SANDY, Utah -- Jurgen Klinsmann noticed it right away when the United States convened in Cleveland last month for a five-match stretch through June.
"From day one, Jozy was spot on," the U.S. coach said after his team's 1-0 win over Honduras. "[The] first training session in Cleveland, he looked sharp, he looked good, he looked hungry."
Back in May, U.S. striker Jozy Altidore was under immense pressure. He'd tallied 31 goals in all competitions for AZ in the 2012-13 season, but he hadn't scored for his country since November 2011. Klinsmann even dropped Altidore from his roster entirely for World Cup qualifiers in the fall of 2012.
Then, with one lash of his right foot on June 2, everything changed. Altidore scored the game's first goal against Germany with a picture-perfect volley. Next, against Jamaica, he scored the game's first goal again. And then he did it against Panama. And then Honduras.
When it was over, Altidore had scored in four straight games (all wins), and became only the sixth player in U.S. history to accomplish that particular feat.
After the Honduras game, Altidore was quick to shift the focus onto his teammates.
"The team is playing good, we're playing good football, we're creating chances and that's what happens," he said. "You look at the way these guys have been playing and the chances they've created, it's on us ... to kind of be in the spot to put the ball away."
Against Germany and Jamaica, Altidore scored off fantastic crosses from Graham Zusi. He then netted against Panama and Honduras from quality Fabian Johnson assists.
"When a guy is in as good of form as he is, you want to get the ball to him as much as possible," Zusi said. "When I get the ball, he's one of the main guys that I'm looking for."
It's no coincidence that with Altidore's return to form, the United States has also rounded into shape, winning three straight Hexagonal matches to put the team within touching distance of another World Cup berth.
"It's been important to have another player chip in with those goals and be able to make it difficult for our opponents because they have to watch more players," Clint Dempsey said. "We have more threats, and when you have more threats like that you're able to get more goals and open up spaces for other people."
For Klinsmann, though, it hasn't just been about the work Altidore has done on offense.
"It's not only that he scores those goals, the work that he does for the team is awesome," the U.S. coach said. "He kind of shifts the defenders to the side, he chases them down, he wins balls back. That energy from Jozy is very important for our team."
While many were questioning Altidore's place on the U.S. team before this run of form, now there is a new question: Just how good can he be?
At 23, Altidore has already broken the record for goals by an American in a European club season, and appears set for a big-money move to a top-four league this summer.
"I think I'm far from the finished product," Altidore said. "I think there's still a long way to go in terms of a learning curve. All I can do is try to be a sponge and absorb everything and try to have the desire to get better."
An improved Altidore is going to be a terrifying proposition for defenses. Thankfully for the USA, now opposing defenses at the club and international level have a monster on their hands.
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