SEATTLE – Jozy Altidore hasn't spoken to the media for the last three U.S. national team games. He's let his goals do the talking: one in each of the last three.
Prior to scoring in the 4-3 friendly win over Germany last week, Altidore had gone nearly two years since scoring for the United States. Now he can't stop. A first-half strike against Panama in World Cup qualifying on Tuesday made it three on the trot for the AZ Alkmaar forward.
“You've got to give credit to Jozy. He doesn't stop,” DaMarcus Beasley said. “You guys gave him a lot of stick for him not scoring with this team. He's a striker and they're going to go through ups and downs.”
During the down, Jürgen Klinsmann dropped Altidore from the roster for World Cup qualifiers last fall. Despite scoring 23 goals for AZ in the league this year, the 23-year-old couldn't click on the international level.
However, Klinsmann, a former striker for Germany and Bayern Munich, knew the form would swing back in the other direction.
“Often you forget how young he still is,” Klinsmann said. “You've got to give him a bad game or bad performance, but you've also here and there got to kick him a little bit in his back side when you think he needs it. It's just normal.
“He's playing a position that I played my whole career for 18 years in big clubs. I know what's going through his mind. I know when he struggles and what we demand from him is, 'Man, when you struggle, just fight your way back into the game and do the job for the team.' How he's doing that in the last couple of games is absolutely outstanding.”
Besides the goals, Altidore has developed his all-around game. A fearsome 6-foot-1, 175 pounds, when on form few defenders can deal with his physical presence or shove him off the ball. Additionally, he shows a willingness to scrap for the ball back when the opposition claims it.
“It's not just him scoring. How many times did he come back and win the ball in the midfield? At least two or three. At least,” Beasley said. “It's not just him scoring, it's the other things that he does to help our team win. That's what a complete forward is about and that's why everyone is so proud of Jozy.”
Klinsmann mentioned a recent conversation with former U.S. international Earnie Stewart, now technical director at AZ, about Altidore's development over the last two years in the Netherlands, particularly how to exploit his physical gifts.
“He learns to use his body as well,” Klinsmann said. “He's such a physical presence and sometimes he doesn't use it. I think he's just now starting to use it – to shield the ball and do a lot of work for us. It's really nice to see that coming along.”
As the other aspects of his game come together, so have the international goals. Aside from the Germany friendly, Altidore has scored in two crucial Hexagonal matches to help lead the United States to the top of the standings. He opened the scoring against both Jamaica and Panama.
The latest came in Seattle when Altidore peeled off his marker in the box to finish an incisive Fabian Johnson cross.
“It's just great team football,” Altidore said through a team official. “We haven't been playing this well for a while. When we play this well, whoever's playing forward is going to have success. Fortunately, that's me.”
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