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):