The biggest story regarding US Soccer since this past Monday involves a player who won't be taking part in the US Men's National Team's October World Cup qualifiers. US manager Jurgen Klinsmann sent some significant shock waves throughout the American soccer community earlier this week when he did not select in-form striker Jozy Altidore for the USMNT leading into matches against Antigua & Barbuda and Guatemala. Klinsmann instead chose Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan (Donovan won't play due to injury), Herculez Gomez, Eddie Johnson and Alan Gordon.
It's been a not-so-quiet rumor since last spring that Altidore and Klinsmann haven't enjoyed a warm relationship over the past 14 months. I got that vibe from Altidore while speaking with him over the summer. Altidore not being selected for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers didn't shock me as much as it left me believing that the rift between player and manager is greater than I ever imagined.
Dempsey and Donovan are USMNT mainstays, and Gomez became a Klinsmann favorite in the summer of 2011. Johnson has netted 14 Major League Soccer goals for the Seattle Sounders this season, while Gordon of the San Jose Earthquakes has 13 league tallies. Chris Wondolowski, Gordon's SJ teammate, leads MLS with 25 goals. He, like Altidore, didn't get a call-up from Klinsmann this time around.
All due respect to the talent found in MLS, but it would be somewhere between unwise and humorous to compare what Johnson and Gordon have achieved with their clubs to Altidore's run of form during the first month and a half of the 2012-13 Eredivisie season. The AZ Alkmaar forward has nine goals in ten games across all competitions, and he is tied with Wilfried Bony atop the list of league scorers with eight goals. Bony has buried two penalties this season, while Altidore has none.
Critics of Altidore will be quick to point out that he has scored just once during the Klinsmann era, a converted PK during the team's match against Slovenia last November. Altidore's other noteworthy moment came when he notched an assist on the Dempsey goal that propelled the Americans to a historic 1-0 win in Italy this past February. Altidore's club form has not resulted in him consistently finding the back of the net while wearing a US shirt, and I don't think you would have seen any outcry from US Soccer fans had he been relegated to the national team bench this fall.
Klinsmann leaving Altidore off the current squad was about a manager sending a message to an out of favor player as much as it was about building the best possible roster.
Multiple "in the know" individuals I have spoken with since Monday are convinced that Altidore will never again have a spot in the USMNT starting eleven as long as Klinsmann is running the show. Altidore has admitted on more than one occasion that he hasn't clicked with US teammates since Klinsmann took over for Bob Bradley, and there has been plenty of evidence to suggest that Altidore may just not fit in Klinsmann's system. While these things happen in teams located around the world, it'd sure be a shame to see a guy who can't stop scoring at the club level not be able to contribute at the international level.
Who is to blame in all of this? You can blame Klinsmann for not knowing how to properly use an in-form forward, and for choosing a midfield that was unable to produce quality in prior World Cup qualifiers. You can blame Altidore for not making the most of opportunities in the final third, and for not dropping back in order to jump-start lifeless American attacks. You can blame the US midfield for not being good enough in the team's qualifiers against Jamaica.
What's done is done, and Klinsmann has his team for the games against A & B and Guatemala. The hope for the USMNT now is that Johnson and/or Gordon will, if given a chance to shine, prove Klinsmann right. As for Altidore, all he can do is continue scoring while playing top flight Dutch football.
Based on what we've thus far seen from him in 2012, I wouldn't bet on Altidore cooling off anytime soon.
- Sports & Recreation
- Jurgen Klinsmann
- Jozy Altidore
- Clint Dempsey