[UNDER THE MICROSCOPE] A forward is supposed to shoot, and score goals, so on that basis, Jozy Altidore didn't do much in the 2-2 tie with
Slovenia Friday. Altidore took just one shot, a first-time, right-footed attempt from inside the penalty area following a brief melee triggered by a Landon Donovan free kick. His shot
went straight to Slovenian keeper Samir Handanovic, who held it firmly. At least he put the shot on goal, but a single shot during 90 minutes of play isn't a lot of production. On
other criteria, however, Altidore scored well.
He set up the equalizer for Michael Bradley by heading down a Donovan free kick right into the Bradley's path, and drew several fouls that rewarded the U.S. with free kicks in good positions. So relentlessly did he battle for balls that both Slovenian center backs, Marko Suler and Bostjan Cesar, were cautioned for fouls on Altidore.
The furor in the final minutes over a disallowed Maurice Edu volley started with a free kick, awarded when Altidore – hardly the nimblest American at 6-foot-1, 175 pounds – backed into Cesar while shielding a bouncing ball and then lobbing it over the defender’s head. He and Suler were among many players wrestling and jostling during the free kick; Donovan aimed his free kick over Altidore, whose pressure prevented Suler from jumping to the ball, and Edu slammed the ball into the net.
In the first half, when played a was ball up the right flank, Altiore muscled his way past left back Bojan Jokic and touched the ball forward towards Cesar, whose attempted tackle tripped Altidore – or so referee Koman Coulibaly ruled – and also earned the defender a yellow card. On that free kick, Jose Francisco Torres hit a bending shot that Handanovic dived left to parry.
Altidore’s move was similar to that he used to set up one of his goals last year against Trinidad and Tobago, and also something like the touch that set up his powerful run past England defender Jamie Carragher to bang a shot that keeper Robert Green deflected onto the post. Altidore isn’t all that fast, and it’s sometimes frustrating to see teammates launching long balls he has little chance of getting to, but he’s learning how to wedge his body into a tackler and keep him away from the ball as he angles for goal.
He and Suler had tangled outside the edge of the penalty area in the 61st minute on a ball played straight upfield along the ball by Maurice Edu. Altidore shook off his marker and dribbled towards goal, but Suler made up the ground to tackle the ball away as Altidore tried to nick it past Cesar, who had taken away his shooting angle.
Altidore forced Suler into a desperate body-block at the edge of the penalty area in the 69th minute when he got inside the defender to pursue a Donovan diagonal ball. The Americans protested Suler had denied a goalscoring opportunity and should be sent off, but since Altidore had yet to play the ball and was moving toward the wing, not directly towards goal, the referee decided on a caution.
He barely touched the ball in the first 10 or 15 minutes of the game, and seldom got into sync with forward partner Robbie Findley, whose speed enabled him to run down balls. But Altidore did check back numerous times to link with teammates on short passes, finding Donovan and Bradley each on several occasions.
One element seldom seen in the U.S. attack is a ball played to Altidore close to the penalty area; once he knocks it back or square to a teammate, he bursts into the box for a return pass or a cross. On the shot he put on frame, he needed to react quickly in a crowded penalty area and hit the ball first-time, and got the job done.
As Altidore has showed, he’s rather effective getting out wide and going one-v-one, and since on the flank is where Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan often operate, this is another facet of attacking play that can be developed. In the 25th minute, both Altidore and Findley were in the box as Dempsey came through the right channel, but neither could shake free of their markers and Dempsey couldn’t get the ball to either of them.
Donovan’s great shot into the roof of the net arose partially because Altidore couldn’t get free as Donovan brought the ball toward the near post. In these situations, if nothing else, Altidore needs to make a hard, early run to draw as many defenders as possible, and not wait for the ball to find him.
With Findley suspended, he’ll have a different forward partner in the Algeria game Wednesday, when once again, his contribution will be vital.