Even as his dry spell dragged on from May into June, from club to country, Jozy Altidore insisted there was nothing to worry about. Yet another goalless match wasn’t going to affect his confidence heading to the World Cup.
After Saturday night, Altidore doesn’t have to convince anyone.
The Boca Raton product brought the drought to an emphatic end, scoring once in each half in lifting the United States to a 2-1 victory in their final tuneup before flying to Brazil.
Altidore finally got on the board in the 31st minute when he redirected Fabian Johnson’s centering pass inside the far post. Not quite 40 minutes later, he showed off some of the flair that had been in hibernation with a thundering 20-yard strike into the top corner.
“Obviously, it was wonderful to see Jozy put the thing in the net,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “It gives him a big smile at the right time now.”
Certainly it brought a smile to Altidore’s teammates, whose own spirits were lifted when Altidore finally pushed one past Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama.
“I was so happy to see him find the back of the net,” fellow striker Chris Wondolowski said. “He deserves it. All the hard work is paying off.”
Said midfielder Michael Bradley: “Jozy means so much to our team. So on a personal level, it’s good to see him get goals.”
Perhaps the guy with the most muted reaction, in fact, was Altidore himself. “I felt fine before; I feel fine now,” he said.
There’s little question, though, that helping Altidore find his scoring touch again was high on the list of objectives for this pre-World Cup run. It had been 184 days and 27 matches since he had billowed the back of the net — a drought stretching to December and included the entire second half of the English Premier League season.
“It’s always a tough period for a striker when you don’t score,” said Klinsmann, whose 47 goals for Germany (and West Germany) are third on that nation’s list. “He really worked his back off. You just wish the moment comes and he puts it in there and you can go back to being yourself again.”
The drought finally ended with Altidore on the end of a sequence of crisp passing. Weston’s Alejandro Bedoya took a pass from Jermaine Jones on the right wing, then found Fabian Johnson overlapping from right back. Johnson took the ball into space, then skidded a pass in front of Eneyama and onto Altidore’s foot for the tap-in.
It was Altidore’s first goal anyplace since Dec. 4, when he scored for English club Sunderland against Chelsea.
Altidore’s second goal was a work of individual brilliance. Taking a pass from Bradley on the left, he dribbled into the box, spun defender Joseph Yobo with a cutback and cracked one into the upper 90.
“The second goal was world-class,” Klinsmann said.
Saturday night may have paid dividends in other areas, too. A new midfield combination with Kyle Beckerman in the primary holding position gave indications of shoring up previous shakiness in back.
With Jones moving to left wing and Bedoya to the right, it looked at times like the 4-4-2 diamond Klinsmann had employed in wins over Azerbaijan and Turkey. But Jones and Bradley could drop back, keeping Nigeria from flooding the middle as Turkey had done.
“For most of the night, Nigeria’s possession was right around the midfield line, going sideways,” center back Mike Besler said.
The only serious miscue came seven minutes from the end, when Nigeria’s Victor Moses was unmarked coming through the middle. An onrushing Besler brought him down from behind, resulting in a penalty kick that Moses converted.
The goal — the second PK given up in as many games — kept goalkeeper Tim Howard from a clean sheet in his 100th U.S. appearance.
“In a certain way, it’s a good lesson,” Klinsmann said. “These games can go 93, 95 minutes [with stoppage time]. For us, it’s important to stay focused and get the job done and finish it off. Now we have some video of things done wrong here.”
For the Americans, though, they get on the plane for Brazil brimming with optimism. Their World Cup opener stands just eight days away, June 16 against Ghana.
“We feel good about ourselves,” Howard said. “Obviously, we want to fine-tune everything, but it feels good that all the hard work is paying off.”