USA vs. Italy: Jozy Altidore Needs to Step Up for Depleted American Squad

Timothy RappFeatured ColumnistFebruary 29, 2012

PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 11:  Jozy Altidore of USA is challenged by Jeremy Mathieu of France during the International Friendly between France and USA at Stade de France on November 11, 2011 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Let's go over a list of players that won't be appearing for the United States when they take on Italy in exhibition play: Landon Donovan, Jose Torres, Jermaine Jones, Oguchi Onyewu and Timmy Chandler.

That's a lot of missing players. And it means that the playmakers left on the squad, none more than Jozy Altidore, will have to step up their game if the US hopes to beat the ever-solid Azzurri squad.

Consider the following from Brian Straus of the Sporting News:

Jozy Altidore is finding his form. After a rough couple of months that saw him lose his starting role at AZ Alkmaar, the burly 22-year-old striker has rediscovered his scoring touch in the past month. He found the net twice on Feb. 8 and two more times on Sunday, bringing his total for the 2011-12 season to a career-high 13.

Klinsmann has challenged Altidore to push himself and work harder.

"That's the first message to Jozy when he gets here,” the coach told Sports Illustrated. "‘Man, we want you to be in the starting lineup. I'm not happy with it. I don't want to see you coming off the bench.’ (Sunday) was a start maybe. He has to underline that. He has to be ready in training every time. He can't be late. He can't be lazy. He can't be anything like that. This is what we want to see."

The pressure will be on Altidore, who is the lone striker starting in the lineup.

Altidore remains a player with a lot of potential but still more inconsistency at this point. Altidore has scored this year and seems more mature than he has in the past, but without Donovan, he'll need to be at the top of his game today.

He'll be tested against Italy's vaunted defense. He needs to be able to control the ball, get other players involved and anchor a US attack that has claimed it will be aggressive more than it has actually shown to be.

Keep your eyes on Altidore and Clint Dempsey (you should always keep your eyes on Dempsey, if we're being honest). If they can provide a spark on the offensive end, the US might be able to crack that tough Italian defense.

 

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