Not secretly, Jozy Altidore struggled in his first Premier League season with Sunderland. The American forward scored just twice in 38 appearances for a struggling side that needed a late miracle to avoid relegation. Altidore played only sparingly for the club late in the season, found his confidence with the United States Men’s National Team in World Cup qualifying and then, straight from the Department of Brutal Timing, he partially tore his hamstring in the first half of the first game of America’s campaign in Brazil. It wasn’t a good year for the 24-year-old.
But a new season can be a fresh start, and Altidore was subbed in for Sunderland in the 81st minute of the Black Cats’ draw with West Bromwich Albien at the Hawthorns on Saturday. When Altidore came on, Sunderland trailed 2-1.
As will happen frequently with a striker like Altidore, who largely needs the ball and space to be effective, he didn’t get many touches. Outside of a bad back-pass early in stoppage time, though, he was solid, if not unremarkable.
He got a touch quickly after the sub, and played a smart ball into space. He won a header or two. He flicked a creative ball on toward Jordi Gomez and it took a good defensive play to break up an attacking chance.
On Sebastian Larsson‘s pretty 85th-minute equalizer, Altidore was around the ball. He backed off a bit to the edges of the 18-yard box as Gomez crossed one in. Larsson got to the delivery instead, a reward for continuing his run, and finished beautifully.
So, Altidore didn’t have much to do in the season-opening draw. He was on the field for the equalizer, which is always a good mark. When he was subbed in for Wes Brown, NBC’s commentating crew — insightful and articulate as all NBC’s crews are — noted that Altidore “has not got the best of goal-scoring records in the Barclays Premier League, but [is] still very much revered internationally with the USA, where he scored 23 goals.”
That’s true, but unfortunately we’ll have to wait another four years to see if the American — who is an absolute physical force — can score in bulk in a World Cup, not just in qualifiers. We might never know how he’d fare in his prime against the world’s best international teams. He’s certainly capable of scoring for club, though, having netted 31 for Dutch side AZ in 41 games in 2012-13.
For my part, which doesn’t matter, I would rather see Altidore in red and white vertical stripes, playing on Saturday mornings in the Premier League even with the struggles. To see him come back and play in MLS, which is something that has been discussed in recent weeks, would be disappointing. He was better for AZ in his second season than in his first. This year, his second with Sunderland, he’ll need the ball, space and, most importantly, some consistent playing time to find any success in one of Europe’s top leagues.
Grant Burkhardt is a regional Emmy-award winning television producer and college graduate (barely) who’s fallen head over boots for world football. You can chat soccer with him on social media, because he loves it, on Twitter and Google+.