GUATEMALA CITY - A day before the U.S. takes on Guatemala in its second World Cup qualifier this month, coach Jurgen Klinsmann wouldn’t reveal whether striker Jozy Altidore will move back into the starting lineup.
Altidore, who has been a regular starter for the last two years, found himself on the bench when the U.S. defeated Antigua & Barbuda, as Herculez Gomez started in the lone striker spot. Altidore had arrived three weeks late to the team’s training camp due to club obligations and his fitness wasn’t up to Klinsmann’s standard.
“It’s an ongoing competition. I am not giving away starter spots because of whatever they did the last 10 years,” Klinsmann said of all position battles. “If I see they are 50-50, I will decide pretty much a day before the game and say, ‘You know what, this guy has the edge for me right now.’”
Altidore is coming off a fantastic season with AZ Alkmaar of the Dutch league, scoring 19 goals in all competitions. It may sound strange that the 22-year-old would out of shape just weeks after the long club season had ended, but Klinsmann points out the difference between a player working out on his own and scrimmaging with teammates.
“You have to actually show within those [practice] sessions that you’re bigger, stronger, faster than the other guys to make a difference,” Klinsmann said. “If you don’t do that for two or three weeks, it takes you usually another five or six weeks to get into that shape.”
Gomez, meanwhile, has impressed Klinsmann with his work ethic. Even though he is not viewed by many as the most talented of the U.S. team’s current striker group – which includes Chris Wondolowski and Terrence Boyd – Gomez has clearly earned the coach's respect.
“I think Herculez understands more and more of what it takes to get this little edge and an advantage, and it’s coming only from work and being hungry and sharper and competitive. He’s really competitive,” Klinsmann said.
Perhaps Altidore can learn a thing or two from his teammate as he continues his quest of becoming a major player on the world stage. The best players are also the fittest, according to Klinsmann.
“At the end of the day talent gets you to a certain level only, and then you need an extreme hunger to get to that level where the Messis and the big ones of the world are,” Klinsmann said. “They all at first outrun you and then they outplay you. It’s as simple as that.”