SAN FRANCISCO – It’s now officially been 1,771 minutes of game action for club and country that Jozy Altidore has failed to find the back of the net.
The US national team striker started up top next to Chris Wondolowski on Tuesday at Candlestick Park vs. Azerbaijan and, although he played a lively shift, didn’t score a goal for a fifth straight appearance in red, white and blue.
Add to that a 26-game drought across all competitions for Sunderland, and Altidore doesn’t appear to be any closer to rediscovering his torrid form of last summer, when he potted seven goals for the US in five games.
The 2010 World Cup veteran declined to speak with reporters on Tuesday night. But as always, Jurgen Klinsmann took the long view on Altidore, saying he was pleased with his hold-up performance in the 2-0 win over Azerbaijan, the first of the US’ three send-off games before the World Cup.
“Jozy did what he asked him to do,” the US coach said in his postgame press conference. “Kind of keep that defense on their toes, go at them, get those one-against-one battles and then carry them out and create something.
“Maybe they create something for you as well, [but] there was nothing created for him to score.”
Altidore was busy in his full 90 on Tuesday night, taking the usual beating from the opposing defense – his seven fouls suffered was far and away the highest of any player on the pitch – and generally trying to cause havoc despite playing further from goal than his usual.
The 24-year-old also dealt with something of an unfamiliar partner in Wondolowski – Altidore had started with the San Jose Earthquakes hit man only once before, in the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup, and shared late minutes in a handful of other games. On Tuesday, he looked set to line up in front of Clint Dempsey until the USMNT captain was a late scratch with groin tightness.
Instead, it was Wondolowski who played closer to goal, pushing Altidore deeper to disrupt an Azerbaijani side that often played all 11 men behind the ball.
“He did a tremendous amount of work,” Klinsmann said. “He looks better every day. And I think this environment here helps him to get more and more confidence because it’s an environment he loves.”
It was almost exactly a year ago that Altidore was facing another goal drought, except the club vs. country roles were reversed. He dominated Dutch league play during the 2012-13 season, scoring 23 goals in 21 games for AZ Alkmaar – finishing him fourth on the Eredivisie scoring charts – but struggled to translate that to the national team. Before his summer breakout, he hadn't scored in nine straight appearances dating back to late 2011.
Klinsmann continues to urge patience with his target man, and maintains the goals will come when the USMNT desperately needs them in Brazil.
“He loves to be in the middle with the national team,” he said. “So I’m not worried at all. He will come through and he will start to score. And obviously, the sooner the better for every striker, but I’m very, very positive.”
Jonah Freedman is the managing editor of MLSsoccer.com.