Jozy Altidore's Brace Against Nigeria Erases Doubt Ahead of 2014 World Cup

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistJune 7, 2014

JACKSONVILLE, FL - JUNE 07: Midfielder Michael Bradley #4 of the United States congratulates forward Jozy Altidore #17 after Altidore's first half goal during the international friendly match against Nigeria at EverBank Field on June 7, 2014 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)
Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

Diego Maradona. Pele. Gerd Mueller. Just Fontaine. Jozy Altidore. Will the American forward be the next in the line of greatest World Cup attackers ever?

While the answer to that question is almost certainly no, his brace against Nigeria should allay fans' concerns about his performance heading into Brazil. He scored both goals in the United States' 2-1 win on Saturday evening.

Jun 7, 2014; Jacksonville, FL, USA; United States forward Jozy Altidore (17) is congratulated by defender Fabian Johnson (23) after Altidore scored against the Nigeria at EverBank Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Altidore's first goal came in the 31st minute. While it was only a tap-in, he deserves credit for reading the play well and getting into an attacking position. Plus, when a striker is struggling to score, you'll take them however you can get them.

His second, in the 68th minute, was a little more impressive. He knocked the ball back away from the defender and finished with a powerful right-footed effort.

Coach Jurgen Klinsmann didn't mince words when describing the goal, per Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl:

Those were his first two goals in over six months, per ESPN Stats & Info:

When Altidore exited in the 80th minute, he received a well-earned ovation from the crowd in Jacksonville, Florida, per Avi Creditor of Sports Illustrated:

Altidore's performance should obviously be viewed in its proper context. This was only a friendly. Scoring goals in an exhibition is much different from scoring them in the World Cup.

On the other hand, two things are worth pointing out.

These meaningless friendlies are all that stand between the United States and the World Cup. The send-off matches were vital toward building confidence and continuity within the squad and getting the key players firing on all cylinders.

Also, had Altidore performed poorly, you can bet that he would've been savaged by his critics. They would've asked how an underperforming striker can continue to have a place in the squad.

He had already been catching plenty of heat for his troubles against Azerbaijan and Turkey.

You can't criticize a player for playing poorly in so-called meaningless friendlies and then subsequently fail to praise him during the same matches.

At this point, we shouldn't expect Altidore to all of a sudden become a colossus who scores for fun. But he also should be much better than the player fans have seen at Sunderland for the second half of the Premier League season.

His strong showing against Nigeria isn't an outlier, either, among these three send-off matches. He's gotten better and better with every minute on the pitch.

Some judge strikers purely on the amount of goals they score. That's a fair standard, considering that's what you look for most from the position.

By that standard, Altidore has been woeful and should've been replaced in the national team by Aron Johannsson or Chris Wondolowski long ago.

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 30:  Jozy Altidore of Sunderland prepares to warm up before the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Sunderland at Villa Park on November 30, 2013 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Image
Michael Regan/Getty Images

However, you can also judge strikers in a few other areas as well—their ability to hold up the ball and lay it off for their teammates in addition to whether they're dragging defenders with them and creating space for their teammates.

By those measurements, Altidore was by far the most qualified forward for Klinsmann, and despite his misses against Turkey, he showed signs of improvement during the series.

You couldn't have asked for much more from the Nigeria friendly. The United States—Altidore included—still has its issues, and it'll struggle to get out of a brutal group.

Saturday did give you hope, though, that the U.S. has a surprise or two in store for Germany, Ghana and Portugal.