The USA Men’s National Soccer team is facing a very important pair of matches this week with qualification for the 2014 World Cup on the line. Because of a slip-up in Jamaica one month ago, the Americans will now have to play competitive games against Guatemala and Antigua and Barbuda in the next week just to earn a spot in the final qualification round. Amidst all the speculation and worries surrounding these matches, manager Jurgen Klinsmann decided to throw another curve ball by not selecting Jozy Altidore for the squad, a move that is confounding the media.
Jozy Altidore is currently America’s best striker. He has scored 8 goals for his club, AZ Alkmaar in Holland and is jointly leading the Eredevisie league in goals scored. However, apparently Altidore has frustrated Klinsmann during international duties and that has led to his absence on the team. Klinsmann is quite correct in that assertion, as Altidore has largely disappointed in recent international games, having not scored since last November.
I do find it alarming that Klinsmann is using this moment to make a statement of this magnitude to the player. Clearly these matches in the CONCACAF region aren’t nearly as important as the World Cup, but right now America is in a position that if we lose these games, the World Cup in Brazil will not exist for team America. Regardless of reasons, Klinsmann would likely be immediately dismissed from his role and the nation would be humiliated. The scary prospect is also very real, as our U-23 team learned when they failed to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics this past summer. These two matches are huge, and I think we really could use one of our best, most athletic players, especially one who is in such great form at his club.
Also, I feel that Klinsmann is wrongly blaming Altidore for the loss in Jamaica. Altidore was largely ineffective in the match, but so were many other players in generally weakened squad. Clint Dempsey had yet to play a match since June and although scoring early, didn’t provide much else. Both Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley missed the game through injury leaving our midfield dangerously thin, and this prevented Altidore from getting any service to score.
Donovan was recently injured again and will miss the vital games. Brek Shea, one of the team’s exciting young wingers, is also hurt and will miss the matches. Leaving out Altidore for these games means we will have to rely largely on Clint Dempsey.
Another player who will need to play his best is Herculez Gomez, who has been favored striker by Klinsmann and scored the winner in the second match against Jamaica at home.
I suppose that Altidore’s omission from the squad is Klinsmann’s way of teaching a lesson to the young player. Personally, I think Altidore brings more to the team than any of our other strikers, but Klinsmann was appointed boss to make these decisions so the fans will have to sit back and hope he makes the correct call. Obviously he knows the importance of these games and feels that Altidore is not our best option, even as a substitute. We can only hope that he is correct, as the soccer nation in America will be holding its breath for the duration of these two matches.