For many, the start of the New Year is an opportunity to turn the page, to start anew, a clean slate. This is especially true for the 25-year-old American striker Jozy Altidore. After a disastrous eighteen-month stint with Sunderland worth no more than three goals, Altidore has decided to move stateside and join USMNT teammate Michael Bradley at Toronto FC. USA supporters hope the homecoming will revitalize the young forward. A newfound confidence from the World Cup starter could prove invaluable following the offensively deficient 2014 American campaign. But with January camp well underway and friendlies as early as January 28th, USA fans have more to be excited about than a new and improved Altidore.
Altidore finally ended his international scoring drought in the final game of the send-off series against Nigeria last June, netting both goals of the 2-1 victory before shipping off to Brazil for the World Cup. Altidore’s unique combination of size and speed finally emerged as the dominant scoring threat USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann planned for in his 4-4-2 diamond formation. His individual play and harmony with fellow forward Clint Dempsey left USA fans wide-eyed and looking for more. Altidore was knocking on the door of an early goal during the first 23 minutes of the World Cup opener against Ghana before a heartbreaking hamstring tear that cut his World Cup dreams short. The Americans struggled to score for the remainder of the tournament until an ousting at the hands of the Belgians in the Round of Sixteen.
Altidore’s departure from Sunderland is good news for American soccer fans, but he isn’t the cure to an offensively plagued international squad. Altidore finally started to recognize his potential before his injury, but he has still yet to score in a World Cup. I believe Altidore is rounding a corner, I really do. But, he is not the prolific scorer to build a team around. At least not until he shows us.
The most exciting news surrounding the January camp is the promise of fourteen new faces to the USMNT. Albeit a young and unproven group, the January camp features ten alumni of the Development Academy. The next generation of American soccer is here, and it has finally embraced the European style of academy training. Better late than never.
All of the big names in European soccer have their roots in an academy. Unlike the American high-school-college-professional progression, European prospects compete at an elite level from their early teens, with obvious results. The US is adapting to a proven, yet un-American recruitment strategy, and although we won’t fully know the results until 2018, we’ve already had a taste.
Klinsmann’s German connections have been invaluable to the USMNT, winning over German-Americans Jermaine Jones, Fabian Johnson, John Brooks, Julian Green, and Timmy Chandler-five of the 23 spots on the 2014 World Cup team.
Jones and Johnson both thrived as starters in the World Cup. Jones scored one of the most memorable goals of the tournament for the Americans with a rocket from outside the 18’ against Portugal, while Johnson demonstrated his ability as a wing defender and a counter-attacking threat before a game-ending injury against Belgium in the quarterfinals.
Brooks and Green capitalized on their limited minutes. Brooks scored the game-winner off Graham Zusi’s corner in the thriller against Ghana. Green found the back of the net in his very first World Cup touch against Beligum.
Unfortunately, Klinsmann has all but exhausted the German-American soccer population. Even so, the states have learned a valuable lesson about the success of the European development system, with each of the five German-Americans starting with an academy team at a young age.
Early proof of the new academy generation in the US is the 21-year-old DeAndre Yedlin. The unparalleled speed of the Tottenham Hotspurs defender tormented Portugal, Germany, and Belgium off the bench, winning loose balls and sparking counters. Talk about fresh legs. Unsurprisingly, the 2014 US Soccer Young Male Athlete of the Year has played on development teams since the age of 11. His time at the Seattle Sounders youth squad led to an entrance to the MLS with the Sounders senior team where he earned two all-star honors and, more importantly, European attention.
A new chapter of US soccer is about to begin. With the loss of Landon Donovan and DeMarcus Beasley and the looming departure of the 35-year-old Tim Howard, the 2018 World Cup roster will feature a very new group. Veterans like Altidore and Dempsey will surely be a part of it, but their most important roles will be to mentor the young talents fresh out of the academy. To compete with the Europeans, it helps to have a few, but the long-term solution is to Europeanize the US system, and the January camp roster is a nice first step.
Photo: Erik Drost/Flickr