Godfrey's Column

Has Jozy Found His Focus? 2013 Could Be His Year

Two years ago, Jozy Altidore couldn't find playing time, let alone the back of the net. Now he's scoring at will—including a brace on Saturday—but that doesn't mean his spot on the U.S. national team is secure.
BY John Godfrey Posted
December 16, 2012
7:50 AM
Jozy Altidore scored a pair of goals for AZ Alkmaar yesterday, giving him 11 league tallies this season and putting him on pace to surpass last year's career-best showing in the Dutch Eredivisie. Still just 23, the New Jersey native is relatively young by international soccer standards. He's wealthy. Smart. Successful.

It's all good, right?

Hardly. The last few months have been brutal for the spotlight-aware, Twitter-loving striker. Though his stat sheet might look good, Altidore has been forced to endure a public falling out with U.S. national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann. The spat cost Altidore games and hurt his reputation just as he was launching a fancy new promotional website. During the brouhaha, however, Altidore behaved and performed admirably, and may emerge stronger in the end.

It all came to light in early October when Klinsmann left Altidore off his squad for the last two Semifinal Round World Cup Qualifiers. The coach's decision to exclude an in-form Altidore—a U.S. first-team regular to that point—raised eyebrows and more than a few questions. To his credit, Klinsmann addressed those questions head on.

“I communicated to Jozy I was not happy about his latest performances with us, maybe even over the last 14 months," the coach said on October 8. "I think Jozy can do much, much better. The reason he’s not coming in is mainly because of his performances in Jamaica and at home, also in training, and also certain things that went on through the May-June camp. We decided to bring in Eddie Johnson and Alan Gordon and give them a chance to show how much they have improved. They’re both doing very well in MLS right now.”

It was a public, and humiliating, rebuke. And by referencing Altidore's efforts in training, Klinsmann all but stated that the young striker lacked the work ethic necessary for national team consideration.

Further complicating matters for Altidore, Gordon and Johnson performed well in Antigua. The duo combined for the game-winning goal that helped the U.S. eke out a tough win on the road and move one step closer to the 2014 World Cup. The result, and how it came about, sent a message to both the team and to Altidore: There are no guaranteed spots on the squad, and the battle for playing time at forward just got a little bit tougher.

"You want back in, Jozy?" the coach seemed to ask. "Earn it."

Altidore did the right thing: He didn't use his fancy new website as a pulpit to make his case for playing time. He kept his head down and his mouth shut and he focused on his game. On November 1 he scored two goals in a cup match against VV SWZ Boso Sneek. He followed that up a week and a half later with a big goal against ADO Den Haag in an Eredivisie contest.

Around that same time, Klinsmann met with journalists ahead of the November 14 Russia friendly. When asked if he had been in contact with Altidore, Klinsmann could have defused the tense situation with his 23-year-old striker. He chose not to do so. “We’ve had no further contact since then and I haven’t made up my mind yet if I’ll call him in for Russia," Klinsmann said of Altidore.

Awkward silence ensued. OK then. Next question?

As it turned out, Klinsmann did call Altidore in for the Russia friendly. Altidore started but did not see much of the ball, and his performance did not win praise from most media outlets or American Soccer Now readers. But Klinsmann seemed satisfied that his point had been made. Altidore worked hard. He tracked back on defense. He didn't get any goal-scoring glory, but the team earned a draw in a tough setting. It was a good day.

"I think you saw Jozy Altidore today was a handful," Klinsmann told American Soccer Now's Noah Davis after the match. "He gets a big, big compliment for his performance.”

Altidore also deserves a big, big compliment for the way he repaired his relationship with his coach and worked his way out of the doghouse.

Not surprisingly, Altidore's comments after the Russia match focused entirely on the team's performance: “I think the team has grown a lot in a lot of ways and we’ve had a lot of ups and downs, but I think we’re finding our identity again," Altidore said. "that’s important going into the nature of the final qualifying round. It’s going to be tough, but we’ve grown a lot.”

Was he talking about the team's growth and maturity, or his own? Both?

It doesn't matter.

The talent is there—nobody can dispute that. It is now up to Altidore to continue doing things the Klinsmann way. If he does, 2013 could be the year Altidore finds international success to go with his great club form.

What do you think? Will Jozy have a breakthrough 2013 for country as well as club? Will it be an up-and-down year? Or do you expect more struggles for the U.S. national team? Please leave your thoughts in the Comments below.

John Godfrey is the founder and editor in chief of American Soccer Now.

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