Commentary: Don't read too much into Altidore's match
There is an important moment in US Soccer's "Behind the Crest: Camp Cary" video.
Jozy Altidore and Juan Agudelo, hands on their knees, dripping with sweat after a training run, peer at a monitor of some sort.
"What is that, heart rate?" the 21-year-old asks his 18-year-old companion, who smiles and answers: "It means you gotta work harder."
"No it don't, I'm right there," the first striker says. "I'm higher than you. [Looks again] Oh, no I'm not." [Laughter. And scene.]
It is dangerous to place too much significance onto an out of context moment from the first days of a two-week training camp. Altidore and Agudelo were two buddies talking smack, friends reunited after tough stretches with their club sides. They are both happy-go-lucky and light-hearted, and it's clear why they get along so well. (In fact, the biggest takeaway from the excellent behind-the-scenes piece is that the entire squad loves being together. That's a story for another time.)
The vignette is just a private moment in time, nothing more and nothing less. But ... the teenager ripping his friend for not working harder enough, even in a joking fashion, means something, doesn't it?
Altidore tallied the game-winning goal against Canada on Tuesday night at Ford Field, and everyone in the stadium except the official scorer gave him the assist on the United States national team's second goal. (Agudelo, ironically, got the helper after just barely getting a toe on his friend's cross, which then fell to Clint Dempsey, who doesn't miss from inside the six-yard box.)
WATCH: On-field footage of Altidore's goal, assist to Dempsey
The performance, his best in a US uniform since before the New York Red Bulls sensation became America's Next Great Hope, caused a stir. Altidore had been on his way out; suddenly, after 73 good minutes on a rapidly deteriorating field, Bob Bradley needed to bring out the pen, maybe even a Sharpie, and write his name into the starting lineup.
Believing that Altidore should be a fixture in the Red, White and Blue lineup isn't a misguided notion; saying he should based on Tuesday night's performance, however, is.
Yes, the 21-year-old found the back of the net for just the fifth time in the past year. And yes, he delivered a nice cross that led to Dempsey's goal. And yes, he nearly tallied another, just missing a beautiful cross from Michael Bradley.
But other than those three moments, what did Altidore do?
Not all that much. He was absent for long stretches of the game. Altidore struggled to work with Dempsey, neither making himself available nor making runs to draw pressure away from the Fulham attacker when he had the ball. The chemistry between the young forward and the younger Agudelo is stronger off the field than on it, and pales in comparison to the understanding the New York Red Bulls phenom has developed with Teal Bunbury.
(In fact, the only attacking player Altidore really seems to work well with is Landon Donovan, who has assisted on five of Altidore's last six national team goals.)
WATCH: Altidore, Howard on US victory over Canada
Altidore doesn't need to find the score sheet for the US to win. They proved that in South Africa, when the forward drew free kick after free kick, yellow card after yellow card. Bradley echoed the sentiment after the Canada match.
"All you need to look at for that is the World Cup," Bradley said. "He wasn’t able to score, but his overall contribution to the team every game was big. He’s a guy that does a lot for us and we count on him."
But just because he did score a goal doesn't mean he played well. The forward still didn't show much understanding of the tactical game plan against Canada. He spent much of the night arriving a step late, if he arrived at all. Sure, he drew a few fouls in dangerous areas and used his body well on the goal, but he needs to work harder, much harder if he's going to make a serious impact.
When it comes to Altidore, enjoy the display against Canada. But don't let your heart rate climb too high — there's always a chance you're reading the display wrong.