Jozy Altidore has been lauded as the future of U.S. soccer for some time now, but he still hasn't cemented a starting spot with the team.
He completed a high-profile transfer to Spain's Villarreal in 2008 that figured to be the start of his ascent into the face of U.S. soccer. Unfortunately for Altidore, that transfer never worked out and he spent most of his time floundering around during loan spells with Xerez, Hull City and Bursaspor.
Last season, Altidore completed a move to AZ Alkmaar of the Eredivisie and has begun to shown signs of the potential that caught attention when he first debuted in the MLS with the New York Red Bulls.
While representing his country, Altidore has been a fixture in a few key matches but has mostly seen his caps come from friendlies and qualifiers. Here's a few reasons why this must soon change and why Jozy Altidore is the one who holds the key to his international future.
Altidore may be considered a future face of U.S. soccer, but he currently finds himself in competition with the present stars of U.S. soccer.
Still in the prime of their careers, Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan—29 and 30, respectively—are the best players the U.S. has to offer. Barring any major injuries, they figure to be key fixtures in the starting XI when the U.S. enters major tournament play. Rightfully so.
"Couldn't they all play together though?"
In theory, yes. Altidore would likely be spearheading the U.S. attack in that scenario, but there is another concern, then, that would need to be addressed.
While both Donovan and Dempsey are capable of playing secondary striker roles or winger roles, and such tactics are fixtures in the "European soccer style" that the U.S. is starting to adopt, I doubt Klinsmann has total confidence in employing an open attacking formation.
The U.S. team has never looked rock solid enough to make you believe that it could shoulder the increased defensive responsibility of such an open system. Unless, Klinsmann commits to such a formation right now, I don't think the team would be ready in time to test it at a major competition.
We'd also be remiss if we were to count out Altidore's competition on the bench. Herculez Gomez and Edson Buddle, who recently returned to the LA Galaxy, are both viable attacking options. Likewise, Chris Wondolowski continues to look impressive with the San Jose Earthquakes and is still waiting for his chance to make an impact with the national team.
Altidore has the skill, but, with so many others fighting for spots, he needs to stand out amongst the bunch.
Enter: European football
Since Jurgen Klinsmann took over for Bob Bradley, he has put a European spin on the way he runs the national team. This is, perhaps, most noticeable after the European-style training camp he put the team through back in January of this year.
Whether you agree with his methods or not, Klinsmann has the right idea. If you realize that your team is not as strong as the other teams it has to face and don't do everything you can to correct the situation then you're not doing your job as coach.
Part of the problem Klinsmann and the U.S. team face is that, unfortunately, the competition in the MLS pales in comparison to the type of competition a player would see in a top-tier European league like La Liga or the Premier League. It's the nature of the beast.
That's why he has suggested and encouraged any players who have the opportunity to make the move to Europe to sharpen, hone and test their skills with some of the best players in the world.
Altidore made his move to Europe long before Klinsmann was introduced as coach of the national team, but it wasn't until his recent move to the Eredivisie, with AZ Alkmaar, that he truly began to shine.
Last season he contributed 19 total goals, including four during the group stages of the Europa League. This season, Altidore has continued that success. In fact, his goal during AZ's draw with RKC Waalwijk this weekend was his eighth of the season which is top in both the Dutch league and among players in other European leagues.
If Altidore can continue a successful run in Europe, there's no doubt we will be seeing more of him in attack for the United States.
Whether it is warranted or not, the U.S. national team is continuously called on to prove their worth to the international soccer world. They currently sit 33rd in the FIFA rankings which, though up from their record low of 36th this past July (via FIFA.com), still is not where the team and the players want to be.
FIFA rankings, like any set of rankings, are just reference, but they are the most accurate representation of a team's position amongst the rest of the world.
The U.S. is looking upward at the fourth spot, which they held back in 2006 (via FIFA.com), and wondering how they can get back.
This is where Jozy Altidore comes in to stake his claim. This is where he finally starts to reach his potential.
To Jozy's credit, he hasn't been a nobody for the national team. There have been times when he has been ncredibly frustrating to watch. He'll take one too many touches or a make poor shot selection. Still, he's scored 13 goals in his 51 capped games, roughly 25 percent, which is a noteworthy accomplishment.
However, like I alluded to in the introduction, this has mostly come in qualifying games and friendlies. Not to discredit those goals, but if he really wants to make a name for himself then he needs to start scoring all the important goals too. When he gets the opportunity to play, he needs to prove he belongs.
Every team has a star and it's time for Jozy Altidore to step up and take over that role for the United States.
Everyone believes he can be that star and I think he believes it as well. The time for believing, however, has passed.
It's time for the show.