Jozy Altidore is playing high quality soccer and is on his way to being the United States men’s national team’s best player in 2014.
There is no doubt that Altidore will have competition for the aforementioned honor.
Clint Dempsey is also in top form, filling the role of captain, albeit less vocally than former skipper Carlos Bocanegra, quite admirably. The Texan is scoring and creating, too, positioned most recently as a second striker for the Yanks and dropping deeper in the midfield than his strike partner Altidore.
This has worked well; Dempsey has come up big in important moments for the U.S., like his lone goal in the team’s 1-0 victory over Costa Rica in World Cup Qualifying, for instance.
Michael Bradley is another candidate that will certainly challenge Altidore here. The Roma midfielder is entering his soccer prime and has very few weaknesses. He can contribute to a short possession game, open the field up with long balls or dangerous through balls and can score from distance. Not to mention his defending work rate and ball recovering, which are all critical to the USMNT.
Even Landon Donovan, who is set to return to international duty in the upcoming CONCACAF Gold Cup, could be poised for a glorious 2014, perhaps emboldened by any of the doubters questioning his inclusion in the national side.
It is Altidore, though, who appears most likely to grab the world’s attention and claim the mantle as Klinsmann’s top dog in 2014.
The evidence is clear: Altidore bagged over 30 goals at the club level this past season in the Netherlands, no small feat indeed. He has been on a tear in a U.S. shirt recently, scoring four goals in his last four games for the USMNT, three of which were in critical World Cup Qualifiers.
There are many reasons why the former New York Red Bull is playing so well. The AZ man’s movement without the ball is certainly one of them.
Altidore has gained a knack for getting open in dangerous areas. His timing on runs is impeccable, brilliant enough to create the small amount of space needed to fire off a quick shot when the service coming his way is quality enough.
Not to mention Altidore can finish, multiple ways, and with one-touch if necessary. His shooting is precise and he rarely wastes opportunities for the U.S.
He has also dramatically improved in terms of both holdup and linkup play. His back-to-goal distribution is spot on and he has the vision and technical ability to find teammates running into space in good areas. Altidore provides a key outlet for the U.S. to start an attack through. He can also battle for aerial balls and provide relief for the ball-winning midfielders.
On top of all of his soccer abilities, Altidore is a physical presence, strong enough to muscle away bigger defenders and fleet of foot enough to gallop by speedier backs.
As a 23-year-old, Altidore is poised to light up 2014. He has loads of international experience, including a World Cup in 2010, and has proven himself at the club level.
If Jozy Altidore can continue to play at his current rate, there is no telling how far Jurgen Klinsmann can take the U.S. at the World Cup in 2014. Altidore is that good right now.