Written off time and time again, Jozy Altidore continues to prove his doubters wrong.
As he has demonstrated throughout his career, the US international is about as streaky as a forward can get. The 6’1 powerhouse can score goals by the handful, only to perform a disappearing act – for weeks, or even months – which leaves supporters scratching their heads.
Altidore burst onto the American soccer scene as a teenager during an impressive stint with the New York Red Bulls. After three seasons in the MLS, he began to look further afield, trying his luck in Spain. However he failed to make any sort of impact, despite becoming the first American player to score in the Spanish top flight. Perhaps, at the tender age of 19, he was simply too young to leave home and be thrown into the wonderland of technical ability that was and still is La Liga.
Loan spell nightmares in England and Turkey followed, where he managed to net a measly two goals in a year and a half, though he never received substantial game time during the stints with Hull and Bursaspor.
Though Altidore’s shadow is imposing enough to make Freddy Adu run for cover, it was indeed the shadow of Adu’s failure that was cast over him. As one of America’s darlings of soccer was fading away into oblivion, supporters were becoming nervous that the history may be repeating itself.
It was at this career-defining moment when Altidore signed for Dutch club AZ Alkmaar. He rewarded their faith in him by scoring in his first match, before going on to bag an astonishing 39 goals in 67 games. Although not of the same class as La Liga or the Premier League, the Eredivisie is nevertheless renowned as one of the world’s top leagues and for two seasons the young American sat atop it.
The rediscovery of his goal scoring form gave him a second shot at the Premier League, but as Italian philosopher George Santayana once said: “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. Altidore found the net just once in 42 games for Sunderland and left many feeling he lacked the ability to truly make it in the world’s best leagues.
However, sceptics focused solely on his goalscoring record without adequately observing the team around him, who averaged less than 45% possession with virtually no creative play. The Black Cats have scored a total of 72 goals in the past two full seasons, clearly not the sort of environment where forwards can excel.
It was at this time of tribulation that he decided to return to North America, joining Toronto in a swap deal that saw Jermain Defoe move back to the Premier League.
Altidore got off to an impressive start, until a hamstring injury suffered on New England’s artificial pitch forced him out of action for a few weeks. Desperate to find fitness before July’s Gold Cup, he appeared to return too early, performing poorly for Toronto in the month leading into the tournament.
He struggled through the group stage of the Gold Cup, but Jurgen Klinsmann decided to send him packing before the knockout rounds. Both the German coach and Altidore cited a lack of fitness for the snub. With a schedule consisting of more travel than training, it was difficult not to sympathize. Nevertheless, the detractors came out in force once again, accusing him of being out of shape and overrated.
Back in Toronto, the struggles were not quite ready to cease. He was off the pace in the games following his return, prompting coach Greg Vanney to have his high-paid Designated Player start the next two games from the bench. During the dip in team performance supporters made Altidore the scapegoat, while certain national team fans claimed that Toronto should expect nothing less than failure.
The striker’s fortunes took a turn for the better in late August, bagging a brace against Orlando City- having come off the bench late in the game- and followed up with a goal a week later against Montreal Impact. With his upturn in luck, he was rewarded with the captain’s armband in USA’s 2-1 friendly win against Peru last Friday, in which he scored both their goals.
With five goals in his last three matches and with a spring seemingly back in his step, supporters of club and country will be hoping that this will mark the beginning of another prolonged run of form for the big man, with the naysayers forced to wait in the wings for the inevitable goal drought in order to pipe up once more.
The inescapable reality is that Altidore was not able to cut it in Europe’s top two leagues, but to establish himself as one of the United States’ all-time best goalscorers, he does not need to be a world beater. Nor does he need to score more than 30 goals a year in MLS. Perhaps some people have just come to place too much on his broad shoulders, but time remains on his side. At 25 years old he has not yet entered his prime, for Altidore the best may very well yet be to come. A man that physically imposing after comfortably finding himself as a player? Scary thought. It just requires some patience.