HARRISON, N.J. — Jozy Altidore appreciates your concern.
“Everybody is so worried about my confidence — it’s unbelievable. My confidence is fine, my man,” the U.S. forward said Sunday after his sixth straight international match without a goal. “It’s not going to change whether I score a hat trick or I don’t score at all.”
Which better be true, since he hasn’t been scoring lately. Since Dec. 4, Altidore has no goals in 27 games for his club and national team.
Add in another drought — U.S. forwards failed to score in the last two World Cups — and no wonder American fans are so worried about his confidence. Everybody except his coach and teammates, who insist there’s nothing to fret about with the U.S. opening the World Cup on June 16.
“Sometimes you just need a little bit of luck on your side,” said Clint Dempsey, who started alongside Altidore in the 4-4-2 formation in Sunday’s 2-1 exhibition win against Turkey. “You’re only going to score if you create chances. He’s creating chances, so it’s just a matter of time.”
Indeed, much about Altidore’s performance Sunday was encouraging, other than the lack of a goal. “Energetic” is how Jurgen Klinsmann described it.
And when he’s playing like that, the defense is occupied with the strong and physical Altidore, which opens up opportunities for his teammates and holds back the opponent’s attack. Turkey coach Fatih Terim called him “the type of striker that the center backs don’t like much.”
DaMarcus Beasley, headed to his fourth World Cup, would like to remind everyone that at this time a year ago, the panic was about how Altidore had gone 19 months without an international goal.
Then he scored in a record-breaking five straight games last summer, including a hat trick in an exhibition against Bosnia-Herzegovina.
“Every forward goes through a tough time with scoring,” Beasley said Friday. “There’s not one forward in history — expect maybe Messi.”
After setting the record for goals by an American in a European club season with 31 in 2012-13 for the Netherlands’ AZ Alkmaar, Altidore joined Sunderland of the Premier League last summer. He figured he’d benefit from playing match after match against many of the same defenders he’ll face in the World Cup.
Things did not exactly go as planned.
Altidore scored just twice in 39 appearances. He wasn’t even getting many chances: a mere 19 shots in 31 league games.
Manager Paolo Di Canio was fired after only five league matches, Sunderland was nearly relegated, and Altidore didn’t start its last seven games. On April 7, the club had him play for its under-21 team instead of dressing for its match at Tottenham. Altidore did draw a foul April 19 that led to a key penalty kick that helped Sunderland avoid relegation.
But all that was with his club. Different strategies, different chemistry with teammates, different comfort level.
Asked if he believed a player can quickly rediscover his form after rejoining his national squad, Altidore replied, “I’d be a fool not to.”
“Guys try to get me touches a lot,” he said Friday of his American teammates. “I feel like I’m on the ball a bit more. I’m just able to be a different type of player.”
This season was similar to 2009-10, when Altidore was loaned from Spain’s Villarreal to England’s Hull and scored just twice. At 20, he was the youngest player on the U.S. roster for the 2010 World Cup, and he started all four matches.
Altidore’s last chance to score before this World Cup comes with Saturday’s exhibition against Nigeria in Jacksonville, Florida. The Americans open play in their formidable group against Ghana in Natal in two weeks.
The U.S. submitted its roster to FIFA on Monday, so the only changes would be for a serious injury at least 24 hours before its opener.
Klinsmann trusts that the player he’s taking to Brazil “is the Jozy that we want to see.” Asked what he’s shown that makes Klinsmann so confident, Altidore joked: “Kick the ball straight.”
“He’s been the coach a while now,” Altidore added, getting serious. “If a guy like that believes in you, believes you can do good things on the field, I think that says a lot.”
Klinsmann quipped Sunday that perhaps the drought is setting up Altidore to break through with a goal against Ghana. For now, his faith must come from seeing his 24-year-old scorer do everything else.
“You’ve got to stay hungry and grind it out,” Klinsmann said, “and sooner or later it’s time and, boom, the ball is in the net.”