The United States men's national team plays its first match of the 2018 World Cup cycle Wednesday at 2:15 p.m. ET in Prague when it takes on the Czech Republic in a friendly, and head coach Jurgen Klinsmann announced striker Jozy Altidore will wear the captain's armband.
U.S. Soccer passed along the manager's decision:
At 24, the Sunderland forward has already made 71 appearances for the American side, notching 22 goals. The nomination may be Klinsmann's way of trying to get Altidore to take on a bigger role.
After years of Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and Tim Howard being the team's nucleus, Altidore is arguably the present and future.
He has struggled at the club level since moving to the Premier League. On loan with Hull City in 2009-10, he registered one goal and three assists in 28 appearances. In 2013-14 with Sunderland, where he transferred for an £8.8 million fee, he tallied one goal and one assist in 31 appearances.
Still, he remains a vital piece of the American attack, as illustrated by the struggle to create chances during the World Cup after he suffered a hamstring injury in the opener versus Ghana.
A more prominent role with the national team could help him build confidence and improve his form at all levels of play. That's what the coaching staff is hoping, anyway.
He spoke with Chris Young of the Sunderland Echo about missing a majority of Team USA's memorable World Cup run due to injury: "Missing out on almost all the World Cup was terrible. It was the worst thing so far in my career. But these things happen in sport and in life. You accept these challenges and you just have to respond to them."
The match against the Czech Republic is his first chance to respond.
Looking forward, 2014 World Cup captain Clint Dempsey hasn't ruled out playing another cycle, nor has Bradley. Then there's Howard (currently taking a one-year break from the national team) or Brad Guzan, depending on who earns the No. 1 spot in the coming years. Any of them would be good options to wear the armband should Altidore not work out as desired.
It's still another opportunity for the striker to show he can handle a leadership role, though. He needs something to get him back on track in the final third; perhaps being pushed further into the spotlight can provide it.
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