JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After a tough club season, it seemed that every game Jozy Altidore went without scoring increased the pressure on the US national team striker just a little more.
Whether or not that perception was reality, Altidore had a two-goal performance following a string of 28 scoreless matches for club and country in a 2-1 win over Nigeria at EverBank Field on Saturday, the USMNT's final World Cup tune-up.
Were observers relieved to see Altidore get off the mark before Brazil? USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann, a former striker himself, certainly was.
“It’s always a tough period when you don’t score for a striker and everybody around you lets you know [about it],” Klinsmann told reporters following the game. “So you get more and more anxious about the situation… and then you just wish that the moment comes and you put it in there, and you go and start to be your own self again.”
You’d expect Altidore to be just as relieved, but publicly, at least, he was unfazed at his turn in fortunes.
“I’ve had the pressure since I was 16, so it comes with the territory,” Altidore said after the game of the outside expectations. “I’ve played for this team for such a long time that I think that it’s my responsibility that I help the team in other ways, in a way that the younger guys can look up to.
On Saturday he helped in the way he knew best, by scoring a first-half goal on a tap-in that came through an assist from Fabian Johnson. He scored again in the second half on his own accord, beating the defender with a cut back after taking a feed from Michael Bradley.
While questions were asked post game about what the effort might do for the confidence of Altidore and others on the team, Bradley said his teammate’s confidence has never wavered throughout the scoring drought.
“Jozy is such a good player, he means so much to our team,” Bradley said. “On a personal level, it’s great for him to get some goals. The reality is that anybody who ever questions Jozy or anybody who ever doesn’t see what he brings to our team, doesn’t understand soccer."
“This guy does so much,” he continued. “At such a young age he’s given our team so much on so many big days. So you can’t help but laugh when now he goes through a few games and doesn’t get a goal or two and people start to look and want to throw all the rest out the window.”