Jozy Needs to Step It Up & Deliver Against Honduras
March 22, 2017
IT'S JOZY TIME. It has to be. It better be.
Bobby Wood, the U.S. national team's best forward, is out with an injured back and did not travel to California for Friday's must-win match against Honduras. U.S. talisman Clint Dempsey made the squad but is still recovering from an irregular heartbeat and is not playing at full speed. Jordan Morris is dealing with a sprained ankle that may affect both his ability and his availability.
Things have gotten so bad, in fact, that coach Bruce Arena had to call in 34-year-old Chris Wondolowski to fill out the roster.
So yes, Jozy Altidore, the only un-asterisked striker on the team, will be asked to initiate the attack at Avaya Stadium (10:30pm ET, FS1, UniMas), play well, score a goal (or two), and lead the Americans to victory. If the offense sputters, there's a real chance that the U.S. will not qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Does Altidore accept the responsibility? Sure. Can he get it done? Hard to say.
The best American forwards always seemed to find a way. Brian McBride had a knack for scoring big goals in big games. Landon Donovan raised his performance level when the lights shined brightest. Dempsey has scored in three consecutive World Cups.
Altidore isn't at their level—not yet.
In fact, he's not even close. The 27-year-old New Jersey native is a polarizing figure in American soccer circles, and with good cause.
Altidore apologists will be quick to point out that he has 100 caps to his name—a sure sign of his quality, they argue—and has scored 37 goals for the Stars and Stripes since making his first full international appearance in 2008. Altidore absolutely tore it up in the Netherlands, scoring 39 goals for AZ Alkmaar in 67 matches between 2011 and 2013, and has averaged roughly a goal every other game since joining Toronto FC in 2015.
Detractors can point to their own set of statistics. Altidore was a complete bust in England—where the defenses tend to be stingier—managing just two goals across 70 games for Hull City (2009-10) and Sunderland (2013-15). He suited up seven times for the U.S. in 2012 but did not manage a single goal during that span. He suffered through an agonizing, seven-month goal-scoring drought just prior to the 2014 World Cup, scored twice in a meaningless friendly just prior to the tournament in Brazil, and then pulled up lame 23 minutes into the first game of the group stage, never to return.
Altidore is fully healthy at the moment, which might lead one to believe that his long history of health issues is irrelevant. But think about it: The various maladies that kept him from participating in the 2016 Copa America Centenario, the 2014 World Cup, and various Gold Cups have also limited his exposure to high-quality international competition in a high-stakes environment.
Altidore scored a goal against Colombia in a November 2014 friendly in London but he didn't face Los Cafeteros in a tense, taut Copa America Centenario opener last summer. He hit the back of the net against Germany in a wide-open June 2013 friendly but didn't see a minute of action against Die Mannschaft during a rugged group stage game in Recife, Brazil.
Altidore scored against Mexico in his first-ever U.S. national team start in February 2008, but that too was a friendly. He hasn't scored against El Tri since.
When given the opportunity to compete at the highest level, the results have been mixed. Yes, he scored against Spain in the 2009 Confederations Cup. But Altidore also started all four games of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and failed to produce a single tally.
Altidore has delivered his fair share of goals in official (non-friendly) matches, certainly. But he has also stuffed his personal stat sheet against CONCACAF minnows, registering five of his 16 career World Cup qualifier goals against Trinidad & Tobago; three against St. Vincent & the Grenadines; and two against Jamaica. He has also logged official international strikes against the likes of Guadeloupe, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Canada.
Does that mean Altidore won't be able to handle the intensity and quality he'll face against a motivated and talented Honduras team on Friday?
It does not.
In fact, in June 2013 Altidore scored the only goal in a 1-0 win against Honduras, in the Hexagonal round of qualifying, at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.
Bruce Arena will be hoping that his burly striker will be able to channel that performance—an outlier, perhaps, in terms of his international resume—when the same two teams march onto the field Friday night in San Jose.
John Godfrey is the founder and editor in chief of American Soccer Now.