By Paul Kennedy
U.S. soccer fans have a love-hate relationship with most of their big stars.
For every fan who
loved Landon Donovan
as the greatest American player of all time, you could find another who thought he was a wuss for failing in Germany.
Fans are equally divided about Michael
and Jozy Altidore
. For all the success they've had on the national team -- they started in their first World Cups at the ages of 22 and 20, respectively -- their European careers
had their ups and downs and they both ultimately returned to MLS.
Even their national team coach, Jurgen Klinsmann
, expressed his dismay that U.S. stars were leaving the place
"where the top players in the world play" and insisted they had to show that they had not dropped a level. Klinsmann was speaking in late 2014 and referred to Toronto FC's first season with Bradley as
"a huge disappointment."
Klinsmann could have said the same thing about Altidore's first season at Toronto FC in 2015. For two years, the U.S. striker dealt with injuries and personal
issues, and his first year back in MLS reached a low point when Klinsmann pulled him off of the U.S. roster in the middle of the Gold Cup. Altidore also received three red cards -- two for dissent and
one for kicking Revs defender Jose Goncalves
To Altidore's credit, though, he has bounced back. He got a break between seasons, which he had not gotten in 2015, and he shed 10
pounds, coming into the January camp in great shape. He scored the opening goal in the USA's 3-2 win over Iceland and had the late winner that broke a scoreless deadlock against Canada.
Friday's game against Canada was a microcosm of Altidore's career. He missed several chances but then delivered in the clutch. In the first half, he had a shot that hit the near post, then bounced off
young Canadian keeper Maxime Crepeau
and hit the same post again, but he also had two open headers in the second half that he was mad at himself for putting wide.
“It was one
of those games where we felt we were always there on the doorstep,” Altidore said after leaping high to put away Ethan Finlay
's cross in the 88th minute. “That bit of sharpness
wasn't there: the last pass, the last cross. But to win the game the manner we did was kind of fitting, to end the camp on kind of a real positive high.”
Klinsmann said Altidore's
winning goal was his reward for having a strong January camp.
“He looked good the whole camp, he looked good against Iceland, and he hit the post already after, I don't know, 20
minutes of the game,” Klinsmann said afterward. “So we knew he gets his chances and, hopefully, sooner or later he puts one in the back of the net. I mean, he took a little bit his
Altidore's goal gave him 34 goals in 92 appearances for the USA. It tied him for third place with Eric Wynalda
on the all-time U.S. scoring list behind Donovan (57) and
(48). Altidore is still only 26, and his next goal this year will make him the youngest U.S. player to score 35 goals.
Altidore should get plenty of chances. There
will be World Cup qualifiers in March and September and likely more in November with the start of the Hexagonal. The Copa Centenario in June will be his chance to erase the memories of the 2015 Gold
Cup, a disappointment for him individually and for the USA, which finished fourth.
“He wants to prove himself," added Klinsmann, "that this is 2016, 'This is my year.' He knows
there's a huge tournament coming up in June, so he started really on the right foot this year. And he deserved that goal; he deserved it. He was trying hard, he missed a couple, then he put it