While the United States Men’s National Team failed to score against Costa Rica on Friday, Jozy Altidore—the starting striker whose primary job is to score goals—proved that he still is the top forward on the depth chart.
Under former head coach Bob Bradley Altidore was the starting forward—sometimes with a partner, other times alone—but due to a lack of goals with the national team and a lack of scoring and playing time at the club level, many wondered how much longer that would last.
Some, albeit prematurely, labeled the 21-year-old a bust and longed for a better striker to come along.
Then came the emergence of Juan Agudelo. The 18-year-old scored two goals in his first three matches with the National Team. His energy and work rate when he entered matches brought the team’s play to another level and he exuded confidence. Many labeled him the next best thing, even though Agudelo has failed to score a goal in his past eight games with the United States.
While Agudelo is a promising prospect, Altidore, in his first game playing for new head coach Jürgen Klinsmann, showed that he is the better option up top for the time being.
Altidore has 39 caps compared to Agudelo’s 11, and the elder forward showed his age, experience and skill set are more valuable to the team than what Agudelo brings to the table—especially considering the sample of both players from the Costa Rica game.
Altidore likes to take on his opponents one-on-one from time to time, but he is at his best when he is playing as a target forward with his back to the goal. He is a very strong forward with broad shoulders. Defenders cannot out-muscle him. Altidore’s greatest goal of his career came against Spain in the 2009 Confederation’s Cup when he turned defender Joan Capdevilla off the ball and blasted a shot into the back of the net.
Against Costa Rica, Altidore did a good job of making himself a target to his teammates and creating passing lanes. His ability to hold off defenders helped the team get more players involved in the attack. His passing was good and he linked up very well with his teammates, especially Brek Shea and Landon Donovan, which created a number of close chances.
Altidore was active, and his presence helped other players get involved, which made the U.S. very dangerous in the first half.
Agudelo came on as a second-half substitute for Altidore, and although he played with much energy like he usually does, the offense seemed to stall a bit.
As a lone forward, it wasn’t all Agudelo’s fault. The defensive back four, Maurice Edu—the holding midfielder—and the rest of the midfield seemed to tire a bit causing a break in the transition and smooth passing from defense to offense.
Agudelo, however, has a smaller frame than Altidore and got pushed off the ball a bit, especially when the game grew more physical as it dragged on.
While Agudelo seems to have a good partnership with Shea—evident in the tying goal against Mexico in Klinsmann’s first game—his biggest fault is that he can become a bit individualistic.
Part of it is inexperience, but Agudelo holds onto the ball for too long. His decision-making isn’t always the best, and he has a tendency to try and dribble his way out of trouble. This causes teammates to start standing and watching, draws more defenders to Agudelo and causes turnovers.
Agudelo still has his moments of brilliance, and he is dangerous when he slips behind the defense. A partnership with Agudelo and Altidore would be one to watch and develop.
But at the current stages of the careers of both players, Altidore is the guy who belongs at the top of the depth chart.