The USMNT has won their first two World Cup tune-up games, but there are many questions to be answered before the team gets on the plane to Brazil. One glaring concern is the defense and who will start, but it’s also imperative to discuss Jozy Altidore and his scoring slump.
Altidore, 24, has been pegged as the go-to man to score goals for the US in Brazil, but his fantastic scoring streak from qualification is a thing of the past. It has been more than 230 days since Altidore has scored for the United States, and he was only on the score sheet for Premier League club Sunderland once during the 2013-2014 season.
Altidore is the most physically imposing force the US have in front of goal, with an innate ability to play with his back to goal and holdup play for his teammates. He scored 23 goals for AZ Alkmaar in league play the year before his move to Sunderland, but that efficient production has not been seen since.
The friendly against Azerbaijan is not a good indicator of Altidore’s current form. That was the team’s first real action together and was also against an opponent that parked the bus in front of goal and barely attacked. That style of play will not be seen in Brazil, and it would frustrate even the best of players.
The match against Turkey was more telling of Altidore’s psyche. Turkey was a formidable opponent that tested the American defense often while giving the Americans chances to attack.
Altidore performed admirably, but he failed to score a goal in the 2-1 win. His ability to hold the ball in dangerous positions and wait for teammates to distribute the ball to was on full display, but a sense of hesitation was apparent. That second guessing before the shot did not use to be a part of Altidore’s game. He did make some smart plays and passes that were unlucky to work out, but one almost wanted him to be selfish and take some more daring shots.
That’s what it will take to get out of the “Group of Death” and survive Ghana, Portugal, and Germany. The United States will need a striker with killer instinct, and that’s just not what Altidore is right now.
Clint Dempsey, the American captain, will have to pick up that scoring slack if Altidore cannot get over this mental barrier. Dempsey is one of those players who can make something out of nothing. His nutmeg against Turkey showed the technical brilliance that the Texan can bring to a match. His best attribute may actually be his ability to be in the right place at the right time. Dempsey rarely wastes opportunities, and the United States will look to him if Altidore misfires in Brazil.
Another player that will face pressure if Altidore disappoints is Chris Wondolowski. Wondo was the hero of the Gold Cup, scoring goals left and right, but he has never played in a major international tournament before. The bane of MLS defenses for years is a bright spot for the US team, but the weight of the World Cup may prove to be too much for him. He has performed well in the friendlies thus far, but he has not gotten on the score sheet.
Be it Altidore, Dempsey, or Wondo, the United States will need goals from their strikers to progress to the round of 16. Brian McBride was the last striker to score for the United States in a World Cup in 2002.
Altidore has one more chance to get out of his slump before the United States players travel to Brazil. If he fails to score against Nigeria, Klinsmann will have to seriously consider if he needs to make a change or give the misfiring striker a chance on the world’s biggest stage.