Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By IVES GALARCEP
WASHINGTON– Give Jozy Altidore service, and playing time, and he will score goals.
This is something people might have forgotten considering it had been 18 months since Altidore last scored a U.S. Men’s National Team goal, but on Sunday we were given a very clear reminder that this is very much the case.
The folks at AZ Alkmaar know this after spending the past two seasons watching Altidore score goals at a maddening rate. While the U.S. was struggling to get Altidore the ball, AZ was feeding him the kind of service that could not only help him be productive, but also help him grow as a player.
Finding similar success with the national team has been far more elusive, and no player has been hurt more by Jurgen Klinsmann’s lengthy quest for a productive midfield than Altidore, who just might have started losing patience with the persistent storyline painting him as a hapless national team striker.
Could you really blame him for growing tired of that theme? After all, he was coming off a 31-goal season for Dutch club AZ Alkmaar, the best goal-scoring season by an American in Europe ever. Despite the truckload of goals, and many of the highlight-reel variety, his return to the national team was met with more of the same sentiment that, while all those club goals were nice, he still hadn’t scored for the U.S. since 2011.
That all changed on Sunday, when Altidore found himself wide open in front of the Germany goal with a perfect Graham Zusi pass floating his way. Rather than scuffing his chance, or missing on the attempt, Altidore struck a perfect volley for a goal that not only had to be sweet relief for the 23-year-old striker, but also a welcome sight for a stadium full of U.S. fans eager to see him get going.
He didn’t stop with the goal. Altidore also delivered a beautiful assist on Clint Dempsey’s third goal to show off the growth he has enjoyed as a star target man for AZ, and the qualities U.S. fans have been waiting years to see in a U.S. uniform.
Altidore turned in his best national team performance in years, and it isn’t a coincidence that it was also a match that featured some of the best service he has seen in years with the U.S. Opportunities have been tough to come by with the national team, a far cry from the chance-fest he enjoys playing in front of a stacked midfield with AZ.
“The biggest thing was creating chances,” Altidore said after the match. “I think today was huge in terms of the amount of opportunities we created, how aggressive we were going forward. I think that was the difference.
“I think we’ve always had the talent but it was just a matter of showing it and today I thought we showed signs of that.”
U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann praised Altidore, and also defended his recent lack of national team productivity, pointing out that he hasn’t seen the amount of service necessary to succeed. That changed on Sunday.
“We want him to have chances,” Klinsmann said of Altidore. “We want him to have opportunities to score. In a lot of the games he didn’t score he really didn’t have chances.
“Obviously it helps if Graham Zusi is able to break out to the end line, or the left side whoever it is can bring balls in,” Klinsmann said. “Tonight not only feeding him vertically, but from the side with crosses. He’s strong in the air. He’s technically very, very gifted.”
Klinsmann did make a point to state that Altidore is still adjusting to the responsibilities of being the U.S. team’s target man, and dealing with the high level of play found on the international level.
“The international level is just a different speed, with all due respect, don’t get me wrong, (than) with Holland,” Klinsmann said. “I’m happy for every goal he scores, but it’s a totally different speed. We’re talking about two or three different levels.
“He adjusts to it. He fights in his way,” Klinsmann added. “Sometimes he works very hard defensively, also with Clint, and when he gets really, really tired I’d rather sub him then and give him a breather.
“He has the finishing. He has the class to do that and he chose a nice moment tonight to finish it off.”
Sunday’s performance could be just what Altidore needed to get going, and perhaps more importantly, Klinsmann might have found the pieces to put around Altidore to help him thrive. Altidore needs to score goals in order for the U.S. to navigate World Cup qualifying successfully and Sunday’s match was a major step toward Altidore translating his club success to the international level.
After the match, Altidore didn’t speak like someone flustered by an 18-month national team goal drought. Then again, a goal and assist are enough to instill confidence and belief that he can become the goal machine the U.S. needs him to be.
“I honestly feel like I’ve been doing the right things,” Altidore said. “It’s just a matter of being patient and waiting for the chances.
“I think against Belgium, I was unlucky,” Altidore added. “I had a very similar chance but [Vincent] Kompany had nicked it with his head and it caught me off balance. Today, I had the chance and I just concentrated on it, and I know that if I keep getting them I can be successful.”
Altidore showed on Sunday that he can finish when chances come his way. The trick for Klinsmann and the national team is to keep those chances coming. If they do, Altidore’s national team goal drought days could become a distant memory.