This much we know: when Jozy Altidore is scoring goals the United States National Team is almost an entirely different squad. It’s not a coincidence that Americans have won four straight matches – three in World Cup qualifiers – with the New Jersey native scoring in each game, snapping an international scoreless streak dating back to November, 2011.
When Altidore scores, good things happen. In 60 caps, he’s scored 17 times. In games Altidore scores the U.S. is undefeated at 12-0-3.
In the recent victories over Germany, Jamaica, Panama and Honduras, Altidore carried over some of the goal-scoring form he flashed this season at AZ in the Netherlands where he set a record for Americans playing in Europe with 31 tallies, including a winner in the Dutch Cup final. It’s often tenuous trying to draw conclusions from club form to country, but in this case it seems like Altidore managed to transfer some of his prowess from the Netherlands to the U.S. shirt. That, or U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann put more emphasis on providing service to Altidore, instead of isolating him alone atop the formation. More than likely it was a combination of the two.
Based on his strong club season Altidore’s name is popping up in the summer rumor mill. There are stories linking Altidore to a move to the Premier League, perhaps Sunderland. Serie A’s Lazio has long been linked toward bringing the 23-year-old to Rome.
It’s only natural for American fans to start worrying when they see Altidore’s name pop up in the rumors. AZ is Altidore’s fifth club (three were loan spells) since moving to from the New York Red Bulls to Europe when he signed with Villareal in 2008. The first four stops provided five goals, the last two years at AZ Altidore’s bagged a total of 51. Granted, the Dutch Eredivisie isn’t noted for its defensive-minded games, but it’s still an impressive overall haul.
A move to a place like Sunderland, or a better league, would be a boon for Altidore personally and likely come with a much thicker pay packet every two weeks. The theory many U.S. fans like to cling to is that in order for the National Team to take the next step (whatever that is) it needs more players playing at the highest level in Europe, hopefully in the Champions League. Having your country’s top striker playing in the Premier League is a good ego boost, if nothing else for thin-skinned National Team fans.
Right now Altidore is settled and comfortable at AZ. The nature of soccer is players they will always want to play in a better league. When you hear Altidore linked to the Premier League, it should by all accounts be a good thing, until you remember his ill-fated loan spell at Hull City in 2009-10 that yielded one goal in 29 league appearances.
There’s always the chance Altidore is much more mature – mentally and physically – this time around, making the move to a new league much smoother. Independent of anything else, he remains a physical presence and a load for defenders to worry about around the penalty area. It also looks like he’s turned the corner with the National Team and his exclusion from the squad by Klinsmann back in late 2012 seems like ancient history. Even if he moves to a new club this summer and isn’t as prolific as he was for AZ, Altidore’s recent run for the U.S. shows he can score with regularity when given proper service.