The United States soccer team had an up-and-down year in 2012, defeating the likes of Mexico and Italy, but also suffering an ugly defeat to Brazil and generally struggling throughout their CONCACAF third round 2014 World Cup qualifying group. Goals have been rather hard to come by since Jurgen Klinsmann took over the squad, and it has resulted in his dropping of top American striker Jozy Altidore last October.
In 14 total matches in 2012, the USA only managed 23 goals for a marginal 1.64 goals/game rate. Five of those goals came in a 5-1 thrashing of Scotland, and if you subtract that game, the USA only managed 18 goals in 13 games for a 1.38 goals/game rate. Considering that most of the matches were played in qualification games against teams like Jamaica, Guatemala, and Antigua & Barbuda, there is a high amount of evidence that America could stand to improve in their goal-scoring department.
Jozy Altidore must be the answer up top. The young striker has been in sensational form for AZ Alkmaar in the Netherlands, where he has scored 11 league goals in just 8 starts this season. His goal mark is nearly half of the entire team’s goals! Nevertheless, Altidore hasn’t replicated that form with the national team, and Klinsmann’s patience has worn thin. Last October, Altidore wasn’t included in the final two games of CONCACAF third round World Cup qualification, when the team needed results to progress. Clearly this was a lesson to the young player and resulted in stories circulating the web that Altidore had poor work ethic and was seen as a negative presence to the team as a whole.
Having no inside information, I doubt that the reality is as bad as those stories have suggested, but clearly the move was made to give Altidore a bit of a wake-up call. He has been a great young talent for the country and has already scored 13 international goals, remarkable for someone just 23 years old. But his international play last year wasn’t up to scratch, and I actually think the message from Klinsmann could do some good into improving his attitude and his game.
For 2013, I sense that Jozy Altidore will be called into action in the final round of World Cup qualifiers that includes teams like Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Jamaica (who memorably defeated America last September). Mexico is always a tough team, and Honduras had a memorable 2012 Olympics where they defeated Spain. These games will challenge the team, and players like Altidore will need to be at their best to ensure qualification.
America is well stocked with offensive talent. Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan are natural forwards who often make plays. Midfielder Michael Bradley brings a great physical presence and also scores plenty of goals. But regardless, America needs the top striker center man, and Jozy Altidore is clearly the man for the job. Here’s to hoping that he continues to develop and score plenty of goals, and is able to replicate his club form for America to help the USA navigate the treacherous last round of World Cup qualifiers!