This week some American soccer fans have decried Jurgen Klinsmann’s decision to leave Jozy Altidore off the U.S. Men’s National Team roster for the two upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Antigua and Barbuda and Guatemala. Altidore’s omission is a wise decision by Coach Klinsmann. It is also a good thing for the U.S. team and for Jozy Altidore.
Ever since Altidore arrived in Holland to play for AZ Alkmaar, we keep hearing about his amazing goal-scoring prowess. I must take others’ word for it since the Eredivisie doesn’t feature on American TV very often. It may seem unfair to judge a player solely based on their national team performances, but I haven’t had the opportunity to see Altidore lighting up the Dutch league. It’s fantastic that he seems to be doing so well there, but his supposed maturity as a player does not translate when he’s wearing the U.S. jersey.
It seems like Altidore has been on the verge of becoming a great player for the U.S. a lot longer than the five years since he made his national team debut. American fans would like to see more consistency and fight from a guy with 51 caps under his belt. Altidore is big and strong but doesn’t use his size to hold the ball long enough. He’s rarely creative or explosive receiving passes in the final third and doesn’t force shots from difficult angles. Over the years he has seemed lazy, unaggressive, and more interested in drawing fouls than muscling his way into shooting space. There have been occasional flashes of potential and a few goals, but overall he just hasn’t blossomed into the player fans thought he might be.
Klinsmann is sending a good message to Altidore and other potential U.S. players that there are few tenured positions on this team. Unless your last name is Dempsey, Donovan, Bradley, Howard, Bocanegra, or Cherundolo, you shouldn’t assume you’ve got a spot. It doesn’t matter how amazing you play for your club – if you’re mediocre for the red, white, and blue, somebody else is going to get a chance. Which is exactly as it should be.
Klinsmann can’t afford to allow these next two World Cup qualifiers to be further trials for Altidore. Altidore had an incredibly generous trial period already, reaching back to the early days of Bob Bradley’s national team coaching days. After the U.S.’ relatively shaky start to current World Cup qualifying, Klinsmann knows nothing less than six points from these next matches will suffice. To that end, he apparently doesn’t want to risk a roster spot on the hot & cold Altidore.
Klinsmann needs consistency, aggressiveness, and finishing power up front. Whether or not the resurgent Eddie Johnson or San Jose’s Alan Gordon (who are both on the current roster instead of Altidore) are superior alternatives is debatable, but I don’t blame Klinsmann for shaking things up. In fact, it’s one of the things I like about him. Klinsmann seems to be hunting for the hungriest players and that’s a very good thing for U.S. Soccer (as long as he eventually settles on a core starting eleven in time for them to gel before the World Cup).
Sitting out this round of qualifiers could be the best thing that ever happened to Altidore as far as his international career is concerned. How will he respond to the adversity? Will he slink away with damaged confidence, or will he show some grit and earn his spot back? As a U.S. fan, I want to see Altidore succeed. I’m proud of American players who do well in Europe. Fans simply want the best players to represent the U.S. If Altidore is one of them, we want to see him out there. Currently he’s not at the top of the list, but that doesn’t mean his international career is over. Qualifying for the World Cup is the important thing, even if that means benching veterans like Altidore along the way.