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Frank Isola: Jozy Altidore's development may be well worth the wait

The AZ striker has started to prove himself overseas and you can be sure the young American has caught the eye of U.S. team coach Jurgen Klinsmann this season.

He is the most prolific American goal scorer playing abroad not named Clint Dempsey.

And the more Jozy Altidore finds the back of the net in Europe, the more he becomes a bigger part of Jurgen Klinsmann’s plans for the national team. Yes, Altidore did it again over the weekend. His terrific 25-yard laser into the upper corner wasn’t enough as PSV Eindhoven defeated AZ Alkmaar 3-2, but there is no denying that Altidore has found a home in the top Dutch league.

The goal, which immediately conjured up images of his shot against Guadeloupe in last summer’s Gold Cup, was Altidore’s fourth in the last four games for AZ Alkmaar. Since signing with the club last summer, Altidore has scored 18 goals, with 14 coming in league play. He is currently the seventh-leading goal scorer in the Eredivise.

Not bad for a striker who quickly flamed out at Spain's Villarreal after leaving Major League Soccer and his hometown New York Red Bulls in 2008. In fact, Altidore scored just six goals during his first three seasons abroad.

Why the dramatic turnaround? For one, Altidore is playing regularly for AZ Alkmaar. Now 22, Altidore has matured and his confidence, a must for any goal scorer, is sky high. This all bodes well for the U.S. national team as it enters World Cup qualifying this summer.

Dempsey is enjoying his best season at Fulham with a team-record 16 goals in the English Premier League and 22 in all competitions. Dempsey has put himself in position for a record transfer fee for an American player.

He also makes up what should be a dangerous scoring trio for the U.S., which opens qualifying play on June 8 at home against Antigua and Barbuda. With Dempsey, Altidore and Landon Donovan, Klinsmann has three reliable goal scorers at a time when goals have come few and far between for the national team. 

Under Klinsmann, the U.S. has scored eight goals in 10 matches. That includes three in a 3-2 win over Slovenia. Altidore netted the third goal on a penalty kick. It was also Altidore’s first international goals since his memorable strike against Guadeloupe.

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Altidore finished as the leading scorer for the U.S. in qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup with six goals but failed to find the net in South Africa. He did, however, set up Michael Bradley’s game-tying goal against Slovenia. It was also Altidore’s assist that led to Dempsey’s goal in the U.S.’s 1-0 win over Italy in Genoa on Feb. 29. The victory represents Klinsmann’s signature moment thus far as coach and that Altidore and Dempsey linked up for the only goal is important as well.

Altidore’s size and strength make him an ideal target player. Dempsey is more creative with the ball and can score in a variety of ways and from all different angles. He is as close to a sure thing as Klinsmann has on his roster.

Altidore has yet to prove he can be a consistent scoring threat…at least not until this season in Europe. But Altidore has caught the attention Klinsmann, who thinks the European football culture overseas benefits Americans.

"If Landon loses a game here in L.A. with the Galaxy, nobody's mad at him the next morning. But you do that overseas, you lose a big game, you do not go to the supermarket," Klinsmann told the L.A. Times. "The moment I'm on the street, people will yell at me: 'What happened?' In your face. Which is a great element."

They were certainly screaming for Altidore last week for his latest masterpiece. The ball went from his foot to the net in a blink of an eye. Altidore’s development took a little longer. But it is worth the wait.

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