SAN FRANCISCO – Jurgen Klinsmann has told troubled United States forward Jozy Altidore that the onus is on him to cure his miserable form and end his goal-scoring drought in time for the World Cup.
Out of all the players on Klinsmann's final 23-man roster, Altidore may be the one bringing in the worst run at club level. In 31 games for Sunderland in the English Premier League, he managed to score just once all season.
Heading into Tuesday's friendly against Azerbaijan at Candlestick Park, the first of the U.S.'s three tune-up games before heading to Brazil, Klinsmann would love for the 24-year-old, who will be the focal point of the American attack, to finally rediscover his form.
"Jozy is sharp, he is hungry and he is scoring [in training]," Klinsmann said. "With every day of work he puts himself in a better position and puts himself into more confidence. We want to build on that. We want him to work more every day.
"And then, a striker has got to solve it himself as well."
Altidore enjoyed a superb 2012-13 campaign, scoring 31 goals in all competitions for AZ Alkmaar including 23 in the Dutch Eredivisie. His outstanding displays in Holland caught the attention of Sunderland, which came knocking with a transfer offer of around $10 million to pry him away.
Things did not go well in the northeast of England, though. Altidore struggled to adjust to the pace and physicality of the Premier League and failed to adapt as Sunderland looked doomed for relegation when the Black Cats sat bottom of the table at Christmas. What transpired was a minor miracle as new boss Gus Poyet masterminded an extraordinary revival that would eventually lead the team to safety with late-season wins at Chelsea and Manchester United and a plucky draw at Manchester City.
But that epic surge rarely featured Altidore, who was first bumped out of the starting 11 by Connor Wickham. An impressive scoring run by Wickham kept Altidore on the substitutes' bench.
Altidore doesn't have to worry about playing time with the U.S. – he'll start at the top of the attacking formation just ahead of Clint Dempsey – but a strong performance against Azerbaijan will be important. Klinsmann would love to see Altidore hit the net when the Americans open the World Cup against Ghana on June 16.
"He is on a very good path," Klinsmann said of Altidore. "From what we see obviously psychologically he has to leave behind that entire season with Sunderland. It is a season that ended thankfully positively for the club being not relegated after being in the danger zone.
"But for him personally it was not what he expected. So the good thing about sports in general is that you are always looking forward to the next game or the next challenge and he has already forgotten what happened during the whole of last year."
Altidore burst onto the scene as a teenage phenom with the New York Red Bulls in 2007, but with the exception of his time at Alkmaar, he has often found life difficult in the European leagues. The Premier League, in particular, has not been to his liking. His first Premiership stint came at Hull City just before the 2010 World Cup, and it wasn't a particularly happy experience as Altidore scored only one goal in 28 games.
The method Klinsmann wishes to play, with a big and physical striker combined with Dempsey in a front-line tandem, means Altidore plays a key role. There is no real back-up for him in this system – Terrence Boyd was the closest thing to an Altidore clone in the initial squad of 30 but was among the final seven cuts last week – and that's why Klinsmann has pushed him in training, trying to cajole the kind of world-class displays he is convinced Altidore can produce.
"I think we got already a couple of good answers from Jozy in the last two weeks here," Klinsmann said. "He has got to go out there and be hungry and once you get an opportunity you've got to put the ball away."
American fans have waited all season to see Altidore hit top form. They, and Klinsmann, can't afford to wait much longer.
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