No matter what Jozy Altidore has accomplished overseas for his club, what he has been unable to do on the international stage has ultimately cost him a place on the U.S. national team with crucial matches on the horizon. USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann made that quite clear on Monday.
Altidore, in the best form of his club career while playing for Dutch outfit AZ Alkmaar, was passed over for the likes of Eddie Johnson and Alan Gordon for the USA's upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Antigua and Barbuda and Guatemala, being omitted entirely from the 24-man roster that Klinsmann released on Monday in one of the more eye-opening roster decisions of Klinsmann's 14-month tenure as manager.
"I communicated with Jozy that I was not happy about his latest performances with us, maybe even the last 14 months," Klinsmann told reporters on a conference call Monday afternoon. "I think Jozy can do much, much better. The reason why he's not coming in is mainly about the performances (last month) in Jamaica and at home and in training, also certain things that went on in the May-June camp."
Johnson and Gordon are having stellar MLS seasons in their own right and should be commended for reaching the heights that they have in 2012. Had the United States already qualified for the hexagonal, then an Altidore omission and inclusions like those of Johnson and Gordon would be infinitely more understandable on the surface. But with the United States still in a bit of a fight to get through to the final qualifying round and roster coherence a valuable asset, it seems like a peculiar time to throw such a curveball.
The fact that the 22-year-old Altidore, who was joined by Terrence Boyd and MLS leading scorer Chris Wondolowski as forwards who did not get the call and has long been part of the foundation of the present and future for the U.S. attack, was left out at such a vital time certainly raises some eyebrows and red flags, especially when considering his club form.
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Altidore is tied for the Eredivisie league lead with eight goals (two of Vitesse and Ivory Coast international striker Wilfried Bony's eight goals have come from the penalty spot, while all of Altidore's eight have come in the run of play). His goals have not been sitters either, as he has demonstrated improved movement, hold-up play, touch and finishing ability. In short, there's not a whole lot more he can be doing.
"He's doing well in Alkmaar, but he hasn't done well with us, and that's why I have more trust for these upcoming games in Eddie Johnson and Alan Gordon," Klinsmann said. "It's important they have their club rhythm, but it doesn't mean that coming back into the national team that things are for granted."
In Klinsmann's defense, Altidore has not replicated his club form with the national team when given the opportunity. He has also only played in six of the nine U.S. games this year (not including the two at the end of the January camp that is typically reserved for non-European-based players), starting just twice. In that limited time, Altidore has failed to score for the national team this year after scoring at least twice in every year dating back to 2008, and he last scored for the national team last November in a friendly against Slovenia. That hardly means that Altidore, one of the more experienced U.S. players in the pool when it comes to World Cup qualifying, is undeserving of a place this time around, even if it is on the bench as the fourth striker on the depth chart.
"This is a decision as of today for these two games," Klinsmann said. "The door is always open, and we hope to see a positive reaction on his end. We hope to see more commitment and effort to his approach."
The omission caps a frustrating stretch for Altidore, who was red carded for a pair of yellow cards for dissent within seconds of each other in AZ's loss to FC Twente over the weekend. Now he's left to wonder not only whether his outburst has cost him a place his club team, but also what more can be done on the European stage aside from continuing to score goals to get back in Klinsmann's good graces.