Jozy Altidore plays for Sunderland in Asia Trophy against Spurs after death of mentor Josef Schulz

SAD DAY: Jozy Altidore
SAD DAY: Jozy Altidore

JOZY ALTIDORE says the Asia Trophy semi-final win over Spurs was the toughest game of his career after learning that the coach who discovered him had died.

Josef Schulz, 61, spotted a then eight-year-old Altidore playing in a park in Florida and developed him both at the Boca Raton Soccer Club and then the Schulz Soccer Academy before the striker joined New York Red Bulls.

Altidore only learned of Schulz’s death on Tuesday, yet wanted to prove his commitment to Sunderland by putting emotions aside to play his part in the tournament.

The £6million frontman told SportMail: “It was probably the hardest game of my life.

“The guy who got me into football lost his fight with cancer. Everything I’ve known has come from him.

“So it was a really difficult game, but I was happy that I could play and show I care and I’m committed.

“I’m a private guy, I haven’t really talked about it. But these guys have been working so hard that I owed it to them to go out on the pitch and give something to them.”

It was a first sight of Altidore in the flesh for Sunderland fans after playing two behind-closed-doors games in Italy earlier this month.

The former AZ Alkmaar man could easily have found his name on the scoresheet after going close on three occasions.

“I had a few chances, but I’m just happy that I can get these games in,” added the 23-year-old.

“As you can see, the players have been working really hard together.

“We do look dangerous with some of the movement going forwards.

“It’s early and you can’t make judgements yet, but there’s some encouraging signs without a doubt.

“I think we will get some confidence from that.

“Whenever you beat a team like Spurs, it’s a positive, even if it is a friendly.”