By IVES GALARCEP
SANDY, Utah– How does a player who has scored more than 50 goals for his club team over the course of two years become a forward that national team fans lose faith in?
That question relates to Jozy Altidore, or at least it did before he obliterated concerns about his U.S. Men’s National Team effectiveness by scoring in four consecutive USMNT matches. Suddenly the question has gone from “Why can’t Jozy score for the national team” to “Can anybody stop Jozy from scoring for the national team?”
It really isn’t a great mystery as to why Altidore has replaced a goal drought with a goal deluge, and it isn’t about any transformational experience, or any of the mind games Jurgen Klinsmann has played in his attempt to push and prod and cajole Altidore into being the player Klinsmann wants him to be. No, Altidore is scoring for two reasons. The first is he’s riding a wave of confident form after a 31-goal season for AZ Alkmaar.
More important, Altidore is finally receiving steady service after starving for national team service for the better part of two years.
“I think the teammates have done a better job of creating chances for him,” said Clint Dempsey. “He’s been doing a good job with the chances that he gets in the game, he’s finishing them off.
“He’s been great for us and it’s been important to have another player chipping in with those goals and be able to make it difficult for our opponents because they have to watch more players,” Dempsey added. “We have more threats, and when you have more threats you’re able to get more goals and open up space for other people.”
“The results speak for themselves,” Altidore said. “I think everybody’s so comfortable with each other. I mean just from the back. We play less long balls and everybody tried to play more controlled balls. We tried to always find a solution. That was huge and it gave us a little bit more going forward.
“The team is playing good football and creating chances and that’s what happens when you do that.”
The emergence of effective wing options has helped boost an offense that had struggled to find consistency under Klinsmann for almost two years, but now with players like Fabian Johnson and Graham Zusi helping energize the midfield, and with centerbacks Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez working to start build-ups from the back rather than booting long balls, Altidore has flourished.
Finally, Altidore is playing in a system that resembles the high-octane attack he stars in for AZ Alkmaar. AZ boasts a plethora of creative midfield talent, and the steady diet of scoring chances created by his club teammates has helped Altidore not only fine-tune his finishing, but polish his all-around game.
“We are very happy for Jozy,” Klinsmann said. “We always told him from a coaching perspective that it takes a lot of hard work. It takes a lot of adjustment. It takes the right moment to be there. It takes the hunger, and the energy he put in now in the past four or five games is tremendous.
“It’s not only that he scored those goals. The work that he does for the team is awesome,” Klinsmann added. “How he starts the high pressure that we would like to play more and more. He kind of shifts the defenders to the side. He chases them down. He wins balls back. That energy from Jozy is very important to that team.”
Altidore showed all those attributes on Tuesday night, hustling to tackle opposing players with the ball, and showing just as much hustle in racing into the attack.
As for that 18-month national team goal drought? It is a distant memory that Altidore isn’t spending much time thinking about anymore.
“I’m not really worried about it at all,” Altidore said. “Last cycle I thought I was there when I had to be for the team and this time is no different for me. If we continue to create chances, and we continue to be aggressive, we’re always going to be successful.”