KANSAS CITY, Kan. (June 26, 2019) – As the United States Men’s National Team filtered slowly into the tunnel and toward the locker rooms at Children’s Mercy Park on Wednesday, head coach Gregg Berhalter asked a simple question to his star striker on the night, Jozy Altidore.
Resiliency Pushes Jozy Altidore to Become USMNT Hero Against Panama
“How much more have you got in you?” he asked.
But the question was more loaded as it seems, as Altidore was coming into the game off the back of a hamstring injury. But it wasn’t just his fitness that Berhalter was worried about — the U.S. veteran had suffered a shocker of a first half against Panama.
With the game tied at 0-0, plenty of fingers were being pointed at Altidore for not putting away a pair of chances that could have given the U.S. a comfy lead. He’d first dragged a close-range effort across the face of the Panama goal while unmarked, then soon after scuffed a shot just six yards out following a heavy touch.
The pair of misses highlighted a rough overall half for the team as a whole, but Altidore’s inability to finish clear chances or hold up the ball effectively put the spotlight on him.
“I want to stay out on the field,” Altidore replied.
And while many fans were calling for a halftime substitute as the U.S. looked to gain full control of Group D, Berhalter stuck with Altidore and was duly rewarded.
A change of fortune
Djordje Mihailovic’s corner in the 66th minute said over everyone. It looked to be a wasted opportunity. Until Matt Miazga got a head on it at the far post above a pair of Panama players.
“I just thought I’ll put it back in, and there was a nice little melee of player,” Miazga said.
And emerging from that melee just a couple yards out was Altidore, with his back to goal. The forward had struggled with the ball at his feet all evening, but a ball waist high with his back to goal? Easy.
“Put a little (bicycle kick) on it,” Miazga said. “Very happy for him, saw what it meant to him. He’s been out for a long time and now he’s got a goal, and he’s very important in terms of locker room, he’s a great leader.”
Silencing his critics and sending the nearby American Outlaws into a frenzy, Altidore scored the only goal of the evening in the USMNT 1-0 victory. It was a goal that kept his team top of group D and books a quarterfinal against Curaçao rather than a potential class against Jamaica.
“When you hear (yes) from a player it makes you feel great and when that player goes out and scores the winning goal it makes you feel even better,” Berhalter said on Altidore continuing to play.
“He wanted to keep playing and he showed tremendous spirit,” Berhalter continued.
The goal was an important one for Jozy Altidore, who has stiff competition for the top spot in the USMNT. He may not have played his best game, but forwards score goals when it matters and Altidore certainly provided. If the U.S. want to continue playing on the ground going forward — which I don’t see why not — I don’t see Altidore seeing too many significant minutes when Gyasi Zardes is a option.
But if Berhalter wants to use Altidore more as a target man, capable of holding off the ball, or even as an impact substitute, vital goals like the one on Wednesday night go a long way.
Altidore probably won’t start against Curaçao, but if the U.S. are to move on and face either Jamaica or Panama again in the semifinal — both physical teams — Altidore stands a good chance of becoming America’s hero this Gold Cup.