Postcard from Europe: Altidore's brace only the beginning
AMSTERDAM – If stateside fans were looking for evidence that AZ Alkmaar striker Jozy Altidore would kick it up a notch in the new Eredivisie season, their wait lasted exactly 48 minutes. And then about two minutes more.
On Sunday, the 22-year-old bagged a quick-fire brace to turn a deficit to opening-day hosts Ajax into a lead in less time than it takes to sear a North Sea scallop. Altidore first burned the Dutch champions' international right-side backline duo of Toby Alderweireld and Gregory van der Wiel before grabbing the next moment with a toe poke into the roof of the net at the end of a combo he started with a backheel.
Though both goals have surely tempted US fans into wondering how far past last term's all-competitions goal mark of 19 he can go, Altiore seemed to enjoy hitting the second more.
"I just had one decision," Altidore told MLSsoccer.com after his Man of the Match performance here. "If you stop, the chance goes away. I had to take it, and fortunately, I put it in a place [the goalkeeper] couldn't get to it."
Since arriving in Alkmaar last summer, Altidore has rode a few development bumps to tally 17 times in 35 Eredivisie matches.
Not to stir too much excitement over his future growth potential, but the US international has reached that number faster than some former Dutch league hotshots. Altidore got to 17 league goals in six fewer games than Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, 10 faster than Zlatan Ibrahimovic and 14 faster than Danny Koevermans did during their brightest years in the Netherlands.
Of course, all three of those players handled annual squad changes that are fairly routine in the Dutch leagues and increased their scoring rates. With key attack cogs like Rasmus Elm and Brett Holman gone to new clubs, now it's Altidore's turn to reach new levels of output.
"It was difficult," he said of the first game moving forward without the departed playmakers. "Last season, it was easier for us to create chances. I think we now have to kind of figure out how to do without Elm and Holman. We have to improve on that in order to be successful."
Naturally, AZ manager Gertjan Verbeek and the supporters will be looking first and foremost to last season's top scorer to accept more responsibility for making things happen – as he did at Ajax when his team had barely had a sniff of goal in the first half.
"We need different guys to step up," Altidore stated plainly. "That's on me, it's on [Ruud] Boymans, it's on all the attackers to take it upon ourselves to create chances."
While Verbeek would silently nod his head holding a grim expression at such talk from the striker, US boss Jurgen Klinsmann will likely be elated, for this is precisely the type of thing he's asking of the US national team forward.
Though Altidore is not in camp for Wednesday's match vs. Mexico (8 pm ET, ESPN2, Univision, LIVE CHAT on MLSsoccer.com), he will be following the friendly closely.
"Every game [against Mexico] is a game we want to win," he said. "We have respect for them, they're improving drastically and they're always a team that gives us a good game."
Always with one eye on the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying games to come, Altidore is eager to get back in the Red, White & Blue. Like his Eredivisie career, he finds the USMNT a work in progress that's steadily improving.
"I think it's getting there," said Altidore of the team's new direction under Klinsmann. "Maybe it's going more slowly than we'd like and the players all wish we had more time together. We just need more time to adjust to the style, because [Klinsmann's] ideas are great. Every game, every training session, we have to take it serious and get the best out of the time."
The theme of efficiency runs throughout Altidore's world now, with it both an aspect of his personal growth on display last weekend and a necessary national team mindset with the next big chance less than two years away.
"World Cup 2014 is the goal," he declared. "It starts back up in September, but really it starts Wednesday. We need to get a result there and just keep going."
Until an expected call-up next month, Altidore will focus on continuing his upward path in the Eredivisie, with his next chance to pad his strike total in Sunday's home opener against Heracles. As for his club, the offseason changes make it difficult for the American and the rest of the Cheese Farmers to pinpoint a season goal.
"It's tough to see," offered Altidore. "I think we have to wait and see how we get to January. We definitely want to have European football. It's important for the club, it keeps the club healthy. And for a player, it's good to play against the best competition."