- Jozy Altidore scored a third goal in his last four games as he returns from injury; Elsewhere, Nicolas Lodeiro is inspiring a resurgence in Seattle.
Ask any of Jozy Altidore’s teammates, past or present, about his play, and sooner or later you’ll hear a variation on the same theme: He helps the team in all sorts of ways other than scoring goals. This is the default defense of Altidore when he’s in the midst of one of his numerous scoring droughts, or when he’s named an automatic starter for the U.S. national team despite struggling at club level in Europe, or when either his club or national team struggles in his absence.
This assessment of Altidore is, in fact, true. When locked in, his hold-up play and work rate off the ball does so much to help a team, and if you watch enough of his games closely you’ll understand why his teammates like playing with him. But in recent weeks, Altidore hasn’t had to rely on his other qualities to make a difference. Since returning from a hamstring injury, he’s been one of the most in-form strikers in MLS.
Altidore netted his third goal in four games in a 1-1 draw against the Houston Dynamo on Sunday, a powerful shot from inside the box off a designed corner kick, which left Houston goalkeeper Joe Willis with no chance whatsoever at a save:
As if that wasn’t enough, Altidore did work at the other end as well, blocking a shot off the goal line in the 33rd minute:
And he very nearly scored a would-be winner in the second half as well, only to be robbed by the post:
Not too bad for a player still looking to get into the rhythm of a season after a long layoff. The game against Houston was Altidore’s first start after a handful of substitute appearances that nonetheless proved to be quite productive–Toronto won all four of those, then earned the draw on Sunday.
The timing of Altidore’s surge could hardly be better. Once stuck in a mediocre season, Toronto has now rocketed to near the top of the MLS Eastern Conference. The Canadian side now owns the best points per game in that conference, and its stellar form at home means that any home field advantage the team can get in the playoffs would set it up well to advance as far as possible.
Altidore’s form is coming at the right time internationally as well. The U.S. national team has two World Cup qualifiers right around the corner, with a visit to St. Vincent and The Grenadines and a home date against Trinidad and Tobago coming up on Sept. 2 and 6, respectively. If healthy and in form that even somewhat resembles what he’s currently producing, Altidore could once again be a key player in American soccer after missing out on another major tournament due to an injury.
Offensive player of the week: Nicolas Lodeiro, Seattle Sounders
I wrote just a few weeks ago about how bad the Sounders had been playing under Sigi Schmid, and already that column seems to be written from some bizarre, alternate universe. Yes, things change quickly in MLS, but the catalyst for Seattle’s uptick in form is undoubtedly Lodeiro, who arrived with fanfare and has been key in each of Seattle's last two games, both of them wins. Lodeiro scored his first goal for the club on Sunday,
And he capped it all off with a most-excellent shoe phone celebration (which he explained is a tribute to his father):
Defensive player of the week: Steve Birnbaum, D.C. United
D.C. United needed an early goal to make things hard for Portland on a hot, hot Saturday night in Washington, and that’s exactly what Birnbaum provided. What’s more, he used his feet for this one, looking like a seasoned forward instead of a steely center back.
The University of California product then helped secure the result with the type of defensive effort that got him in the U.S. national team picture of the last year-plus. He made timely interceptions, never lost a tackle, and cleared away whatever danger Portland could conjure in United’s 2-0 win.