If you’re a U.S. Men’s National Team supporter, you will likely look back on 2013 as a banner year, a year that included an 11-match winning streak, a CONCACAF Gold Cup victory, and domination of the Hexagonal, all of which has served to provide great hope for Brazil 2014.
If you’re a pessimist, you may also be a little worried about the chances of the team peaking too early. Developments over the past two months for two key players certainly haven’t helped.
The talk leading into the summer was Josmer Altidore’s contract situation with AZ Alkmaar. He had churned out goals galore for two consecutive seasons, and helped his team to a Dutch Cup. His form was top-notch, and, heading into the final year of his deal it was perfect timing to parlay a sweet raise. But the raise wouldn’t come from Alkmaar, and many worried that the wrong move to another club could be disastrous to Altidore’s continuing development.
In the end, Jozy signed with Sunderland, returning him to the league in which he struggled a few years back with Hull.
His second chance in the Premier League hasn’t seen a banner start, to say the least. Poor results led to a manager change a month into the campaign. Paolo Di Canio gone, Gus Poyet in. Mini-crisis mode ensued.
If you turned on Saturday’s match to watch the Black Cats receive a 4-0 drubbing by Swansea City, you saw Altidore starting on the bench. When he came on in the 82nd minute, he managed to register one shot in his few minutes of service. He has been played his share this season, but if you check out WhoScored’s, he’s well down their list for average player rating. He’s taking fewer shots per game than two of Sunderland’s midfielders.
After the stunning three-goal performance in the US friendly against Bosnia-Herzegovina back on Aug. 14, the one positive to be gleaned from his recent play was the finish he found in World Cup Qualifying against Jamaica. Edgar Castillo set him up perfectly, and it was a ball you’d expect your top striker to score.
If the Altidore discussion seemed like deja vu, it probably was. 2012 saw a similar concern about Clint Dempsey. He was looking to get out of Fulham, where he nearly cemented his status as top American player in the world. Failed attempts to get to Liverpool eventually led to a last minute move to Tottenham Hotspur.
He wasn’t bad for Spurs, but he also wasn’t replicating his achievements at Fulham. Maybe it was “little fish, big pond” syndrome, where a guy who was of supreme influence for Fulham became but one of many talents at White Hart Lane.
Of course this summer, he made another big move, returning to MLS. Since being unveiled in Seattle back in late July, he’s yet to notch a goal or assist in a MLS match. He was left out of the US setup in October, presumably to help him gain form with the Sounders. We’ve still yet to see that emerge, and it nearly cost Seattle a trip to the MLS Cup Playoffs.
Many months to go
The good news is that there are many months left to go before it’s time for the USMNT travels to Brazil. Both players have plenty of time to get it back to good, though the winter break will rob Dempsey of chances to meld and find his groove again.
With Sunderland looking prime for another relegation scrap, and Seattle beginning their quest for MLS Cup in a knockout-style tournament, both Jozy and Clint have their opportunities to regain some confidence by scoring some clutch goals. Which is, of course, exactly why their new teams signed them in the first place.
You can now see why Jurgen Klinsmann held it imperative that his team take the October qualifiers seriously. With only friendlies for the US team between now and the World Cup, they need every bit of momentum they can squeeze.
But what if Jozy and Clint continue to struggle to return to their previous form? Will the US be stuck in a similar plight to the 2010 World Cup, with forwards lacking confidence and having to rely upon Michael Bradley and Landon Donovan to fill the goal gap?
Perhaps. For now, all we can do is hope that Altidore and Dempsey get their situations mended.