With the World Cup closer than ever, it seems as though everything is finally coming together for the United States men's national team. Not only are the Yanks riding a three-game winning streak after beating Nigeria 2-1, but they are also playing their best ball in a long time.
There are plenty of storylines going into this World Cup. Landon Donovan is out of the squad, Julian Green has been called up plus many other talking points. Yet, no factor may be as important right now than that of striker Jozy Altidore.
Back in early December was the last time that the 24-year-old had a scored a goal in any competition, yet going into the World Cup, he is being relied upon to lead the U.S. attack.
Understandably, U.S. fans were ecstatic when Altidore finally broke his slump, putting two past Nigeria on Saturday to lead the Yanks to victory.
To be fair, the striker has always competed at a high level for the USMNT regardless of what his club form looked like. Midfielder Michael Bradley said in a recent interview that it makes no sense for anyone to doubt Altidore now, via Eric Adelson of Yahoo Sports.
"Anybody who ever questions Jozy, or anybody who doesn't see what he brings to our team doesn't understand soccer. I'll tell you that right now."
The USMNT have definitely found their best form going into the World Cup this summer, but scoring still seems to be a problem area. Despite all of the talent on the current roster, no one has really stood out as the player who will provide the goals.
After a rough showing against Azerbaijan on May 27, it was clear that the Americans were missing something up front. No matter how good the squad performs, a clinical finisher is desperately needed.
Luckily for the Americans, it seems as though Altidore has finally come back alive at the absolute perfect moment with their opening World Cup match against Ghana set to kick off in less than a week.
When the Americans land in Brazil and prepare to take the pitch for their first match, there will be a lot of pressure on Altidore's shoulders. He has been leading the attack for a while, but he will now be asked to do so on the biggest of stages.
Having the striker find his scoring boots again this close to Brazil is the best thing that could happen for the USMNT.
It is no secret that Jurgen Klinsmann made a few curious selections with this squad. Many of these players have never played in a World Cup, especially the likes of Green and DeAndre Yedlin who seem like they were only picked with the future in mind.
That being said, the Americans do have the chance to make it out of the group stage. A win against Ghana is clearly of utmost importance, but the next match against Portugal will be the deciding factor.
With such a great opportunity in front of Klinsmann's team, the established stars are going to have to be at their best.
Everyone was already prepared to watch the likes of Bradley and Clint Dempsey lead the United States, but as stated earlier, there was still a big question mark over where the goals were going to come from.
Aron Johannsson has been in great form as of late, but he is untested in a competition like this, while Chris Wondolowski has been hit or miss himself. Altidore was selected purely for what he had done in the past.
A few days ago, it still looked like this American side had a big hole to fill upfront. Despite encouraging play from the Yanks, they were still missing a solid finisher which is absolutely necessary when facing World Cup opponents.
Altidore has once again showed that he can lead the charge for the USMNT. Club form aside, the established striker is ready to be the focal point in attack and provide goals for the Yanks as they look to get through the group stage.
The World Cup is much different than any other football competition. The Americans, who are used to facing CONCACAF opponents, will now face much tougher sides in Ghana, Portugal and Germany.
Klinsmann's team will be asked to play at a much higher level if they want to escape the Group of Death, meaning the key players will have to be at their best. This team desperately needed Altidore to start scoring again and now he has.
Facing staunch defensive units in Brazil, the Americans need a proven scorer if they want to compete. Altidore has now shown that he is ready to be that leader and may very well be the most important player for the USMNT in this World Cup.
It looks like even Altidore himself is aware of the pressure on his shoulders now, stating:
"I've had this pressure since I was 16 years old."
Will Jozy Altidore be the striker that America needs in Brazil? Just how important will he be? Can the U.S. make it out of the group stage? Leave your thoughts and comments below!
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