photo by ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
Jozy Altidore is not a finished product yet.
That is the message U.S. Men’s National Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has for anyone who questions how valuable Altidore can be at this upcoming World Cup.
Altidore is coming off of a disappointing season at Sunderland in which he scored just one league goal a year after lighting up opposing defenses and setting the U.S. foreign-based scoring record with AZ Alkmaar. The lack of production has led many observers to speculate just how effective the veteran forward can be at this summer’s World Cup, but Klinsmann is not all that worried about Altidore just weeks before heading to Brazil.
Part of the reason for that is because Klinsmann knows firsthand just how good Altidore can be, as evidenced by the string of strong showings he put forth for the U.S. in 2013. Another part is the often overlooked fact that Altidore is still just a 24-year-old forward with plenty to learn and much to add to his game.
“I think it’s very important that you understand kind of the phase a player is in right now as of today, what phase of his career he’s in and what he learned so far throughout his career and what he’s able then to do also in the future,” said Klinsmann on conference call with national media on Monday. “I think Jozy is still a very young player and he’s going through a learning curve, and one big learning curve was this year at Sunderland and it will continue to be Sunderland as long as nothing happens maybe after the World Cup, he gets transferred or whatever.
“We’ve worked with him the last three years from a much younger player into a more mature player. He played very, very good games for us, scoring very important goals for us, but still we see Jozy in his development phase. Jozy is not built yet, Jozy has not reached his potential yet. Our job as coaches is to help him reach his highest potential.”
While Altidore may still be a work in progress, he will head into Brazil with his share of expectations. Altidore is no longer the bright-eyed, 20-year-old striker that was going into his first World Cup four years ago. Instead, he is a much more seasoned player and one that will need to help carry the scoring load this summer if the Americans are to successfully navigate themselves out of a difficult Group G that includes Ghana, Portugal and Germany.
That may seem like a lot of pressure on the shoulders of a player facing plenty of criticism these days, but Klinsmann insists it is just the next step in Altidore’s development.
“I think the next two months will be part of that next learning curve for Jozy Altidore and I always said that he has so many upsides,” said Klinsmann. “He hasn’t shown it yet in different places maybe, but I think we saw last summer a big part of those upsides in the World Cup qualifiers, even in some friendlies as well.
“We coaches, we look forward to now having him in camp and to bring kind of our influence into this whole next step. We believe that Jozy can play a very big World Cup this summer in Brazil.”
Altidore may be a shoo-in to make the final 23-man roster, but he will need to perform well in the preparatory camp in Stanford, Calif. and the ensuing friendlies to convince Klinsmann that Altidore is still worthy of spearheading the U.S. attack.
Doing that will cross off on item off the to-do list and move Altidore onto the next.
“Obviously, he has to work now hard the next couple of weeks to confirm our trust and confirm our support, which I think he will do absolutely,” said Klinsmann. “But he’s still a player to be developed. He’s not there yet.”