As we patiently wait for the results of American striker Jozy Altidore’s hamstring scan, Klinsmann and the USMNT are preparing to play without him. To the layman, this may sound like a huge blow to the Yanks’ chances in the 2014 World Cup.
It isn’t. Not by a long shot.
For starters, Altidore has had a pretty pedestrian 2013-14. Some might even call it bad. After a successful two year run in the Dutch League with AZ Alkmaar, Altidore was signed by the EPL’s Sunderland this last season. In Holland — as many goal scorers have done before him — Jozy was a star, scoring 38 goals in 59 appearances. This would lead you to believe Altidore was on the verge of becoming that clinical finisher American soccer has never, ever had.
Then he played in a top league, and reality set in. He’s not that good.
Altidore scored just one goal in 19 appearances with Sunderland, and only two with the USMNT in the last year (both in the last friendly before the World Cup). After an admittedly goal-filled international career (he has 23 in 71 appearances), Altidore’s production has dropped off as of late. That happens in soccer at an early age — especially when you go from playing against mid/low-level competition (Dutch League, CONCACAF) to the cream of the crop (EPL, World Cup).
What I’m saying is that for every Arjen Robben and Ruud Van Nistelroy who’ve destroyed the Eridivisie, there have been infinitely more Mateja Kezmans and Alvaro Alves who haven’t panned out on the bigger stage. Altidore is looking like less of a star than we, as American soccer fans, have built him up to be.
His replacement (Aron Jóhannsson), for example, scored 20 goals in 39 appearances for the EXACT SAME DUTCH TEAM. That’s right, another American dominating up top for AZ Alkmaar. BOTTOM-LINE: He’s just as proven as Altidore on the club-level.
Another reason to be excited about Jóhannsson is that he’s a better ball handler than Jozy, which works well with Klinsmann’s more tactical attacking approach. In the old USMNT system, a guy like Altidore was the outlet pass who would create chances by beating opponents to the ball and randomly scoring on the counterattack. We used to look at soccer like it was basketball, and Jozy was our LeBron James. The problem is, he’s not LeBron James and success doesn’t come that way in this sport. You need 11 guys on the same page.
In the new system, a guy like Jóhannsson can be a highly functioning cog in a cohesive offensive machine — a machine that seems hell-bent on producing goals like the very European-looking Dempsey score yesterday (that we’re sure you’ve seen by now). More control, more possession, and more creativity from our forwards and midfield. That’s our strategy under Klinsmann — actually playing soccer and not just bowling teams over with brute force. Obviously, Altidore’s athleticism was an upside, but as we’ve seen with Portugal-Germany already, having a fast guy up top isn’t as important as having a creative attack that can control the ball well.
So if you’re still waiting on Altidore’s injury update, relax. The United States National Team will be just fine without him.
[H/T Andrew Brown] Photo via Getty