One of the most underrated questions of the post-Landon Donovan era -- whenever it begins -- for the U.S. men's national team is who will take the reins from the penalty spot.
Donovan has dutifully accepted and excelled in the role of penalty taker, most notably converting in a pressure situation against Ghana in the knockout stage of the 2010 FIFA World Cup to level the score. It is practically a given that if he is on the field if the U.S draws a penalty, he'll step to the spot and get the job done.
Perhaps it is because the U.S. doesn't draw penalties all that often -- the Americans have only made two PKs since that Ghana game almost three years ago -- that the penalty responsibilities have gone overlooked, but the team's staying power in a competition could hinge on a spot kick, and it is worth exploring the few options that Jurgen Klinsmann has at his disposal.
Could Jozy Altidore be the answer? With two successful conversions from the spot within a matter of six minutes during his Sunday hat trick, Altidore improved to four-for-four on penalties this season. He is essentially the only high-profile national-team player who has been taking penalties with any semblance of regularity for his club.
He has shown the thick skin to calmly and confidently finish a penalty amid racist chants from opposing fans during his heroic showing at Den Bosch in a Dutch Cup match in January. His approach Sunday was a no-nonsense one, a short-stepped run-up followed by a well-placed right-footed blast. Altidore has limited experience taking penalties on the international level, but his last goal for the U.S. was from the spot, a successful conversion against Slovenia in November 2011.
As for other candidates, Clint Dempsey has been notoriously iffy. Despite his two-goal showing to lift Tottenham into extra time of the Europa League quarterfinals, he was not selected among the top four shooters by Andre Villas-Boas for the shootout. Whether he would have been granted the fifth kick, we'll never know, because Spurs' inefficiency coupled with Basel's clinical finishing meant that neither Dempsey nor one of his teammates received the chance to be that fifth shooter. He has converted for the national team in the last year, taking a penalty against Antigua & Barbuda in June, but his track record is not that of Donovan's hands-down successor.
Herculez Gomez was given the chance to take a penalty for Santos Laguna in February, but he is not the club's go-to guy and missed his chance from the spot. Michael Bradley does not take penalties for Roma. Eddie Johnson does not take penalties for the Seattle Sounders, and when he last stepped to the spot, in last summer's U.S. Open Cup final penalty shootout, he blasted his chance over the bar.
If the limited sample size is what Klinsmann has to go off, then the evidence is pretty telling. Considering the alternatives, Altidore, 23, would figure to be the top penalty-taking option for the post-Donovan U.S.
Altidore's third hat trick of the season and Dempsey's two-goal performance were the highlights of the past week, which also saw DaMarcus Beasley maintain his form with another goal for Puebla, while Gomez and Santos Laguna cemented their place in the CONCACAF Champions League final for the second straight season. Here is how the Americans abroad contingent fared overall (season statistics encompass all competitions):
Geoff Cameron, D/M, Stoke City -- Started, played 71 minutes in Stoke's 2-0 loss to Manchester United on Sunday.
SEASON: 33 games, 31 starts
Cody Cropper, GK, Southampton -- Not in the 18 for Southampton's 1-1 draw with West Ham on Saturday.
SEASON: 0 games
Clint Dempsey, M/F, Tottenham -- Started, played 120 minutes, picked up a yellow card and scored two goals in Tottenham's 2-2 draw with FC Basel in the second leg of their UEFA Europa League quarterfinal tie. Tottenham fell 4-1 on penalties after the teams played to a 4-4 aggregate draw and was eliminated. Dempsey pounced on a mistake by a Basel defender on an attempted through ball, rounded the keeper and scored in the 23rd minute, and he toe poked a ball home in the 82nd minute to force extra time.
SEASON: 37 games, 27 starts, 10 goals
Brad Friedel, GK, Tottenham -- Started, played 120 minutes and made six saves in Tottenham's 2-2 draw with FC Basel in the second leg of their Europa League quarterfinal.
SEASON: 20 games, 20 starts, 30 goals allowed, 2 clean sheets
Brad Guzan, GK, Aston Villa -- Started, played 90 minutes and did not make a save in Villa's 1-1 draw with Fulham on Saturday.
SEASON: 32 games, 32 starts, 57 goals allowed, 6 clean sheets
Tim Howard, GK, Everton -- Started, played 90 minutes, made three saves and earned the clean sheet in Everton's 2-0 win over Queens Park Rangers on Saturday.
SEASON: 34 games, 34 starts, 40 goals allowed, 6 clean sheets
Eric Lichaj, D, Aston Villa -- Not in the 18 for Villa's 1-1 draw with Fulham.
SEASON: 21 games, 13 starts
Brek Shea, M, Stoke City -- Not in the 18 for Stoke's 2-0 loss to Manchester United.
SEASON: 2 games
Conor Doyle, F, Derby County -- Not in the 18 for Derby County's 2-0 loss to Blackburn on Saturday.
SEASON: 3 games, 1 start
Stuart Holden, M, Sheffield Wednesday -- Not in the 18 for Sheffield Wednesday's 2-1 win over Millwall on Tuesday. Holden started and played 72 minutes in a 2-1 loss to Leeds United on Saturday.
SEASON: 6 games, 3 starts (3 games with Bolton)
Tim Ream, D, Bolton -- In the 18, did not play in Bolton's 2-1 win over Bristol City on Saturday.
SEASON: 16 games, 14 starts
Jonathan Spector, D/M, Birmingham City -- Not in the 18 for Birmingham's 2-2 draw with Leicester City on Friday.
SEASON: 30 games, 26 starts, 1 goal
Zak Whitbread, D, Leicester City -- Not in the 18 for Leicester City's 2-2 draw with Birmingham City on Friday.
SEASON: 16 games, 15 starts, 1 goal
Mike Grella, F, Scunthorpe United -- In the 18, came on as a 62nd-minute substitute in Scunthorpe's 1-1 draw with Walsall on Saturday.
SEASON: 26 games, 12 starts, 2 goals
Frank Simek, D, Carlisle United -- Not in the 18 for Carlisle's 2-0 win over Doncaster Rovers on Tuesday or a 1-1 draw with Preston North End on Saturday.
SEASON: 40 games, 38 starts
Timmy Chandler, D, FC Nurnberg -- In the 18, came on as a halftime substitute in Nurnberg's 4-0 loss to Bayern Munich on Saturday.
SEASON: 29 games, 28 starts, 1 goal
Steve Cherundolo, D, Hannover 96 -- Started, played 90 minutes in Hannover's 3-1 loss to SC Freiburg on Friday.
SEASON: 30 games, 29 starts
Fabian Johnson, D, TSG 1899 Hoffenheim - Started, played 90 minutes in Hoffenheim's 2-2 draw with VfL Wolfsburg on Saturday.
SEASON: 25 games, 25 starts, 3 goals
Jermaine Jones, M, FC Schalke 04 -- Not in the 18 for Schalke's 2-2 draw with Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday.
SEASON: 28 games, 25 starts, 2 goals
Michael Parkhurst, D, FC Augsburg -- Not in the 18 for Augsburg's 2-0 win over Eintracht Frankfurt on Sunday.
SEASON: 23 games, 21 starts, 2 goals (21 games, 20 starts, 2 goals with FC Nordsjaelland)
Danny Williams, D/M, TSG 1899 Hoffenheim -- Not in the 18 for Hoffenheim's 2-2 draw with Wolfsburg.
SEASON: 21 games, 17 starts, 1 goal
John Anthony Brooks, D, Hertha Berlin -- Started, played 90 minutes in Hertha Berlin's 1-1 draw with FC Ingolstadt 04 on Friday.
SEASON: 24 games, 21 starts
Joe Gyau, M, St. Pauli -- Not in the 18 for St. Pauli's 3-1 win over TSV 1860 Munich on Saturday.
SEASON: 14 games, 6 starts
Alfredo Morales, D/M, Hertha Berlin -- Started, played 90 minutes in Hertha Berlin's 1-1 draw with FC Ingolstadt 04.
SEASON: 7 games, 3 starts
Bobby Wood, F, TSV 1860 Munich -- In the 18, came on as a 65th-minute substitute in Munich's 3-1 loss to St. Pauli on Saturday.
SEASON: 13 games, 5 starts, 2 goals
Andrew Wooten, F, SV Sandhausen -- Started, played 72 minutes in Sandhausen's 3-1 loss to Eintracht Braunschweig on Friday.
SEASON: 24 games, 17 starts, 5 goals
Michael Bradley, M, AS Roma -- Started, played 90 minutes and picked up a yellow card in Roma's 2-1 win over Torino on Sunday.
SEASON: 27 games, 23 starts, 2 goals
Oguchi Onyewu, D, Malaga -- Not in the 18 for Malaga's 3-2 loss (3-2 on aggregate) to Borussia Dortmund in the second leg of their Champions League quarterfinal Tuesday. Malaga was eliminated in controversial fashion, with Dortmund's second stoppage-time goal appearing to be offside. Onyewu was also not in the 18 for a 1-0 win over Osasuna in league play Saturday.
SEASON: 8 games, 7 starts, 2 goals
Carlos Bocanegra, D, Racing Santander -- Started, played 90 minutes in Racing Santander's 1-0 loss to Girona on Saturday.
SEASON: 22 games, 22 starts (7 games, 7 starts with Rangers)
Jozy Altidore, F, AZ Alkmaar -- Started, played 90 minutes and netted a hat trick an AZ's 6-0 win over FC Utrecht on Sunday. Altidore hit twice from the penalty spot before connecting for a close-range header, all in a nine-minute span, his third hat trick.
SEASON: 38 games, 38 starts, 28 goals
Sacha Kljestan, M, RSC Anderlecht -- Started, played 90 minutes and picked up a yellow card in Anderlecht's 1-1 draw with Club Brugge in the third game of the Belgian playoffs Sunday.
SEASON: 42 games, 35 starts, 2 goals
Terrence Boyd, F, Rapid Vienna -- Started, played 79 minutes and picked up a yellow card in Rapid Vienna's 2-0 victory over Wiener Neustadt on Saturday.
SEASON: 36 games, 30 starts, 16 goals
Maurice Edu, M, Bursaspor -- Not in the 18 for Bursaspor's 1-0 win over Mersin Idmanyurdu on Saturday.
SEASON: 13 games, 11 starts (1 game with Stoke City)
Caleb Patterson-Sewell, GK, Vitoria Setubal -- Vitoria Setubal did not have a match this past week.
SEASON: 5 games, 5 starts, 12 goals allowed, 1 clean sheet
Tony Taylor, F, Estoril Praia - Estoril did not have a match this past week.
SEASON: 16 games, 4 starts, 1 goal
DaMarcus Beasley, M, Puebla -- In the 18, came on as a halftime substitute and scored a 69th-minute goal in Puebla's 2-1 loss to Jaguares on Sunday. Beasley one-timed a headed-down ball from inside the box to level the score at the time.
SEASON: 18 games, 13 starts, 5 goals
Jonathan Bornstein, D, Tigres UANL -- Not in the 18 for Tigres' 2-1 loss to Pumas UNAM on Sunday, their first loss in 14 Clausura matches this season.
SEASON: 1 game, 1 start
Edgar Castillo, D, Tijuana -- Not in the 18 for Tijuana's 1-0 win over Millonarios in the final game of the Copa Libertadores group stage Wednesday. Tijuana finished tied with Corinthians atop Group 5 on points but behind on goal differential and qualified for the knockout stage as a group runner-up. Castillo started and played 90 minutes in a 5-0 loss to Cruz Azul in league play Saturday.
SEASON: 13 games, 13 starts, 1 goal
Joe Corona, M, Tijuana -- Not in the 18 for Tijuana's 1-0 win over Millonarios in the Copa Libertadores group stage finale. Corona started and played 90 minutes in a 5-0 loss to Cruz Azul in league play.
SEASON: 16 games, 12 starts, 1 goal
Michael Orozco Fiscal, D, Puebla -- Started, played 61 minutes and picked up a yellow card in Puebla's 2-1 loss to Jaguares.
SEASON: 16 games, 16 starts
Greg Garza, D/M, Tijuana -- Started, played 90 minutes in Tijuana's 1-0 win over Millonarios in the Copa Libertadores group stage finale. Garza was not in the 18 for a 5-0 loss to Cruz Azul in league play.
SEASON: 6 games, 3 starts
Herculez Gomez, F, Santos Laguna -- Started, played 90 minutes in Santos Laguna's 1-1 draw with the Seattle Sounders in the second leg of their CONCACAF Champions League semifinal tie Tuesday. Santos Laguna advanced on a 2-1 aggregate and will face Monterrey in the final in a rematch of last year's regional title bout. Gomez was in the 18 and came on as a 62nd-minute substitute in a 2-1 win over Toluca in league play Friday.
SEASON: 18 games, 17 starts, 6 goals
Benji Joya, M, Santos Laguna -- Not in the 18 for Santos Laguna's 1-1 draw with the Seattle Sounders in the second leg of their CCL semifinal or a 2-1 win over Toluca in league play.
SEASON: 0 games
Jose Torres, M, Tigres UANL -- Started, played 90 minutes in Tigres' 2-1 loss to Pumas UNAM.
SEASON: 14 games, 14 starts
Charlie Davies, F, Randers FC -- In the 18, came on as an 82nd-minute substitute in Randers' 1-0 win over Horsens in the first leg of their Danish Cup semifinal Wednesday. Davies was also in the 18 and came on as a 66th-minute substitute in a 4-0 loss to Esbjerg in league play Sunday.
SEASON: 23 games, 3 starts
Clarence Goodson, D, Brondby IF -- In the 18, did not play in Brondby's 3-0 loss to Sonderjyske on Sunday.
SEASON: 18 games, 17 starts, 1 goal
Conor O'Brien, M/F, FC Nordsjaelland -- In the 18, did not play in Nordsjaelland's 3-2 loss to FC Copenhagen on Monday.
SEASON: 28 games, 17 starts, 5 goals (22 games, 12 starts, 5 goals with Sonderjyske)
Alejandro Bedoya, M, Helsingborg IF -- Started, played 90 minutes and picked up a yellow card in Helsingborg's 2-1 loss to Mjallby on Monday.
SEASON: 6 games, 6 starts, 2 goals
Brian Span, M, Djurgarden IF -- Not in the 18 for Djurgarden's 4-0 loss to Hacken on Sunday.
SEASON: 4 games, 1 start
Steve Clark, GK, Honefoss -- Started, played 90 minutes in Honefoss' 1-0 loss to Haugesund on Sunday.
SEASON: 4 games, 4 starts, 8 goals allowed, 1 clean sheet
Mix Diskerud, M, Rosenborg BK -- Started, played 85 minutes in Rosenborg's 1-1 draw with IK Start on Friday.
SEASON: 4 games, 4 starts, 1 goal
Josh Gatt, M, Molde FK -- Started, played 90 minutes and picked up a yellow card in Molde's 2-1 loss to Sogndal on Saturday.
SEASON: 4 games, 3 starts