SANDY, Utah – Feel free to ask yourself at this point: where would the United States be in World Cup qualifying without Jozy Altidore?
Probably in OK shape. Possibly even in good shape. But probably not in out-of-this-world, super-model shape.
The man has scored in four consecutive matches, hitting important goals in each one, like the first goal in that game-changing win over Jamaica two weeks back.
And, of course, it was the Alkmaar man to the rescue once again on Tuesday at Rio Tinto Stadium, where the United States needed most of the match to finally break through against a well-drilled, well-positioned and very stubborn visitor.
As I said in the player ratings from Tuesday, there wasn’t much room between Honduran goalkeeper Noel Valladares and the far post on the young striker’s latest massive goal. That was yet another quality finish in a big string of them, not surprising considering Altidore did it 31 times for his Dutch club over the last 10 months.
It really is in stark contrast to the previous months, when Altidore just could not shake a scoreless skid that stretched to 22 matches with the national team.
“To be honest, I wasn’t really worried by it at all,” he said, breaking a self-imposed media silence. “Last cycle, I was there for the team. If we continue to create chances and continue to be aggressive, we’re always going to be successful.”
Altidore has scored in four consecutive American matches, quite the rarity around U.S. Soccer. In fact, only five other United States players have struck in a consecutive foursome. He joins William Looby (from way back in the day), Eric Wynalda, Brian McBride, Eddie Johnson and Landon Donovan (who did it twice).
It all started with that expertly struck goal against Germany, and now Altidore has scored in three consecutive qualifiers, leaving the United States in such enviable position heading into three months of down time before final stage qualifying in the region resumes.
U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann said it isn’t just the goals that mean so much to the team right now.
“All the work that he does for the team is so important, how he does the high pressure that we would like to play,” Klinsmann said. “The way he chases down defenders and wins balls back for us. All that energy is very important for the team.”
But a lot of men could do the work; it’s never hard to find a grinder. A grinder who can score? That man is worth his weight in Brazilian World Cup gold.
We can analyze the heck out of these games, banging on about creative influences and formations and why things do or don’t work. But in so many ways, it comes down to having one confident goal-getter who is reliably pushing balls past opposing goalkeepers. That’s Altidore at the moment — and it means so very much in this ongoing drive for Brazil 2014.
Altidore attempted to keep the comments centered around the team.
“I think for everybody, the results speak for themselves,” he said. “I think everybody was so comfortable with each other. I mean just from the back, less long balls. Everybody tried to play more controlled balls. We tried to find a solution and that was huge because it gave us the goal.”