Jozy Altidore's disappointing first season with England's Sunderland has less than a month remaining, and it appears as though the American's struggles for playing time aren't finished.
Altidore, who scored 31 goals in 41 games for AZ Alkmaar in the Dutch league last year, was an unused substitute for last-place Sunderland in a 2-2 tie with Manchester City on Wednesday.
Even though he didn't play for the relegation-threatened Black Cats, Altidore's appearance on the bench was somewhat of a mark of progress.
The 24-year-old, who has just two goals this season, started for Sunderland's under-21 team last week - a sign of just how far the United States national team stalwart has fallen this season after last year's breakout campaign.
''All that we can tell him is obviously he has all our support, (and) to make the best out of that difficult situation,'' U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said in an interview on the U.S. Soccer Federation website.
Sunderland is 6-19-8 and is five points from safety with five games remaining. The bottom three teams are relegated to the second-tier League Championship, a fate that could impact whether Altidore returns to the club next season.
For now, Klinsmann is only focused on the next few weeks leading into the U.S. training camp prior to the World Cup. And that means he would like Altidore on the field as much as possible, even if the American has to put in extra practice time as a substitute for missed games.
''Yes, it concerns us because we want him to play, we want him to score goals,'' Klinsmann said. ''We want him to be there 90 minutes every weekend. If it's not the case, then make the best out of it. Work harder in training, do extra sessions.''
COMPETITIVE CAMP: Regardless of how much Altidore plays over the next month, he'll have plenty of opportunities to impress Klinsmann when the Americans pre-World Cup training camp begins on May 14.
Klinsmann said earlier this month that he plans to wait until the June 2 deadline before selecting the 23-man World Cup roster, hoping to foster a competitive camp for those trying to earn spots in Brazil.
''We decided to take more players with in order to keep that competition alive until we have to name the final roster,'' Klinsmann said. ''And also because, God forbid, there's an injury or two.''
The Americans play three games leading into the World Cup, beginning against Azerbaijan on May 27 in San Francisco. They then face Turkey in Harrison, N.J., on June 1 before finishing with Nigeria on June 7 in Jacksonville, Fla.
While Altidore, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard and other top players already secured their positions barring injury, Klinsmann said several spots will be decided during the camp.
''We have quite a few positions where we have to make 50-50 decisions, where it could go either way,'' Klinsmann said. ''I think there is a race going on in several positions where we just need to see who makes a difference now, who understands the moment, who's stepping it up now.''
BROOKS BENCHING: John Brooks is one of those players competing for a final spot on the U.S. roster.
The 21-year-old Hertha Berlin defender was benched for Sunday's game against Bayer Leverkusen because of a large tattoo on his back that had hampered his training.
Brooks helped Berlin climb into the Bundesliga last season, and he's played in three games for the U.S over the last two years - including a poor performance in a 2-0 loss to Ukraine last month.
Even if Brooks' missed time - and new tattoo - doesn't impact his standing with Klinsmann, it has irritated Berlin coach Jos Luhukay.
''I don't have any understanding for that,'' Luhukay told the Berliner Morgenpost. ''The tattoo could lead to an inflammation and, naturally, that is not good.''
CHANDLER'S RETURN: Timmy Chandler has returned to training following knee surgery, giving the defender a small window to impress Klinsmann and earn a World Cup spot.
Chandler, who plays for Nuremberg in the German Bundesliga, injured his left knee against Bayern Munich on Feb. 8 - leading to surgery to repair a torn meniscus.
The German newspaper Bild reported this week that Chandler has returned to light training and hopes to play against Mainz on April 26th.
The 23-year-old has two assists and one goal this season for Nuremberg, and he was one of the European-based possibilities for the World Cup roster mentioned by Klinsmann earlier this year.
Chandler played in 10 games for the national team.
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- Jozy Altidore
- Jurgen Klinsmann