Jozy Altidore has packed a lot into his 17 years. The striker, currently playing in the MLS for the Red Bull New York, was the 17th overall pick in the 2006 MLS draft and made his professional soccer debut in August 2006--while still age 16--and even managed to score a goal in the Red Bulls' loss to D.C. United in last year's Eastern Conference playoffs. With that goal, Altidore, who's known by nicknames "Oatmeal" and "Juice" among teammates, became the youngest player in MLS history to score a playoff goal. Now Altidore can add one more impressive achievement to his resume: EA Sports cover star. Altidore was recently named the cover athlete of the upcoming FIFA 08, making him one of the youngest professional athletes to ever earn that distinction. During a recent phone interview with Altidore, we got his thoughts on video games, the sport of soccer, how David Beckham would change the MLS, and just how he got the nickname "Oatmeal."
GameSpot: I want to start with your name. Where did it come from? That's an unusual name.
Jozy Altidore: Which one? Are you talking about my nickname or my actual name?
GS: Well I want to get to your nickname, but I want to start with "Jozy" first.
JA: Well actually it was a coach of mine at the Academy down in Bradenton [Florida], the [soccer] residency program. He couldn't say my whole name and so every day he thought of nicknames to give me and finally he gave me one, Jozy, and he's like, "That's a cool one, right?" And I was like, "Sure. That'll do fine." And ever since that's been my nickname.
GS: Your real name is Josmer. Am I pronouncing that right?
JA: It is Josmer [pronounced ZHOES-MAIR].
GS: OK. So Jozy is not too far off. But that's a little bit easier to say.
JA: Yeah, exactly.
GS: And then you mentioned your nicknames. I saw two of them on your bio. One is "Oatmeal" and one is "Juice." Where did those come from?
JA: Teammates of mine in the program... They originated that name. They started it up and it's ever since stuck with me.
GS: What is the significance of "Oatmeal"?
JA: I honestly can't tell you. I don't know where they got it from. But it stuck with me ever since.
GS: Oatmeal. OK. Well everybody's got unusual nicknames, I guess. So you've played FIFA 08. Give us your thoughts on what you did in the game and what you thought.
JA: I mean, the game [is] great. The realism is spectacular. I think that that's an obvious step up. I think the game and the skills that they've put in--it's unbelievable because you can now do moves, you know...like step over, that you would do in the real game. It just makes the game that much more fun to play. As well as the new Be a Pro [mode], it's a new version of the game [where] you...play as a character in the game and you do as what they would do on the field and it's great. You know, you get certain camera zooms when you're going in towards the goal. And it's really just something that's going to make gamers go crazy because it's going to be a lot of fun. It's going to be big hit definitely.
GS: I don't know how familiar you are with other EA games. But the idea of playing one position [as in Be a Pro mode] is something they've done in football games, in American football games, in the past. How do you feel about playing the position when you don't have the ball? Is the game still fun for you if you don't have the ball?
JA: Well it's really a true footballer's mode or a true footballer fan's mode to really move without the ball and try to find the right spots to gain the advantage. So I think it's going to be very challenging, which is what I think gamers want. They probably found that the past seasons have been too easy. But in this mode I think it's going to be very challenging and then we're going to see who the real gamers are.
GS: Right. How do you go about playing soccer games? Do you jack up the difficulty right away?
JA: Yeah, I usually do because I've been playing since I was--I've been playing those games since I was young so I already know how to play and with the buttons and all that stuff, so yeah.
GS: What do you look for in a game like this that makes it feel authentic for you, that says, "This is what it feels like to be out there on the pitch and playing?" What type of things come through in the gameplay that say, "This is authentic to me?"
JA: Well just the obvious things, like the graphics. In the FIFA 08 game they are definitely a step up. And it's very real and it feels like you're in the game actually. The fans, the roar of the stadiums, you know, the authentic look of the goals and the grass and just the little things like that make the game that much better to own and to play.
GS: What was it like playing as yourself in the game for the first time?
JA: It was a crazy experience because now, you know, it's not like, "Look what I just did." It's, "Look what Jozy just did." It's a lot of fun and it's great.
GS: How is your guy? How is your character?
JA: Oh, he's actually like me. He's aggressive. He's fast. He's got a very powerful side and he's very energetic and it's very spot-on to how I am as a player.
GS: I guess it depends on who's playing you as well.
JA: Exactly. Yeah, exactly.
GS: Have you had a chance to look at your stats at all?
JA: No, I haven't. I didn't look at the stats.
GS: It must be something to be your age, obviously a really young guy, and on the cover of a video game.
JA: Oh, it's an unbelievable feeling and I'm very thankful to be part of something like this. I mean, EA has put a belief in me and I thank them for that, for giving me the opportunity to cover one of their games. I'm very excited.
GS: If five years ago or eight years ago, someone would have told you that you would have been on the cover, what would you have told them?
JA: I would have told them, "Hey, that's a funny little dream there. I would like to have that dream come true." So it's really--it's been a roller coaster like I said before and I'm just very grateful at this point.
GS: So this is your first year in the MLS, correct?
GS: How has your season been going so far?
JA: Well it's been well, you know. So far it's been a little tough, you know, coming back because of being away for a month with the [2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup]. But coming back it's good to come back, get a couple games under my belt again, and to see the guys. But you know, I'm finally back to where I need to be physically and mentally and with my teammates as well. So the season it's been a good one. We've had our rough patches as a team but every good team has that. So we're just going to look to build for the next game.
GS: Who on your team is your toughest competition when it comes to video games?
JA: Oh, there is no competition.
GS: There is none.
JA: No competition when it comes to video games.
GS: What do you like to play? Do you play things other than sports games?
JA: Halo is a good game. Another good one, let's see, actually Def Jam [Icon], that one there is not a bad game.
GS: You guys have some games with the LA Galaxy coming up and I just want to get your thoughts on David Beckham and the MLS and if you expect to play him. We're not sure if he's actually going to be back by the time you guys see them the next time.
JA: It's very exciting...for the fans and us as well. And if he plays it's going to just be a great night, I'm sure, and it's going to be beneficial, not only for us but for him as well.
GS: Any tips for someone who's looking to get better at FIFA 08?
JA: Well you have to be quick, you know, with the button tapping. And the video game is, soccer games I think, if you move the ball quickly, I think you'll be very successful. You'll find a lot of open seams and a lot of shots and the shots are the key, rebounds and stuff like that is the key to winning.
GS: And it couldn't hurt to get the ball to Jozy, right?
JA: Yeah, it couldn't hurt to find that guy.
GS: Thanks for your time.