American Striker: Is There Hope Yet For Jozy Altidore In The MLS?

Jozy Altidore's nightmare spell at Sunderland has finally come to an end. The American striker is coming back to play Major League Soccer after a hellish year and a half stay in the Premier League, with 32-year-old Englishman Jermain Defoe and an undisclosed fee headed the other way. Altidore will play for Toronto, linking up with fellow U.S. Men's National Team star Michael Bradley in Canada's most populous city.

It didn't take long for British newspaper The Guardian to chime in on Altidore's second Premier League stint, the first at Hull. In all, Altidore made 80 appearances for the two clubs, netting only three goals.
"At the age of just 25, the forward is abandoning European football and returning to MLS branded as one of the biggest transfer failures in recent Premier League history, Sunderland having received a solitary league goal in return for their £6.5m ($9.9m) transfer fee.
Altidore will surely go down in Sunderland legend as one of the club’s worst ever signings. His time in the Premier League, on a reported £30,000 ($45,000) a week salary, has been so fruitless that he is likely to feature in ‘waste of money’ lists for years to come. But he could also count as one of the most badly-advised players of recent years, a victim of football’s propensity for ill-thought out deals."
Oof. As a young(ish) player, "failure" is not something that you want associated with your name. That goes double for strikers, for whom confidence is critical. If a striker isn't playing consistently and turning out a decent number of goals or setting up scoring opportunities, doubt can become a real problem. Pressure heaps upon a player to score, and desperation begins to set in.
What's worse? This isn't Altidore's first stumble professionally — he signed for Spanish side Villarreal for $10 million. Altidore scored three goals in 11 appearances for Villarreal.

Six goals in all for teams that paid $20 million for a player is failure. It's failure that Altidore has not known for the USMNT, scorer of 25 goals in 76 appearances, nor in the Dutch League, where he scored 51 goals in 93 appearances for AZ Alkmaar.

There's something in Jozy Altidore, but what? Is he a big brute who can outmuscle weaker opponents but loses his edge against top competition? Or is he developing still, in a rut in Europe and in need of a change of scenery?

Perhaps he simply wasn’t up to Premier League level, perhaps the Dutch league was the kind of standard he is suited for but it is hard to escape the feeling that Altidore’s career in Europe could have been so much more enjoyable and productive had he – or his advisors – made more sensible career decisions.

Maybe it wasn't Europe that wasn't right for Altidore, but where in Europe. A player scoring like he did in the Dutch league is always going to attract suitors from higher leagues, but he probably made the switch to the Premier League sooner than he was ready. He was 23 at the time and probably needed a little while longer to develop before being thrown into the mixer with the world's best on a weekly basis. Maybe the Italian Serie A or French Ligue 1 would have been a more "sensible" stepping stone for Altidore before heading to England.

But who's to say that Altidore's Euopean dream is over? He's only 25, and as a general trend, larger strikers tend to play their best as they get older. Look at a player similar in stature to Altidore: Chelsea's Didier Drogba. At 26, Drogba moved to Chelsea after playing in Ligue 1 and enjoyed some of the best years of his career later on, including a 37-goal season. Drogba, who stands 6-foot-2 to Altidore's 6-foot-1, has relied on his power and aerial ability to score goals by the boatload. That's not to say that Altidore can ever become the same type of player that Drogba was then, but there's still time for the young American to develop as a player. He has plenty of career left ahead of him.

What does this mean for the MLS? One of the biggest names in American soccer will be playing on his home soil again, having started his career with the New York Red Bulls. He will sell tickets, and given his knack for scoring goals against lesser competition, he'll probably start banging in tons of goals again with his confidence on the rise again.

Also, those interested in the USMNT will get to see Altidore and Bradley link up, which is reason enough for excitement. Together they stand as two of the most talented players on the U.S. roster. The more they play together for their club, the better they'll each understand how the other thinks and plays.

Jurgen Klinsmann, USMNT coach, who has drawn fire previously over his players coming to the MLS, is in favor of the move mostly because Altidore will get a lot more playing time in the MLS.

I'm sure Klinsmann hoped Altidore would wind up somewhere other than the MLS, but like the man said, playing time is key.

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