April 1 marked the four-year anniversary of Jozy Altidore's only hat trick in a United States jersey. On that day in 2009 against Trinidad and Tobago, Altidore became the youngest player in the national team's history to record the feat at only 19 years of age. Fair or not, that moment catapulted expectations to unrealistic levels for the young forward.
After that game, U.S. fans immediately wanted Altidore to become the country's first elite scorer, completely neglecting the fact that he was a teenage prospect at the time. Perhaps it was missing out on Giuseppe Rossi that same year or the fact that America's previous top prospect at the position, Eddie Johnson, didn't live up to expectations in his move to Fulham. Either way, Altidore never had a chance to patiently develop in the same way that many top young players in other top soccer countries do.
Since April 1, 2009, Altidore has scored six goals for the United States. With zero goals in the team's current qualifying cycle, he has drawn criticism from fans, the media and even his current head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. Though some of it's been warranted, it's easy to forget the former New York Red Bulls starlet is only 23 years old. Didier Drogba didn't score his first goal for Ivory Coast until he was 25. Yes, Altidore has a lot more appearances than Drogba did but usually more experience isn't necessarily a bad thing. Rather, for strikers, it all comes down to confidence.
With recent comments by Klinsmann expressing belief that Altidore will eventually deliver on his potential, here are some factors that can explain some of his scoring woes:
Dempsey's a different player than AZ's Maher
Many of Altidore's goals at AZ have come off of assists from his flanking advanced playmaker Adam Maher, who is considered one of the brightest prospects in Dutch soccer. AZ director and former U.S. international Earnie Stewart told Goal.com in January that Maher is a once-in-a-generation player.
"He uses it in his dribbling, his spacing is unbelievable, his handling of the ball is fantastic," Stewart told Goal.com. "He's going to grow a great deal so he's one of those few exceptional talents that comes out of Dutch football, so he's that good."
That's not a slight on Clint Dempsey, who has starred for the United States and Premier League sides Fulham and Tottenham. Dempsey just has a very different approach to the game, constantly looking for the best opportunities to score as opposed to Maher's pass-first mentality.
Based on Dempsey's stellar track record for the United States, constantly delivering in clutch situations, it's understandable why the ball keeps on finding him, but it does sacrifice Altidore's chances. Altidore's best performances under Klinsmann - against Italy in 2012 and Costa Rica in 2013 - were highlighted by assisting Dempsey. Which brings up another point...
Donovan's creativity is missed
Slotted up top with Altidore and Dempsey is usually Herculez Gomez, a natural striker being played out wide. Needless to say, all three players are eager to shoot once in the penalty box.
That's where Donovan differs from any other option the United States has up top. It's not that he isn't a scorer. Donovan has scored 49 goals during his time with the U.S. national team. Rather, Donovan is adept at judging when to pass up chances if he feels another teammate has a better opportunity. It is a quality sorely missed on this U.S. team.
Though both Brek Shea and Graham Zusi have shown potential at setting up others, Donovan still remains the U.S.'s best playmaker.
CONCACAF matches rarely offer scoring chances
As the soccer region continues to grow, games are becoming more difficult to coast through, as evidenced Mexico's three draws to open the Hexagonal. Against Honduras, Costa Rica and Mexico, the United States has averaged six shots a game. Out of those attempts, only in the loss to Honduras did the Stars and Stripes have more than one shot on target (six). In comparison, Mexico has averaged 16 shots a game in its opening three matches in the Hex.
The point is, it is more likely that the team will be involved in 1-0 squeakers than matches where there are five or six quality chances to score. This is another factor that would cause trouble for any striker on the U.S. roster, except of course Dempsey.
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