Jozy Altidore seems to have relentless mounds of doubters no matter what he accomplishes on the field. Those same detractors are going to continue having a hard time pointing out the holes and flaws in his game if he keeps performing at the level he is currently playing for AZ Alkmaar in the Netherlands.
Altidore's hat trick Sunday was just the latest piece of evidence submitted to prove his continuing growth as a finisher and a forward, and it boosts his goal total to an Eredivisie-leading seven through five league matches. It's hard not to be impressed by the rate and variety in which Altidore has been scoring. He disguises his runs and movement with intelligence, finishes with both feet and with power and appears aggressive in showing for the ball while linking up in the attack. Any fans who refer to the played-out accusation that he is lazy are showing laziness on their own part and clearly not watching his club games, in which his maturation as a player continues to develop in real time.
The frustration and uncertainty among fans, and the Altidore conundrum as a whole, emanates from the fact that he has just not come close to matching his club production at the international level. For example, Michael Orozco Fiscal, Ricardo Clark and Graham Zusi have more goals -- one apiece -- for the national team in 2012 than Altidore does. He has not scored in a U.S. shirt in more than 10 months, last doing so against Slovenia last November, and he will likely only have three more chances to do so in 2012 given how many more FIFA international dates remain during this year. For a player who has scored multiple goals for the national team in every year dating back to 2008, it is bewildering that as his club career is taking off his international one appears to be regressing.
For that, at least this past year, there is an explanation. For starters, he has only played in six of the national team's nine non-January-camp games this year and only started twice, with a combination of club conflict and apparent lack of fitness in May and June taking their toll on that five-game stretch. When he has been on the field, the plethora of defense-first midfielders and lack of true wingers deployed by Jurgen Klinsmann has hampered the U.S. attack as a whole, not just for Altidore. When given the minutes on the field, Altidore has been unable to replicate his production in the slower-paced system, in which a dearth of service -- see the Sept. 7 game against Jamaica in Kingston -- has often been an issue. It is not as if Altidore is missing his chances with the U.S.; he's just not getting many to work with in the first place, and the lack of continuity can take its toll. All Altidore can do is continue to produce on the club level, hone his skills and prove that he deserves more on-field opportunities with the national team. And when he gets those opportunities, display the same hunger and tenacity that have made him the top scorer in the Netherlands to take away the last bit of material his unwavering doubters are clinging to.
Altidore was not the only American who participated in the USA-Jamaica World Cup qualifiers to find the back of the net this past weekend, as Jose Francisco Torres scored off an audacious free kick to help deliver a victory to Pachuca in Mexico, and Michael Parkhurst continues his improved offensive play while getting forward from his right back position by forcing an own goal with a blast from distance that ricocheted off the post and goalkeeper in an FC Nordsjaelland loss. Here is how the American goal-scorers and non-goal-scorers alike fared playing abroad over the past week (season statistics encompass all competitions):