Jozy Altidore said breaking his personal goal drought wasn't all that important. But for the lead U.S. striker, scoring for the first time since 2013 was significant.
Well it didn’t.
Not only did Altidore not show much emotion after scoring his first goal in five months — he made a point to make his comments about his goals, and the U.S. national team’s 2-1 victory against Nigeria, not about him. All the while, the forward shot down any notion that he had been some emotional wreck before scoring Saturday.
"I felt fine before, I feel fine now," Altidore said matter-of-factly even as he was pressed for some emotion by an interviewer who all but begged Altidore to admit he had just escaped his own personal hell.
Altidore’s tune didn’t change in his postgame news conference either.
“To be honest, it makes no difference,” Altidore said of snapping his goal drought in his final match before the World Cup. “I don’t know if it’s weird to you, but it’s not weird to me.”
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It is probably weird to a lot of people to see Altidore so casual about finally scoring, but if you look closely at his career you will realize that the 24-year-old striker is no stranger to adversity.
Consider the failed loan move he went on from Villarreal to Liga B side Xerez in 2009, a move that saw a then-19-year-old Altidore stuck on the bench despite having been assured the loan would afford him some sorely needed playing time.
That rough experience didn’t stop Altidore from going on to play a key role in the U.S. team’s run to the Confederations Cup final in the summer of 2009.
That was soon followed by a season-long loan to Hull City that saw Altidore receive some playing time, but struggle to make much happen on an awful team. Hull City wound up relegated while Altidore closed out that season on the bench, managing just two goals and heading into the 2010 World Cup with questions swirling about whether he could be an effective forward for the USA.
Altidore responded that time by establishing himself as the team’s starting striker, and while he did not score a goal in the 2010 World Cup, he was a handful for defenses and he had a hand in some of the biggest goals the U.S. scored that tournament.
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In both cases, Altidore was able to shake off club misery by escaping to the sanctuary that U.S. national team duty has become for him.
So perhaps it really shouldn’t have come as a surprise that, after a thoroughly disappointing season at Sunderland, one that you couldn’t have blamed for breaking Altidore, the U.S. striker shook it off and rejoined his U.S. teammates for World Cup camp seemingly without a care in the world, and without any sense of desperation at his lack of goals.
It certainly didn’t come as a surprise to Michael Bradley, who has been Altidore’s U.S. teammate since the striker broke into the team in 2008. The two were on the field together for that famous Confederations Cup run and the 2010 World Cup, and for Bradley there has never been a doubt about Altidore’s importance to the team. Goals or no goals.
"Jozy is such a good player, he means so much to our team, and so on a personal level it's great for him to get some goals. But the reality is that anyone who ever questions Jozy or anyone who doesn't see what he brings to our team doesn't understand soccer,” Bradley said. “I’l tell you guys that right now. This guy does so much at such a young age he’s given our team so much on so many big days. And so you can’t help but laugh when now he goes through a few games, and he doesn’t get a goal or two, and people start to look and want to throw all the rest out the window.
“Trust me, as a player, as somebody whose been on the field with him on a lot of days, in a lot of big games, this is a guy you want on your team every single time.”
As for the notion that Altidore’s lack of goals had shaken the team’s confidence in him, Bradley shot that notion as well.
“The confidence in him as always been there, regardless of whether he scores or doesn’t score.”
While Bradley may not think it fair for anyone to criticize or question Altidore, it has been only natural for U.S. fans to grow concerned about his play and state of mind after watching him toil through such a brutally bad season at Sunderland. It was how Altidore finished that season though that merited consideration. He fought to continue earning minutes, and while he didn’t find the net, he did play in several matches down the stretch as Sunderland pulled off a great escape to avoid relegation.
In other words, the goal drought, and a season with just two goals in all competitions, hadn’t broken Altidore. If anything, it sent him into national team camp eager for a fresh start and chance to reconnect with the team that has helped him climb out of the dumps so many times before.
The reality of Altidore’s goal drought though is that, from a national team standpoint, it had been just a six-match goalless run, dating back to October. It surely felt longer to U.S. fans who have spent the English Premier League season watching Altidore falter at Sunderland.
Altidore’s two goals against Nigeria give him 23 career national team goals, one behind Joe-Max Moore for fifth most all-time. Altidore’s goals have come in just 70 national team matches. Nobody in the top five has played fewer than Moore’s 95 matches. That is an impressive record for a player who is actually still one of the youngest players on the current U.S. World Cup team.
That record had become easy to forget amid numbers like 28 straight games without a goal for club and country combined, but Saturday's two goals have helped put that storyline to bed. And as much as Altidore may not have needed Saturday’s goals to prove to himself, or his teammates, that he is the striker to lead the Americans into the 2014 World Cup, the goals will at least put an end to talk of a goal drought.
Now, the new question will be, "When will Altidore score a World Cup goal?"