(Listen to Over and Under with Jason Pothier and Ken Boehlke on CBS Sports Radio 1140 every Sunday morning from 8 to 10. Follow the show on Twitter @OAU1140 and on Facebook. **Don’t miss the show this Sunday, June 1st, as Jason and Ken will interview USMNT midfielder Julian Green’s father Jerry at 9am.**)
Just about every time you hear the name of US Men’s National team striker Jozy Altidore, you’ll hear a comment about his recent struggles putting the ball in the back of the net. He has not scored in his last five national team appearances and netted just one in his last seven. He scored a only single goal in his 31 appearances in the English Premier League, and possibly the most troubling, with the World Cup just two weeks away, Altidore has not scored in any competition since April 12th of 2013, a drought of 411 days.
The stats are all true, but the meaning of them has been, and will likely continue to be, misconstrued by fans and media members alike. They’ll talk about his poor form in England, they’ll wonder if he can handle being a striker at the international level, and they’ll beg and plea for Jürgen Klinsmann to use another striker.
Here are the reasons to leave Altidore alone. His job is no longer just to score:
1. Throughout the first 3 years of Klinsmann’s tenure managing the USMNT, Jürgen deployed a 4-2-3-1 formation. The one, representing a lone striker in front of three midfielders, was Altidore. As a single striker Jozy was relied upon to provide most, if not all, of the offense, and that’s what he did. During the qualifying period Altidore set an American national team record by scoring in six consecutive games, and he provided a hat trick against a World Cup qualified team in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Then Klinnsman changed the formation. For the past two matches, and will likely be continued through the World Cup, the US has played a 4-4-2. That means four defenders, four midfielders, and two strikers. With the change in formation came a change in role for Jozy Altidore.
2. He is still the focal point of the American attack, however, unlike in the past when he was the single man atop the formation, he now has a partner. Altidore’s big frame and excellent strength makes him the perfect conduit for the US to move the ball from the midfield into the attacking third. Under the old formation, Jozy would accept a pass, move the ball on, and then look for it back to create scoring opportunities. Now, he’s tasked with setting up the other striker.
3. He still needs to be the guy whom the offense runs through, but once the ball gets there, the flow of play has completely changed. He’s become more of a decoy than a goal scoring threat, and it’s working. In the four matches prior to the change, the US scored a total of two goals. Since, they’ve scored twice in both games.
4. In the first 15 minutes of the friendly with Azerbijan, “the other striker” Chris Wondowlowski had two golden opportunities. Then, when Wondolowski was subbed for Aron Johannsson, the replacement “other striker” scored within 20 minutes. The game against Mexico, “other striker” Wondolowski scored in the 28th minute.
5. The United States has been wishing for an elite striker since the beginning of time. Altidore is not that guy, but what he can do is make chances for others, and he’s been doing a great job of it thus far.
6. People will continue to wonder why he’s not scoring and when the current drought will end. While it would never hurt for Jozy to find the net a few times in Brazil, the fact is, his goal scoring record will not dictate whether or not the Americans have success. Altidore’s presence on the field will continue to command the attention of the defense, and even though everyone will continue to beg him to score, it’s his ability to relieve the pressure of those attacking around him that will determine how long the Yanks will stay in South America.