TAMPA, Fla. – Jozy Altidore's breakout season in the Netherlands painted a clear picture – the 22-year-old was firmly at the top of the US national team depth chart at forward.
But unfortunately for Altidore, a confluence of circumstances has now muddled that picture.
Altidore's club team, AZ Alkmaar, refused to release their player until the mandated FIFA date, meaning he missed the team's intense Orlando training camp last month. That in turn meant Altidore, who last played a competitive match on May 6, came into the American team lacking some fitness.
Throw in the fact that Terrence Boyd and Herculez Gomez also impressed in games against Scotland and Brazil, respectively, and it's easy to see why Klinsmann and his staff have some tough decisions ahead.
"They made a very strong case for themselves," Klinsmann told reporters in Thursday's press conference ahead of the US' 2014 World Cup qualifying opener here against Antigua and Barbuda (Friday, 7 pm ET, ESPN, live chat on MLSsoccer.com). "The competition is always open.
"It's about the moment. How do you present yourself right now? Not how you present yourself two weeks from now. It's about today. We need to evaluate as coaches where they are right now, and make the best decision for the team and for the purpose of getting results."
Klinsmann later elaborated on what he liked from the two strikers, most notably their mobility.
"We have very mobile forwards in terms of movement off the ball, how they create space for people coming behind them, and how they occupy the defenders," he explained. "They are both a handful and they go at people.
"Our goal down the road is to put pressure high up, and if you want to do that you need to avoid longballs from your opponents. You need to have strikers that actually go at them. Otherwise, you make your back four look bad if the balls are coming over the backline.
Klinsmann was also enthusiastic about the challenges both forwards presented, both to the opposition and their fellow US teammates.
"[Gomez] really impressed us a lot the way he reads the game, and the way he works defenders," Klinsmann said. "He gets them tired, and he's not afraid of anybody.
"Terrence is a similar case. He is not as experienced as Herculez. He's a young player who is on his way up, but he doesn't care who he's playing against. In training, he goes full speed against [Oguchi Onyewu]. He doesn't back up. It gives us more options, and it makes it harder for Jozy."
Klinsmann noted that Altidore is not giving up his starting spot easily: "Every day he's getting a little bit better. ... You can see that in every training session. We help him, help him, and we work on it. He's working hard. He's positive about it."
He should be. After all, the competition is always open.