Jozy or Gyasi? "Competition," "flexibility" key for US, says Berhalter

CLEVELAND – Jozy Altidore is back in the fray for the US men’s national team. But Gregg Berhalter will be in no rush to hurry the striker back into his starting lineup.

Altidore was on the bench yet again for the USMNT in Saturday’s 6-0 win over Trinidad & Tobago, and made his return to competitive international play with the game well in hand in the 74th minute.

In his 16 minutes, Berhalter said he liked what he saw from the program’s presumed first-choice striker.

“This is what you imagine when you see Jozy playing with our team – a guy you can play the ball into who makes very good decision, has very soft feet, has good movement to create his own space, is very strong in physical duels,” he said. “For us, exactly how we imagine Jozy playing is how he performed.”

But Altidore, who is still working his way back to full match fitness, doesn’t seem to be the only striker the USMNT can look to for goals.

Gyasi Zardes started the match yet again for Berhalter and scored the 66th- and 69th-minute goals that turned the tide in a 25-minute stretch that yielded five goals. With Zardes in form, Altidore’s return may not be as crucial to the team's success, and Berhalter said he’s happy to have options at striker.

“It helps when you have competition for spots, and that’s in a lot of positions,” he said. “You want to have competition; it makes guys stronger, hungrier. As a coach, it gives you more flexibility. So it’s nice to see Gyasi performing so well and it’s also nice to see Jozy come in and make an impact.”

Zardes isn’t worried about that competition, and took the opportunity to praise his veteran teammate.

“Me and Jozy, we’re like brothers,” he said. “If he’s on the field, I’m going to be supporting him 100 percent and vice versa. When I’m on the field, he’s constantly supporting me, giving me feedback. I really admire that. He’s such a mature guy; I’m learning so much from him. Whoever is playing up top, we have each other’s back.”