips to Red Bull Arena, which he always looks forward to.
“It’s always great coming back here where it began for me professionally, there are a lot of memories in this city and a lot of good times with the fans,” he said. “It’ll be great to come back here and play a game here in front of a lot of family and friends.”
Following a collegiate career with Saint Louis University, center back Tim Ream was selected 18th overall by the Red Bulls in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft. Ream would play 58 matches in two seasons with the club, earning his first National Team call-up in his second season before transferring to Bolton Wanderers in early 2012.
After winning back-to-back Player of the Year awards with Bolton, Ream moved to Fulham in August. Now into his fifth season in Europe, Ream credited the Red Bulls with setting him on a path to success in his club career.
“For me being a rookie in 2010 and coming into a quality team really set the tone,” he told ussoccer.com. “Having a manager in Hans Backe who really wanted to play a different style than what was played here before – a more European style – it fit me personally.
“You bring in a guy like Thierry Henry and he automatically brings the level up,” he continued. “That was the foundation for becoming better as a player and a person on and off the field, trying to do the things he’s done throughout his career – obviously from a defender standpoint – it put me in a position to really succeed, not only here but across the pond in Europe as well.”