SANDY, Utah – Jozy Altidore's game-winning goal in the US men's national team's 1-0 win over Honduras didn't just allow his team to take a commanding step towards the 2014 World Cup, it also punched his ticket into an elite group of Americans.
The streak began in the team's 4-3 win over Germany in the final warmup before a three-game run of World Cup qualifying. That goal broke a 15-month scoring drought for the talented striker. It also set the tone for the tear of goals he's put in the net since, having scored in a 2-1 win over Jamaica, a 2-0 win over Panama, and now against Honduras.
And though the outsiders may not have seen his scoring frenzy coming, his teammates and coaches had a pretty good feeling.
"From Day 1 on, Jozy was spot-on," said US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann in his postgame press conference, referring to the beginning of the USMNT's training camp in late May. "The first training session in Cleveland he looked sharp, he looked good, he looked hungry.
"Even if the game itself was disappointing from a result point of view [a 4-2 loss to Belgium in the first warmup match], we had the feeling that he was high-energy. He was looking forward to it. He was positive; he was coming off a tremendous season with Alkmaar on a personal level. And that's what we hoped that over the stretch of three or four weeks that he keeps on showing all those signs and I think that's what he did."
Altidore is indeed coming off one of the greatest scoring seasons on record for an American in Europe, having netted 31 goals across all competitions for the Dutch side AZ Alkmaar en route to a Dutch Cup title. So while his tear for the USMNT could have been forseen, it's not just the goals that have helped the Yanks to the top of the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying table.
"I think he's doing everything great," said defender Omar Gonzalez. "He's coming back into the midfield helping defend. He's winning tackles. He's making runs into the box to get himself open. When you're doing that, things just start happening for you. I think for Jozy, he's put a lot of work into being here and I think it is finally paying off for him."
The rewards have been there for the 23-year-old forward, but he said he felt he was playing well before he started his streak of hitting the back of the net.
"To be honest with you, I was never really worried about it at all," Altidore told reporters. "Last cycle I thought I was there when I had to be for the team. I think this time is no different. If we continue to create chances, continue to be aggressive, we're always going to be successful."
Though Altidore has shown the high level he is capable of, he doesn't feel he's reached his full potential just yet.
"I think I'm far from a finished project," Altidore said. "I think there is still a long way to go in terms of the learning curve. All I can do is try to be a sponge, try to absorb everything, try to get better everyday."