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Losing time at Sunderland, Jozy Altidore needs to impress for U.S.

Mar 4, 2014, 9:48 PM EDT

Honduras v United States - FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier Getty Images

Jozy Alitdore’s struggles have been well-documented, but until the Sunderland’s game at Wembley on Sunday, the United States’ first choice striker was still getting playing time with his Premier League club. For this weekend’s League Cup final, however, the 24-year-old was omitted from Gus Poyet’s team, and while Black Cats’ supporters were surely more concerned about their team’s outcome than the implications for Altidore, U.S. Men’s National Team fans undoubtedly looked at their striker’s omission as another warning sign. The 2013-14 season has turned into a nightmare for Jozy Altidore.

Sunday’s omission is one Jurgen Klinsmann surely noted, too, with the U.S. boss having previously detailed his views on winning playing time. After the U.S.’s win over South Korea in early February, the national team head coach said players need to ask what else they could be doing when they’re not being chosen by their clubs:

I tell players often that when they are not playing in their club teams, for whatever reason, to stop complaining about it and show your coach every day that you’re the hungriest on the training field, that you’re the most committed one that you’re the earliest guy coming in, and you’re the last that leaves. Tell me one coach in the world that would ignore that at the end of the day and not play him. When our players are not making certain teams, are not making starting lineups, there’s something that they’re not doing.

(MORE: Fear not, U.S. Men’s National Team fans: Ukraine is on the ground in Cyprus)

Altidore hasn’t been complaining, but it’s easy to see what he’s “not doing”. The former AZ Alkmaar, Villarreal, and New York Red Bulls striker has only scored twice in his return to England, where he previously spent an equally unproductive season on loan with Hull (two goals, 30 games in 2009-10). His work rate up top had previously won him playing time, clearing the way for Fabio Borini and Adam Johnson, but this weekend against Manchester City, Poyet decided to go in a different direction. For their most important game of the season, the Black Cats omitted Altidore.

Ahead of his national team’s only friendly (within a FIFA window) before pre-World Cup camps convene in May, focus now turns to Altidore’s international form. Should his club struggles affect his play for the U.S., the importance Klinsmann put on Altidore as part of his team’s spine may need to be reevaluated. Also from February:

“I think Jozy, once he’s keeping his playing rhythm and the quality that he has, is our number one center forward that we have. Clint [Dempsey] is the player behind him. We often talk about the spine of our team, which starts with Timmy [Howard] and goes through midfield with Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley, and then Clint and Jozy.”

(MORE: Players who need to make an impact for the U.S. on Wednesday (and there are a lot of them))

Having spent his tenure building that core, Klinsmann is seeing his plans undermined by what’s transpired at the Stadium of Light. Whereas so much was invested in working with Altidore — dropping him from the team and successfully reintegrating him a year ago — now a crash in production and Sunderland’s fight for survival could see Klinsmann’s lead striker lose valuable playing time ahead of the World Cup. The form that saw Altidore score eight times for the U.S. in 2013 is a distant memory, with the potential to struggle in Brazil  growing concern.

Sure, there’s Aron Johannsson, but he’s never had to be the main guy for the national team. As Altidore’s maturation shows, it’s not a given that club success will immediately translate to the international level. The likes of Juan Agudelo, Terrence Boyd, and Chris Wondolowski are squad options, they’re not players who can carry the team into the second round. Already in his second World Cup cycle, Altidore has been groomed to lead the U.S.’s attack.

While a series of players are fighting for roster spots this week, Altidore’s performance Wednesday against Ukraine may be more important. Particularly with Clint Dempsey struggling, Altidore can’t go into May on this trajectory. With his spring playing time at Sunderland uncertain, the U.S.’s number nine could use a strong showing in Cyprus.

  1. mknow406a - Mar 5, 2014 at 1:34 AM

    “The likes of Juan Agudelo, Terrence Boyd, and Chris Wondolowski are squad options, they’re not players who can carry the team into the second round.” Last that I checked, Altidore never carried a team in the second round of the World Cup either. He had a big 0 goals in South Africa…. a little flimsy to extrapolate one solid year in the Holland and CONCACAF qualifiers (with some B squad friendlies thrown in) into being completely irreplaceable (and yes, a fully in form Jozy makes the USMNT better, but so does an in form Dempsey, Donovan and Bradley)… If I remember correctly, there was a lot of solid work done by Fabian Johnson and others to set up Jozy on several of his record setting tallies. Aron Johannsson, Agudelo and Boyd are all capable of seeing and making those runs too…

  2. bizzmeister - Mar 5, 2014 at 1:52 AM

    Honestly, if it was up to me, Jozy wouldn’t even be on the plane to brazil. If I had to pick 3, I’d pick Johannsson, Herculez Gomez, Eddie Johnson

    • lyleoross - Mar 5, 2014 at 12:16 PM

      While I’m not gonna weigh in on your replacement choices, the down thumbs should be addressed. I will remind everyone that up until the Gold Cup, JA’s performances in the world stage with the U.S. were pretty woeful. He looked big, slow, and deficient of foot skills. Yes, if you delivered the ball on a dime, as he built up speed going in one direction, he could get off a rocket shot.

      While he has improved in his foot skills, his Gold Cup and international play with the U.S. all occurred with great support around him. Namely, great play by MB, LD, CD and others. MB in particular built great control and opportunities in the middle.

      I believe an argument can be made that Jozie is an average to above average player that with a great midfield can perform. Absent that he looks pretty bad. Sunderland shows that without someone to make things happen for him, Jozie finds it hard to produce. He isn’t a top of the line striker like Bale who can make things happen in a vacuum. Then again, the only up front guy who’s done that for us in the past four years is CD (please see his play at Fulham), and he is looking awful at this time. And no, I don’t include LD’s performance in the Gold Cup there. In the final games against real teams, his production plummeted.

      • lyleoross - Mar 5, 2014 at 12:20 PM

        I should have said play up to and around the Gold Cup, in World Cup qualifying, since Jozie, to my recollection, didn’t play in the GC…

  3. midtec2005 - Mar 5, 2014 at 8:44 AM

    I think he will be fine in England, unfortunately just not this year. But maybe he can finish the year off strong. He was dropped for a big game, and dropping him didn’t work. So he might be thrust right back into the lineup.

  4. rafibomb10 - Mar 5, 2014 at 8:50 AM

    Altidore is a good player for the U.S. National team. Whoever is saying they’d leave him off the roster for “Eddy Johnson and Hurculez Gomez” is way off based. Herk isn’t even getting minutes for his club in Mexico. EJ is a streaky player at best, but not a reliable number 9.

    I like Jozy, he’s athletic, strong, and has his moments in front of goal. On top of that, he is only 24 years old. He was 20 at the last World Cup. If you’re ready to cut bait on him, because he is struggling with a side like Sunderland, then I suggest you take the proverbial chill pill. Everyone on Sunderland is struggling, they are pretty darn bad.

    Jurgen gets paid the big bucks, because he knows a heck of a lot more than we do. If he didn’t think Jozy was a solid player up top, then he wouldn’t play him, plain and simple.

    Thats all…

    • mknow406a - Mar 5, 2014 at 11:46 AM

      My original comment was not intended to imply Jozy is not a solid player. He is. But, he brings a lot more to the table than just scoring… it has been his hold-up play, vision and selflessness on the ball that has gotten him so much playing time this season without scoring. This is not a Portugal/Ronaldo situation… where if CR goes down, so does the nation. If Jozy didn’t have that huge year, everybody would be going crazy for Johannsson’s goal scoring exploits in Holland. How much hoopla has been made about J. Green? Yeah he’s at Bayern Munich… tearing it up in the 2nd division… but Boyd was tearing it up in the German 2nd division too. No he wasn’t at Bayern… he was at Dortmund… the team Bayern had to beat in the CL final. There is finally some real decent potential in the US pool… and maybe an Altidore stumble allows some of these other players an opportunity to pass him (yes its a long shot.). The mentality here seems to be that having competition like that is a bad thing… it’s like we yanks favor continuity rather than progress. Case in point, a day after Donovan comes out of hiatus and folks are screaming for him to be back in the USMNT. The guy was out of shape and rusty… He was NOT the best option at that time, why should he get a pass? What he once WAS and what he IS now are not always the same thing. How much better off is the team now that Zusi was given an extended run in real contests? It’s been the same thing with Holden… “hold a seat for him”. Look I love the guy and his grit just as much as anybody, but after that many knee repairs, nothing can be assumed and from my perspective he has even more to prove (Can he adjust to losing a step? Can his body continue to hold up with that style or does he need to adapt? Can he be effective playing any other way? All of which unfortunately seems moot at this point.). Change isn’t something to fear, it’s an opportunity to improve.

    • bear06 - Mar 5, 2014 at 11:26 PM

      Gomez has been getting minutes for Tijuana but he hasn’t scored since around September last year.

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