CAPE TOWN -- The last time before this World Cup that the U.S. team was in South Africa, for last June's Confederations Cup,
"Then I keep hearing the knocks, and I go back again and open the door, and there's a small little monkey just sitting there. It was cute, so we did what we're not supposed to do: we gave it a banana and peanuts. Surely enough, a little while later
The beasts eventually dissipated, allowing Altidore and Davies, his friend and fellow forward, to escape their room. The next day, the pair helped the U.S. pull off one of the most important victories in American soccer history, a 3-0 win over Egypt in the South African city of Rustenberg that allowed them to improbably slip into the knockout rounds, and more improbably still all the way to the tournament final. Davies scored the first goal. "We were so relaxed because we had to win 3-0 to qualify, and a lot of people thought we couldn't do it -- the monkey encounter might have been the winning factor for us," Altidore joked. Then he added, more seriously, "I imagine this summer might outweigh anything else I've been a part of."
"This summer" is now here -- or, rather, this winter, as is the case in the southern hemisphere -- and so is Altidore, and so are the scheming monkeys. Although one presumes that Altidore this time declined to share his banana and peanuts in the run-up to Saturday night's opening match 1-1 draw against England, which was also played in Rustenberg. Davies, however, is not here, the victim of a terrible car crash last October from which he could not recover in time, and neither is the former prodigy Adu, the victim of unrealized or perhaps improperly assigned potential. As was made clear on Saturday night, those players' absences have put more of the load than ever as concerns the U.S. side's ultimate performance in this World Cup on Altidore.
"The starting points, when you think about what you would want to have with a young striker, are all there with Jozy," U.S. coach
Saturday's match against England was clearly one of those "better games," and while it was a terrific result for the U.S. -- and one that would probably have been far worse if not for the gritty heroics of American goalie
That header, though, was merely glancing -- it was never a real threat -- and the shot was deflected by Green and caromed off the crossbar. Result: the U.S. had an admirable draw, and not a shocking win. It was clear that for the U.S. to pull off something really stunning and sustained in this tournament, chances like those are going to have to be converted by Altidore.
Watching the proceedings in Cape Town were a few hundred American ex-pats, invited to a viewing party at the six-star One and Only hotel by
The answer was sometimes, but mostly not, as they haven't historically had much to bellow about. After Saturday's draw, there is a chance, even if it's small, that that could change over the next month. If so, it is now more evident than ever that a central role will need to be played by Altidore, the 20-year-old striker who battled the monkeys off the pitch the last time he was in Africa.