Jozy Altidore may have endured a horror first season at Sunderland but the often-ridiculed striker still remains crucial to the USA’s chances at the 2014 World Cup.
Arriving from AZ Alkmaar last summer with the expectations of a £6 million price tag, the 24-year-old was roundly derided for scoring just once in 30 Premier League games and found himself dropped by new manager Gus Poyet for the side’s final run-in.
His club career largely in limbo going into the summer, Altidore’s role with the USA however has been set in stone for some time – he remains one of the most crucial players in the lineup and, in many ways, virtually undroppable.
That’s not because he has been in fine goalscoring form for his country either, despite a brace in the recent 2-1 friendly win over Nigeria, as well as a record of 23 in 70 appearances which looks somewhat impressive on paper.
In fact, much of Altidore’s production since breaking onto the international scene in 2007 has unsurprisingly come when facing CONCACAF’s various minnows, in-between lengthy scoring droughts and obvious struggles against the so-called bigger nations.
Scoring however is not the only job Altidore has in Jurgen Klinsmann’s side, or he surely would have been jettisoned long ago. Instead, it’s his hold-up play and physical presence upfront which is so important to the German’s system, and which no other American around can seemingly provide to a similar level.
With the team built to rely on a prototypical number nine up top, who can prove a handful for defenders with his strength on the ball and ability to set up teammates, the Sunderland man is quite simply the USA’s best option.
Prolific MLS striker Chris Wondolowski certainly isn’t that type of player, and neither is the newly-introduced Aron Johannsson or the omitted trio of Terrance Boyd, Juan Agudelo and Eddie Johnson.
Comparisons to Emile Heskey may seem a slight but, in this case, they in fact should be taken as a compliment. After all, it’s often forgotten that Heskey in his pomp was the provider of many a Michael Owen goal during his England days and that’s the type of partnership Klinsmann is trying to replicate with Altidore and former Fulham star Clint Dempsey.
As the side’s roaming playmaker, the latter will be the man tasked with making the most of the opportunities created by his forward-partner’s presence and the two linking up in the final-third is fundamental to how the team operates.
Altidore may not have developed into the superstar many expected him to become when he first came to the fore as a teenager but he has clear qualities that the USA can use in Brazil this summer, as glaring an indictment as that may sound to some.
Their opponents Ghana, Germany and Portugal in the World Cup’s supposed ‘Group of Death’ may not feel they have much to fear in Altidore but they’d also be foolish to completely right off his impact, even if it doesn’t come on the scoresheet.