The USA striker has yet to see the same goal-scoring return with the Premier League side as he did with AZ Alkmaar, but his individual play has been encouraging nonetheless.Jozy Altidore has never been one to get the benefit of the doubt throughout his career. He's always been expected to produce immediately, and he has almost never been granted the patience to progress.
Perhaps it was the massive expectations bestowed upon him when he emerged with the New York Red Bulls as a 16-year-old that set the perception in motion. Whatever the case, for his entire career, if he's scoring goals in bunches, then it's about time, and if he's not producing goals at a rapid pace, he's doing something wrong and it's time to panic.
During the onset of his Sunderland career, he has barely been scoring, but that does not mean his individual play as a lead forward has been sub-par.
For the most part, Altidore has played like a confident forward doing the right things amid a poor situation, one who is much more prepared for the rigors of the Premier League than has was for his brief foray into England's top flight with Hull City in the 2009-2010 season.
The numbers might not show it, but whether it has been providing opposing defenses with a physical challenge, hustling back to win possession, providing hold-up play or taking a confident crack at goal when the opportunity has presented itself, Altidore has personally fared rather well for a last-place side that has otherwise been in shambles.
Coming off a 31-goal season in all competitions for AZ Alkmaar, Altidore has been limited to one goal in eight games with Sunderland, which came in a Capital One Cup clash against third-tier Milton Keynes Dons. To Altidore's credit, he had a would-be league goal controversially waved off against Arsenal, but disallowed goals don't show up on the stat sheet.
While it would have been ideal for Altidore to have picked up right where he left off in the Eredivisie and with the U.S. national team this summer, that was an unreasonable expectation considering the circumstances. Not only has Altidore endured a major change in scenery and needed to get used to a new team, but a large portion of the squad around him has been doing the same given the amount of incoming transfers during the summer window.
Couple that with the fact that Sunderland has had to play Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal -- albeit all at the Stadium of Light -- among the opening fixtures of the season, and manager Paolo Di Canio paid the price for the club's horrible start with a quick axe, and it's easy to see how things have not gone entirely according to plan from a goal-scoring standpoint.
The commitment, effort and skill-set that led to seven goals with the U.S. national team this summer are all still very much part of his game, though. For the USA, as long as Altidore is bringing the same individual attributes to the table for the national team in the months leading up to the World Cup and in Brazil next summer, that is what truly matters. For his club, the goals, while perhaps not 31 of them, will be there.
Compare and contrast Altidore's start at Sunderland with that of Clint Dempsey at Tottenham last season. Dempsey, playing on a new team and adjusting to new parts around him, scored just three goals in his first 21 games with Spurs before finding his scoring groove over the winter. As an individual, Dempsey continued to do the right things, grow into his new team and maintain confidence, and what ensued was production for both club and country. Now, Sunderland 2013-14 is not Tottenham 2012-13, but the same theory can apply for Altidore.
“I’m personally very, very happy with how Jozy is coming along in the Premier League so far," USA manager Jurgen Klinsmann told U.S. Soccer's official website upon his release of the roster for the final World Cup qualifying matches. "Yes, he hasn’t scored the goals yet that he expects from himself, but I watch his games, and he’s high energy and he’s a handful. He challenges back lines, and he’s often by himself and the support is not what it should be.
"He's already been through a coaching change, which is not easy to digest. I see that jump to the Premier League being very positive. He challenges himself in a difficult environment, and it’s coming along. He just needs to be patient, and his goals will come.”
The pending arrival of Gus Poyet to replace the ousted Di Canio as manager will provide yet another obstacle for Altidore to overcome in his maiden season as a Black Cat, as he was brought in by the latter and must win over his new boss. With Steven Fletcher sidelined for a few more weeks, the keys up top should belong to Altidore, but he'll need to continue to go with the flow as Sunderland, as a team, finds itself and adjusts to the coaching change.
As a result, supporters might require even more patience as Altidore tries to find his goal-scoring form. It's not something that has often been exhibited when it comes to judging Altidore's play, but it is deserved and necessary at this current juncture in his season.