For US Soccer fans there is no more polarizing figure than manager Jurgen Klinsmann. These days it seems that everyone is either firmly in the fire Jurgen camp, or they’re firmly in the pro-Jurgen camp.
Full disclosure, I am a prominent member of the “you guys don’t realize how good we have it with Jurgen Klinsmann” camp. Does he have his quirks and favorite players that drive me nuts? Of course he does, but what international manager doesn’t?
Having said all that, there is one thing that Klinsmann does that I’m starting to think is a fireable offense. He keeps calling Jozy Altidore into the squad. Not only does he keep calling him in, but somehow Altidore has somehow won himself an automatic starting spot despite doing nothing to earn it.
On Monday, Klinsmann confirmed that Altidore would start the USMNT World Cup Qualifier against St. Vincent and the Grenadines when he announced that Altidore would be wearing the captains armband in place of the suspended Michael Bradley.
— U.S. Soccer (@ussoccer) August 29, 2016
When Altidore got injured before the Copa America, many US fans hoped that the emergence of Bobby Wood would show Klinsmann that the team can now move on from their often injured striker. That’s clearly not the case and US fans are going to have to accept a harsh truth. Jozy Altidore isn’t going anywhere.
I can live with Klinsmann constantly calling Chris Wondolowski into the squad because I at least know that he is last on Klinsmann’s depth chart. He’s only going to end up on the field if Klinsmann is out of options thanks to injuries and suspensions.
But Altidore is a completely different story. Jozy Altidore has run his course. We know exactly what he is and that is someone who isn’t a good striker and a player who holds the US back.
There are of course narratives about Altidore and why he should be playing. His hold up play is fantastic or that he’s third all time in goals but those narratives don’t tell the whole story. Altidore’s hold up play is good, but that’s not a strikers primary job. Altidore is a big physical striker, who shies away from getting physical. He doesn’t go for headers unless he’s directly in front of goal, which is a problem. Altidore also can’t play as a lone striker, which is an issue when the US wants to play a three man midfield.
And then there’s the goals. Jozy Altidore is third all time on the US scoring list with 34 goals but that number doesn’t even come close to telling the real story. Of those 34 goals, just one was scored in a competitive game against a non-CONCACAF opponent. Of his 34 goals, 16 have come in competitive matches, but of those 16 just three have come outside the United States, one of which was on a neutral field in South Africa.
Jozy Altidore is 26 years old. He’s played for the national team for eight years. At this point we know exactly what he is and what he will never become. He is a striker who scores in home CONCACAF games and against European B and C teams.
That’s what makes Klinsmann’s love affair with Altidore so confusing. He’s an injury prone striker who can’t be relied on when the US really needs him. The last time Altdiore played a complete tournament was five years ago at the 2011 Gold Cup. When a major tournament rolls around the odds are far more likely that Altidore will miss it due to injury then actually score goals for the United States.
Altidore’s injury history and goal scoring record, or lack thereof, make it completely reasonable to ask why he’s still getting call ups for World Cup Qualifiers in 2016. This isn’t 2013 when the US had almost no other options anymore. This is 2016 when the US striker pool has never been deeper.
Three years ago the US had Altidore, Clint Dempsey, and pretty much no one else. Aron Johannsson was around but was unproven. Other than that, it was pretty much Eddie Johnson and Chris Wondolowski. These days it’s different. Over the past two years we’ve seen the emergence of young promising players like Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris, and even Rubio Rubin and Fafa Picault all have more promise than Altidore.
Sure, most of those guys are inexperienced but they also don’t shy away from the limelight. Morris’ first US goal came against rival Mexico. Wood has scored game winning goals in Germany and the Netherlands, he scored in the CONCACAF Cup against Mexico, and he scored at last summer Copa America. At a certain point you just need to set them free so they can start gaining experience.
Instead, Klinsmann will turn back to Jozy Altidore and here’s whats going to happen. Altidore will regain his starting spot, which he’ll likely keep throughout World Cup qualifying. He’ll score goals in the home games, while taking away valuable playing time from players like Morris and Wood in the away games.
He’s going to be with the team for the foreseeable future. If you’re annoyed by that, I understand but you have to accept it. Don’t worry too much though, odds are he won’t be fit to play in the 2018 World Cup.