BIRTH OF A SUPERSTAR
So here it is: My great flip-flop.
Last year, I wrote one of my most read and most commented-upon articles for Yanks Abroad. It was a piece defending Jurgen Klinsmann's decision to leave Jozy Altidore off his roster for a series of games late in 2012. Altidore, no matter how effective he was for AZ Alkmaar, simply was not effective for the US National Team. It doesn't matter how anyone tried to spin it, his presence was not good for the team. Statistics do not lie, and while there were, as I said, intangible benefits to having him on the team, why waste a roster spot on someone who hadn't scored since the prior calendar year, whose shots per game were below several midfielders and even a defender or two? Altidore simply did not fit in.
This year, just over nine months later, I come to change my tune. I come to herald the birth of a super star, the first American who will take the world by storm, and finally signal our presence, legitimizing us as not just a team of scrappy athletes, but a team that contains high profile stars who command upper-percentile wages, global suitors, legitimate endorsement deals and highlight-reels of goals that, one day, may yield a Puskas nomination.
This storm is focused around the lightning rod that is Jozy Altidore, Superstar. Now, I changed my tune about Altidore several months ago; I saw him mature as a player, I saw him begin to develop the talents and techniques required to become an all-round asset, not just to AZ's system that benefited him as a player, but also the National Team system as well. I saw him begin to evolve into something to be genuinely excited about, but it was the game against Bosnia-Herzegovina that sealed the deal. A superstar was born that game, and it was Jozy Altidore.
We saw the goals he scored for AZ last season; the blasts, the headers, the no-angle head scratchers, the volleys, the lefts, the rights, the rebounds, the solo efforts, the passing combinations. We saw him score in four straight games for the National Team this summer, in actual meaningful games, nearly cementing our invitation to Brazil next year. What we did not see was him not just beating, but decimating highly rated defenders and a goalkeeper who has roughly a 30% shutout rate in the Premier League over the past three seasons with a team that has been staying out of relegation by the skin of their teeth.
This is what I was missing over the summer, when it started to really dawn on me that Altidore was turning the corner. Sure, he can do it against our CONCACAF foes, and it's great that it's during World Cup Qualifying, but how is he going to fare against top flight defenses made up of players from the Bundesliga or Serie A? Completely different skillsets and bodies from what he was used to bossing around in the Eredevisie.
In Sarajevo, Altidore answered that question, and answered it well. We saw him take a sweet touch for an assist. We saw him take one touch and hammer a shot with his left foot to the far post. We saw him take a world class free kick, and we saw him accelerate, slow down to time his run, then accelerate again to run onto a ball and finish again. We saw three goals, each one different from the others, and each one as impressive as the others. We saw Jozy Altidore finish turning the corner from promising prospect, to capable striker, to exciting striker, and finally, it seems, to superstar.
With Altidore's move away from the Dutch safety net of generally mediocre defense, it's going to be interesting to see what he produces for Sunderland. The way he's been bossing around everyone he's played lately, whether it be for club or country, seems to indicate that he's ready for the step up in play, and will thrive even more.
Jozy has seven goals in five games with the National Team this year. He also has two assists during that time span, making him directly involved in nine of the team's 13 goals. His five game scoring streak is the best in the program's history, and he is the seventh player to reach the 20 goal plateau for the National Team. Landon Donovan is the only player to reach the mark faster, at 23 years and three months, beating Altidore by seven months. Eric Wynalda and Bruce Murray were 27, Clint Dempsey and Joe-Max Moore were 28, and Brian McBride was 30.
Altidore is showing that he possesses the strength, speed, technical ability and power to score against any team in the world, against any defense in the world. His is showing that he can consistently score with both feet, with his head, and after the feat against Bosnia-Herzegovina, off of free kicks as well. He is turning into the type of special player that can carry a team through a massive undertaking against the world's top competition. Yesterday against Bosnia, a superstar was born, nine months after not even existing for the National Team. Now he has nine more months in the world's best top-to-bottom league to show the rest of the world what we in the United States have already seen, and then it's off to Brazil to cap it off on the world's biggest stage.
Eating one's hat isn't always a pleasant experience, but damn if this time it isn't sweeter than the doughnuts I picked up at a particular bakery on Ninth Ave a couple nights ago. Here's to some fun times coming up.