Should USA be worried about Altidore?
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It says a lot about Jozy Altidore’s first season in the English Premier League that his final action of the campaign – an immature and ill-conceived head butt – generated more attention than anything he did in the preceding eight months at Hull City.
Altidore’s mindless clash of skulls with Sunderland’s Alan Hutton on Saturday will be seen as the final embarrassment in a year that has been filled with them for struggling Hull, which was finally condemned to relegation in a 1-0 loss.
American fans and United States head coach Bob Bradley will be more concerned with the 20-year-old’s mindset heading into the World Cup.
The facts don’t make for pleasant reading. Bradley goes into soccer’s greatest tournament with a first-choice forward who has managed just two goals this season and who failed to lock down a permanent starting role with one of the worst sides in the EPL.
Yet barring an untimely injury in the lead-up to South Africa, Altidore will be the one who leads the line for the U.S. at the World Cup with his young shoulders carrying the bulk of the team’s attacking responsibility.
Bradley believes in the former New York Red Bulls man, who was loaned to Hull by Spanish club Villarreal and whose immediate club future is uncertain. The coach certainly isn’t going to overreact to Altidore’s weekend overreaction.
After Altidore and Hutton tangled while chasing down a loose ball, Hutton threw the ball at his opponent’s head as it went out of play. Altidore responded furiously, leaping to his feet and shoving his head into Hutton’s face. Both players were red-carded and sent off.
“I’m so sorry about yesterday,” Altidore wrote on his Twitter account. “Made a stupid, immature and costly mistake. I apologize to Hull City and the fans who I let down. I let my emotions get the best of me and lost my composure. Believe it or not this year playing for [Hull] was to date the best trip I’ve ever been on.”
Altidore’s display of petulance will be kept in perspective by Bradley, and not just because the coach has limited attacking options to choose from.
Bradley knows Altidore fits more comfortably in the USA lineup than he ever did at Hull, and while he will not be delighted by his player’s paltry goal scoring, he won’t be panicking too much. Last season, Altidore did not exactly set the world alight in Spain, but that didn’t stop him from turning in several productive efforts at the Confederations Cup.
Despite Hull’s woeful form, Altidore has clearly made some improvements playing in England. He has gained some physical strength, presence and experience at handling tough and hardened defenders, and he has rarely looked out of his depth in England.
Altidore could use some confidence ahead of the World Cup and will only get two chances to gain that in friendlies against the Czech Republic and Turkey. But if he can achieve some form, he will be a valuable cog in the USA’s bid to reach the World Cup’s knockout stages.
The main concern, given the evidence of the weekend, is whether Altidore can keep his composure. With the Americans’ penchant for red cards in international tournaments, cooler heads must prevail.
Weekend Best XI
1. Get him an Advil
The already-frosty relationship between Brazil head coach Dunga and the Brazilian media isn’t likely to improve any time soon. Not after a television crew turned up at Dunga’s house and staged a mock protest at the continuing omission of brilliant youngster Neymar from the national team squad.
2. Get them a beer
One of the most fascinating EPL title races in years remained delicately poised as both Chelsea and Manchester United claimed all three points in their weekend matches. Each team had a hero to thank, with Salomon Kalou scoring an impressive hat trick in a 7-0 rout of Stoke, while Ryan Giggs calmly slotted home two penalties as United took care of business at home against Tottenham.
3. Get him some earplugs
Blackpool striker D.J. Campbell completed an extraordinary week by scoring the goal that fired his team into the Championship playoffs and three wins away from promotion to the EPL. Campbell was arrested at Blackpool’s training ground on Thursday in connection with a stabbing outside a London nightclub, but he was released on bail in time to score his dramatic winner against Peterborough.
4. Keep an eye on …
Hooliganism in Major League Soccer? A worrying report over the weekend indicated that a bus carrying visiting Philadelphia Union fans had been struck by rocks allegedly thrown by New York Red Bulls supporters. Let’s hope the claims were either false or a one-off. European-style fan passion and enthusiasm in MLS is a good thing. Violent acts are most certainly not.
5. Catch a flight to …
Barcelona. The volcanic ash has virtually cleared, European skies are open once more, and what could be one of the matches of the season takes place at Camp Nou on Wednesday. Defending Champions League winner Barca, including a certain Mr. Messi, needs to overturn a two-goal deficit at home to Inter Milan in order to reach another final.
6. Useless and completely made-up statistic of the week
7. Fond farewell
Rumors are gathering in South America that Red Bulls striker Juan Pablo Angel is ready to wave goodbye to MLS after this season and end his career with Argentinean side River Plate.
8. Get ready to see hello to …
Jeremiah White. The former Wake Forest standout has spent his pro career in Europe and the Middle East, but he is rumored to be headed to the Chicago Fire from Saudi Arabian club Al-Ettifaq.
9. Get ready to say goodbye to …
The current system of Major League Soccer. Commissioner Don Garber revealed this week that he can see a future that involves promotion and relegation – a huge shift from the format the league has used since its inception.
10. Get excited about …
Being a soccer fan. It’s not a bad time to be one. The World Cup is just weeks away, and to pass the time until then, all of Europe’s biggest leagues are heading towards thrilling finishes. As well as the drama in England between Chelsea and United, Barcelona and Real Madrid are locked in a fierce battle in La Liga, Inter Milan and Roma are slugging it out in Serie A and the German Bundesliga has boiled down to a two-horse race between Bayern Munich and Schalke.
11. Why it’s good to be a soccer player
Take a look at Nikoleta Lozanova, former girlfriend of FC Twente goalkeeper Nikolay Mikhailov.