By IVES GALARCEP
When Jozy Altidore slalomed through RKC Waalwijk's defense on his way to his eighth, and most beautiful goal, of the season on Sunday, the goal left many U.S. fans wondering when he will start scoring goals like that for the U.S. national team. His current goal rut stands at just one goal in his past 13 national team appearances, a stretch of more than 15 months that has led to understandable concerns about when his production for the U.S. will kick in.
That drought is also why it seems many have forgotten that, for all the struggles of the past year, Altidore actually has scored goals for the national team before. He has scored 13 to be precise, a total that has him in a tie for tenth place in the all-time career scoring list. When you consider that Altidore is still just 22, the 13-goal total is actually pretty impressive.
How many American players have scored more goals before the age of 23 than Altidore? Five? Ten? Nope. Just one. Landon Donovan, who scored 19 goals before he turned 23.
So Altidore, the player who seems like he never scores for the national team, actually has more national team goals before the age of 23 than any player in U.S. national team history not named Landon Donovan.
He just hasn't scored many of those goals lately (and hasn't scored a national team goal in ten months).
A closer look at the U.S. national team's all-times scoring leaders, and their production before the age of 23, helps puts Altidore early production into some interesting perspective. The next person on the list of leading scorers before the age of 23 is Eric Wynalda (11), followed by Eddie Johnson (nine) and a three-way tie between Joe-Max Moore, DaMarcus Beasley and Michael Bradley (all with eight).
How many national team goals did Clint Dempsey score before turning 23? Try four. Cobi Jones? Just two. Bruce Murray? He managed one. And Brian McBride? He didn't score his first national team goal until he was 24.
This isn't to suggest that there isn't a cause for concern about the fact that Altidore has just one goal in 12 matches under Jurgen Klinsmann, and has yet to score in 2012 for the USA. He does need to start producing more. The point is to remind people that Altidore has scored goals for the national team before. He has scored important goals. He has scored in the Gold Cup, in the Confederations Cup, on the road in CONCACAF qualifying, and he's also scored against Mexico (in his first national team start no less).
Unfortunately for Altidore and the national team, most of those goals came two, three and four years ago. What Altidore has not done is score for the USA lately, and, until he recaptures that scoring touch, the questions will persist. In the fickle world of international soccer, the only thing that matters is what you have done lately, and the dozen national team goals Altidore scored before Klinsmann's arrival are becoming a distant memory.
As impressive as he has been in the Dutch League, and as clear as it is that he is improving as a player, Altidore needs to create new memories with the U.S. national team, both for Klinsmann and for those many fans who have already begun to forget the goals Altidore scored in his early national team years.