Jozy Altidore's two goals Saturday had to make the U.S. national team technical staff crack a smile.
The finishes were not overwhelmingly glorious: into an empty net and a completion of a quick counterattack. The manner in which Altidore set himself up for the goals and the details in the build-up, though, were where the beauty could be found. Altidore also boosted his Dutch club, AZ Alkmaar, which was mired in a six-game winless streak. With a ball in the opening moments heading harmlessly back toward the PEC Zwolle goal, Altidore turned on the jets in the open field to outrace a lackadaisical defender who had a solid five-yard head start. Even after the Zwolle goalkeeper came out to halt Altidore's momentum and momentarily take the ball off his foot, the American striker stayed with the play to capitalize.
Altidore's positional sense and communication skills led to his second goal a half-hour later. Being cognizant of his place on the field, Altidore held his run while AZ was poised to pounce on the counter to ensure he was onside for the ensuing breakout. On top of that, he also gave a quick signal to point man Adam Maher at the top of the developing attacking triangle to pass to teammate Roy Beerens first in order to set up the textbook marauding run down the heart of the field. Those little details set the simple finish in motion, and for a player often criticized by outsiders for his lack of hustle, work rate and game sense, Altidore did well to quell those shouts while snapping a personal scoring drought that had stretched to four games.
Elsewhere among high-profile Americans, Tim Howard joined exclusive company by making his 200th straight start in the Premier League. The active leader in consecutive games played after Brad Friedel had his streak snapped earlier this season, Howard joined his fellow American as the only two players to reach that landmark. One of his more dependable options in front of him on the national team, Carlos Bocanegra, also made news this week with his early return from a hamstring tear. The U.S. captain was supposed to miss six weeks with the injury suffered in international duty on Nov. 14, but he returned for Racing Santander over the weekend with plenty of time to reach maximum form and fitness ahead of the Feb. 6 World Cup qualifier against Honduras.
The three national team stalwarts highlighted the week that was for Americans playing abroad, with the rest of the contingent turning in a fairly quiet set of performances. Here is how they all fared (season statistics encompass all competitions):