Eleven months ago, Jozy Altidore was finishing a record setting 31-goal season in Europe and capped that off over the summer with a goal against Germany, tallies in three straight World Cup qualifiers and a hat-trick against Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Flash forward to today and Altidore is coming off a disastrous season in Europe, scoring just twice in the 2013-14 campaign for Sunderland in 36 appearances with the club.
Many U.S. fans have watched Altidore's falling form with worry, assuming that it would drastically affect the U.S.' ability to perform well this summer in the World Cup.
But if Altidore's poor form with Sunderland continues into the U.S.' World Cup training camp, or into the U.S.' send-off series before the team leaves for Brazil, it may not be nearly as important as many fans assume.
Altidore's skill set certainly seems best suited if U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann continues with the 4-2-3-1 he used in the final round of World Cup qualifying. Altidore's size and willingness to battle center-backs will be needed to hold the ball up and start the U.S. attack.
But in such a system, his ability to finish is less valuable than his holdup play, and in his time with Sunderland, that area of his game seems to be just fine. Furthermore, in a pinch, Eddie Johnson can play the role of holdup forward in the 4-2-3-1. Even though Johnson is in his own mini-slump, his ability in the air and speed to get in behind are valuable assets to the U.S.
If Klinsmann decides to put the U.S. into the 4-1-3-2 that he used during the semifinal round of World Cup qualifying, and most recently in a friendly against Mexico, Altidore will not be nearly as important to the squad or its hopes in Brazil.
In a 4-1-3-2, the U.S. has plenty of options. Clint Dempsey would most likely play up top in such a system, and the role probably suits him better than the withdrawn-forward position he usually plays in Klinsmann's 4-2-3-1. Dempsey has also shown a strong return to form this spring with the Seattle Sounders and can pick up the goal-scoring load for the U.S. up top.
In a 4-1-3-2, Landon Donovan can even be used at forward, as can a number of other U.S. players. Notably, Aron Johannsson could be very useful in a two-forward formation and is having his own career season this year with 26 goals in Europe in 2013-14.
Finally, in a two-forward system, the U.S. may find some value in Chris Wondolowski. Many U.S. fans still aren't convinced of Wondolowski's value to the U.S. squad, but he has shown with three goals in the U.S.' last two matches that he is a quality finisher (not to mention three seasons in which he was MLS's top scorer).
In the World Cup group-stage, against opponents like Ghana, Portugal and Germany, the U.S. isn't likely to get too many chances to score. And while Wondolowski certainly doesn't have Altidore's physical gifts, Wondo has proved he can make the most out of his.
There's no doubt that it would be better if Altidore were in top form heading into the World Cup for the U.S., but his struggles at Sunderland over the past year shouldn't be nearly as big a worry as many have made them out to be.
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