The question that has been on many people’s minds is whether Jozy Altidore deserves to start during the World Cup. It is a question every US soccer fan could not even dream of asking a year ago. During the 2012/2013 season Jozy was on a roll, amassing a staggering amount of goals for both club (AZ Alkmaar) and country. His brilliant play led to a big transfer to Sunderland on the off-season which was met with skepticism by many. Last time Altidore was in England he failed. In fact he has failed in several leagues and in his past two season in England he has scored two goals over 58 games (ESPN). Many hoped that the Eredivisie had finally awoken the skillful player that many knew existed. It was this exceptional raw talent that had led to his departure from MLS and while he has showed glimpses of it at times since he left, he has never consistently performed to the level many have believed he should.
Unfortunately, America does not have a surfeit of talented strikers. The best “American” striker currently plays for Italy. There is no American Robbie Keane or Samuel Eto’o, and since they do not exist American fans have shifted their hopes to Jozy Altidore. He is built like the perfect target striker with his frame, speed, and athleticism but his technical ability and mental strength has been disappointing thus far. Every year fans have been hoping for everything to “click” for Jozy Altidore and last year it finally seemed to be happening. As his inaugural season at Sunderland dragged on, the dream that Jozy had finally become the player he was destined to be began to crack, and right now it’s on the precipice of being shattered. However, his failures do not fall solely on him. Sunderland has been a mess this year. The coach who wanted Jozy got fired and the new coach wanted to play a different style, one which Jozy was not accustomed to. Strikers are also dependent on service from their supporting staff and the midfield on Sunderland this season was severely lacking when it came to providing quality chances. They failed to provide chances to every Sunderland striker, not just Jozy, and therefore it was no surprise that Sunderland was so impotent in front of goal. That being said, Fabio Borini and Conor Wickham put the ball in the back of the net more than Jozy Altidore so there were some chances to be had and all the blame cannot be pointed at the Sunderland midfield. A lot of the blame has to fall on Jozy’s shoulders.
Goals are essential for strikers. Their main sustenance is goals and without those goals, strikers wither away. Of course every striker goes through dry spells, but the longer these spells last the harder it is to get out of them. Jozy Altidore entered a dry spell when he was at Sunderland and it is only getting worse. The dry spell wasn’t helped by being shifted in and out of the lineup during his season at Sunderland but the damage has now been done. Jozy Altidore looks tentative on the ball and lacks sharpness. Last night against Azerbaijan he had his moments where he held up play well but when it came to threatening the goal he fell short. Is it worth mortgaging the success of the USMNT on whether Jozy Altidore can get out of his dry spell and regain his form? Or is it time for Jurgen Klinsmann to move on to his other striking options?
The only target striker the USMNT has is Jozy Altidore and because of this many fans and analysts believe he needs to start for solely this reason. Those who believe the USMNT need a target striker base this off of the belief that the USMNT defense will be constantly under-fire from Ghana, Germany, and Portugal and will need a target striker as an outlet to hold up play. This is not a wrong point-of-view but it does severely limit the tactical and formational options available to Jurgen. If Jurgen deems this strategy is necessary, then Altidore must play, since Aron Johannsson and Chris Wondolowski cannot play as a target striker. However, if Jurgen were to get creative then there is no reason Johannsson and/or Wondolowski cannot start instead of Jozy Altidore and someone else. There are club and international teams around the world who play with two strikers who are not traditional target strikers so it can and has worked. There are no guarantees it will work for the USMNT during the World Cup but is it not smart to use a formation that utilize the team’s two in-form strikers?
Chris Wondolowski is in great form for for the San Jose Earthquakes and has scored several goals for the USMNT in his last few call ups while Aron Johannsson also put up gaudy stats in the Eredivisie. The knock on these stats though is that Wondolowski scored his club goals in MLS against lesser competition and his USMNT goals have come against some of the worst teams USMNT has played in the last year. Johannsson has a similar lack of appreciation for his goals because they have come in the Eredivisie which is known for its high scoring and lesser defenses. This can inflate his stats and his ability, much like it did with Jozy Altidore who put up similar stats during the 2012/2013 season when he played in the Eredivisie. When push comes to shove, goals are goals and these two strikers are proving they can score them in real live games and Jozy Altidore is not.
Jurgen is now faced with quite the conundrum. He has two forwards who are firing on all cylinders but against relatively subpar competition, and he has a forward with a high ceiling who is lacking confidence and sharpness. The motto of Jurgen Klinsmann has been that no player can rest on his laurels and he must constantly prove himself. Jozy Altidore cannot be completely knocked for challenging himself in the BPL but his inability to score also cannot be ignored. As we have seen, even great players can fail to perform in the World Cup. Lionel Messi who is one of the best players in the world only managed to score one goal in the 2010 World Cup. Jozy Altidore is no Lionel Messi, but that example shows how a team can be affected when their main goal-scoring threat is misfiring. There is no guarantee Jozy Altidore gets out of his dry spell and thus Jurgen should at least toy with the idea of using Wondowlowski and/or Johannsson upfront for the World Cup warm-up games. As much as it hurts to say, at the current moment Jozy Altidore starting the game on the bench could give the US the best chance to score goals. Jozy Altidore is a talented player but if Gus Poyet does not think he is worthy of starting the Capital One final then how can Jurgen believe he is capable of starting in the World Cup? Just like Jurgen did with Donovan, sometimes you have to make tough decisions and drop popular, talented players in order to give the team a better chance to win.