As people look for ways the United States can improve before Tuesday, Jozy Altidore’s name is bound to come up. Like fellow attackers Clint Dempsey and Herculez Gomez, Altidore didn’t see much of the ball on Friday, but whereas Dempsey and Gomez still found ways to impact the game, Altidore was irrelevant and eventually pulled off.
The outing only highlights questions surrounding Altidore’s role under Klinsmann. In his three U.S. matches preceding Jamaica, Altidore had found himself coming off the bench, with Gomez getting the starting spot in front of Dempsey and Landon Donovan. If Donovan were healthy for Friday’s game, Altidore would have been relegated to a similar role.
For some, Altidore seems like a clear first choice, his strong start to the Dutch season a testament to his talent. Coming off a 15-goal debut campaign for AZ in the Eredivisie, Altidore’s scored four times in as many matches this season. That output combined with his regular role in Bob Bradley’s starting XI leads many to assume that, when healthy, Altidore will be part of Klinsmann’s first choice team. That’s clearly not the case.
On Friday, we saw why. For whatever reason, Altidore is just not firing on cylinders in Klinsmann’s system. With the U.S. committed to a style of play that prefers building through short passing and off-the-ball movement, the national team is playing away from Altidore’s strengths. Even as an emergency outlet when all else fails, the U.S. seems unwilling to target Jozy on anything but restarts. Even then, Dempsey is often the man going up for a shorter ball, trying to flick on for the forwards. The result is a game like Friday’s, where Altidore is kept quiet.
That kind of performance seems to be at odds with somebody who is so influential at club level. The Eredivisie, however, is a very distinct competition. Most players moving out of the league and up the European ladder see their goal totals drop drastically. If you’re a player going to the Netherlands from a big league (as Altidore did when he moved from Spain), you’re going to get a boost, a surge fueled by a style of play that’s more open, less intense that many other leagues. Where Altidore struggled to score in Spain, England, and Turkey, the Netherlands appears to be a good fit, one that doesn’t seem to translate onto what Klinsmann is trying to do.
Whether caused by the league, how Altidore’s progressed as a player, or a mesh between coach and striker that’s still under development, what we saw on Friday was discouraging. The ball didn’t find Altidore, and he didn’t have a way to get himself involved. If Klinsmann’s looking for ways to build on Kingston, he might opt for a player who can contribute when not directly involved.
Within the current team, there are five options, assuming Klinsmann wants to stay with some version of a three-attacker setup:
Terrence Boyd – This would be the like-for-like option. If Klinsmann feels his set up was right, the execution was off, and he only wants to make a few tweaks, Boyd-for-Altidore is the most likely change. Boyd doesn’t have Altidore’s experience and he’s yet to score in six senior-level appearances, but he can make a positive contribution without being the attack’s focal point.
Brek Shea – If Klinsmann wants to change the shape and go back to more of a 4-3-3, Shea could come in and start on the left, leaving Gomez alone up top. The Dallas attacker, who would be matched up against Lovel Palmer, would provide a wide option the U.S. lacked in Kingston. If Klinsmann thinks Friday’s issues transcend performance and require a formation tweak, Shea’s the most likely option.
Graham Zusi – Though the numbers are inconclusive, there’s a feeling the U.S. lacked some potency in midfield. When you go 89 minutes without scoring, it’s hard to argue the point. Until the U.S. brought on Boyd and Shea and started sending everything through Dempsey, the team lacked drive through middle. Bringing in Zusi would help that problem, giving the States a second player who can transition the team into attack, somebody who can play wide as well as help through the middle. If Klinsmann came out of Jamaica thinking the team really missed what Landon Donovan provides, Zusi’s the logical choice.
Jose Torres – This one would be a bit weird as a swap for Altidore, but if Klinsmann wants to exert greater control on the game, Torres might be his man. As Steve pointed out, Torres rarely seems to get the U.S. closer to scoring goals, but he is capable of making sure they keep the ball. The logic here would be to get somebody on the pitch who can work with Kyle Beckerman, allow Maurice Edu and Jermaine Jones to get forward, and give the U.S. a chance to set up (rather than jump into) attack.
Joe Corona – The Xolos midfielder has only made two appearances with the senior team, so it’s difficult to envision how Klinsmann would use him, particularly when thrown in with the rest of the first choice XI. He does, however, add another attacker who’s good on the ball and can promote a quicker passing game. If Klinsmann (for whatever reason) decides to put Dempsey into a more advanced, attacking role, Corona’s one of the few options that can fill that space.