Jozy Altidore is only 24 years old, but having broke into the U.S. Men’s National Team in his teens, the Sunderland striker has already accumulated 71 international appearances – the type of track record that puts him in position to claim the captaincy when the team’s regular leadership is gone. On Wednesday, with Clint Dempsey back in Seattle and Tim Howard on sabbatical, Altidore will assume that role on in Prague, when he will lead the U.S. out of the tunnel against the Czech Republic.
U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann confirmed the news today from the Czech Republic, where his team will face Czechs in its first appearance since this summer’s World Cup:
Dempsey, the team’s normal captain, was left off a team that only called in one player from Major League Soccer. While Howard would normally be the logical replacement in a Europe-heavy squad, the Everton goalkeeper recently embarked on a year-long break from the national team. With players like Michael Bradley having move back to North America over the last year, Jurgen Klinsmann’s latest team is devoid of its normal leadership.
Altidore is the one exception. Having debuted with the team as a 17-year-old in 2007, the former New York Red Bulls, Villarreal, and AZ Alkmaar striker has become one of the team’s most tenured players. Thanks to a starting role at two World Cups, Altidore as a level of experience that belies his age. With still two more World Cup cycles left in his career, Altidore already has 23 international goals, good for sixth on the U.S. Men’s all-time list.
With Dempsey and DaMarcus Beasley left at home, Altidore is the obvious choice to assume the armband. On a team where Alejandro Bedoya is the next-most capped player (32), he may also be the only choice.
For critics, Altidore has become defined by his struggles at Sunderland, but for some players, there’s only a tenuous link between the club and international worlds. Though he continues to fight for time with the Black Cats, Altidore is an crucial part of the U.S., one whose absence was felt in Brazil.
It may only be an early cycle friendly, but Altidore’s earned this recognition. He’s the best choice to lead the Americans out in Prague.