WASHINGTON – The US national team entered Friday evening’s encounter with Peru at RFK Stadium in need of a bit of a confidence boost.
Coming off a disastrous Gold Cup, the US are just more than a month away from a winner-take-all CONCACAF Cup clash against Mexico, their most important game since last summer’s World Cup.
And of all the players who took the pitch on Friday, perhaps Jozy Altidore needed that shot of confidence the most; the Toronto FC striker has had a tumultuous run for the Nats as of late, sent home after the group stage of the Gold Cup for, as USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann put it, “never really [picking] up the rhythm” of the tournament.
But Altidore was right on beat against Peru in the US' 2-1 victory. And after the match, the striker seemed a bit tired of being prodded about his confidence level.
"Confidence, confidence.” Altidore told MLSsoccer.com, with a chuckle. "You love talking about that, huh? Man, look, I’m just happy to get back out there. I felt much better on the field, obviously, coming off the injury; I feel much better now. I’m just happy to win the game and be a part of a winning effort.”
Altidore’s first goal was hard earned. After doing well to collect a long throw-in to the box, the brawny striker turned quickly and forced Peruvian defender Carlos Zambrano into a rash challenge, drawing an immediate penalty kick call. Though his initial PK attempt – handled with some ease by Peruvian ‘keeper Pedro Gallese – left a bit to be desired, his follow-up did not, as Altidore volleyed home the rebound clinically.
“Jozy’s coming from a little bit of a difficult couple of weeks or months after the Gold Cup,” Klinsmann said. “Getting back into a rhythm with Toronto, coming off the bench here and there. The hope was really kind of seeing the maximum [he could play]. We said, ‘We’ll see how that goes,’ and I was actually surprised that he went [the full 90.] It’s just great to have him back."
Altidore’s match wasn’t without its challenges, however.
A heavy first touch cost him what could’ve been a breakaway midway through the first half, and he struggled to connect with his teammates in general during stretches of the first stanza where most of the USMNT looked listless. But the goal seemed to bring new life to the striker.
Altidore was well positioned on his second tally, doing well to make quick work of a deflected cross and bag the game winner from close range.
In the absence of fellow TFC teammate Michael Bradley, Altidore was also tapped to wear the captain’s armband against Peru, an honor the former Sunderland striker holds dear.
"It’s amazing man, something truly special,” he said. "To represent a country like ours? To do that at this stage, at the highest level? It’s an incredible feeling. Every time I get to do it, it’s a memorable one for me, and I’ll never forget each time that I do."
Said Klinsmann: "Jozy was captain already several times in the last year and has the most caps of anyone out there, I think. I don’t know, I’m not really counting caps now. But when he has that honor, that privilege, he’s full of pride. It gives him something very special. He’s proud of that moment."
Altidore’s run of strong form couldn’t come at a better time for the US. With another test against Brazil on Tuesday and the date with Mexico looming, Altidore will likely be leaned upon heavily for not only his finishing but his hold-up play as well, which was on display throughout the second half against Peru. On Friday evening, Altidore seemed eager to embrace the challenge.
“I gotta get there first,” said Altidore. "Hopefully, it’ll be nice. I haven’t gotten a chance to play a lot of big games against Mexico unfortunately for whatever reason, so hopefully I can get out there if I’m fit and the manager picks me. Hopefully I can be the difference."