Photo by Rick Osentoski/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
DETROIT – Jozy Altidore entered the media press conference room following the U.S. men's national team's Gold Cup opener with Canada and was quickly received with the Man of the Match trophy, a small silver replica of the actual Gold Cup. Altidore smiled as he analyzed it and posed for a photo with the award, an award he won via votes from media members who attended the game at Ford Field on Tuesday night.
It was a deserving reward for Altidore, who moments earlier had scored a goal against Canada and helped set up another in a 2-0 victory to start the U.S. team's Gold Cup campaign. That type of performance was one he badly needed, having seen limited action while on loan with Turkish club Bursaspor and considering his recent lack of goals for club and country.
Altidore wouldn't say as much about his Gold Cup debut during the ensuing press conference, though.
"I think it's for everybody," said Altidore when asked if the game was a confidence builder for him. "I think coming off the game against Spain obviously we got down a little bit. But we picked ourselves up well, and we still have, clearly, a lot of ways to improve but I thought the start of the tournament wasn't too bad."
The start to the tournament began well in large part due to Altidore's 74-minute performance. The 21-year-old striker was a handful for Canadian defenders from the opening whistle, drawing a foul at the edge of the penalty area three minutes after kickoff.
Only a corner kick came from Clint Dempsey's free kick that followed, but that moment was the beginning of one of Altidore's better performances since last summer's World Cup.
"We count on him and in a lot of ways," said Michael Bradley. "He plays a big part in our success, and there may be times when may be the goals don't come but even on those days he gives our team a lot. All you need to look at that in terms of that is the World Cup. He wasn't able to score, but just his overall contribution to the team and every game was really big."
Altidore made a big impact for the United States 12 minutes after he drew the game's first foul as he found the back of the net for the eleventh time in his United States career and the first time in eight months.
After making a darting diagonal run across Canada's back line, Altidore received the ball when Landon Donovan fed him with a precise through ball. Despite facing away from goal, Altidore took a good touch on the ball and surprised defender Kevin McKenna and goalkeeper Lars Hirschfeld when he unleashed a potent driven shot towards goal. Hirschfeld wasn't even anticipating the shot as he failed to save it despite being in a good position to do so.
"It's good for Jozy's confidence him getting the goal," said Dempsey.
If the goal helped Altidore's confidence, his near assist on Dempsey's second half insurance goal raised it to a whole different level.
In the 62nd minute, Altidore raced passed a defender and nailed a driven cross across the penalty area. Juan Agudelo got the slightest of touches on the ball before Dempsey knocked it in, and the assist was given to Agudelo not Altidore.
"I think they should give the assist to Jozy," said Agudelo with a smile. "It's not like I meant to pass it."
Assist or no assist, Altidore delivered at a time when many doubted him and questioned his repeated starts with the U.S. team. That'll likely change, at least temporarily, as Altidore's performance helped the Americans earn three big points.
"For confidence it's a good game for Jozy," said head coach Bob Bradley. "The movement that led to the first goal and obviously the ball he that he put across for Clint's goal; both great plays. When you go through a stretch with your club team and now not always playing regularly and not getting goals, I think in terms of confidence this was very important."
If Altidore can indeed carry over that confidence and continue playing the way he did against Canada, he just might be posing a few more times this tournament with Man of the Match awards.