U.S. men’s soccer: Jozy Altidore faces questions over his ability to score goals after rough season with Sunderland


Jozy Altidore scored goals in five consecutive matches last summer to help the U.S. qualify for the World Cup. But he scored just twice in the English Premier League this past season. (Ted S. Warren/AP)

Jozy Altidore arrived at U.S national team training camp this week facing the same questions that badgered him entering last year’s summer schedule: Will he score in an important international competition?

In 2013, the striker responded in resounding style, recording goals in five consecutive matches and helping the Americans qualify for the World Cup. This time, he is being asked to score in the World Cup itself.

In the aftermath of Altidore’s miserable maiden season in the English Premier League, U.S. supporters are rightfully concerned about his form ahead of the tournament in Brazil next month. Some have called for his benching. Others wonder whether he belongs on the 23-man squad.

“Sometimes it just goes like that — there is no other way to put it,” Altidore said before Thursday’s training session at Stanford Stadium. “Sometimes you just don’t have that streak that you need. You have got to understand it’s going to get better, and it will. It always does.”

Juergen Klinsmann hopes so. He does have other capable scorers, but his squad is far more potent with Altidore in rhythm.

“We believe that Jozy can [have] a very big World Cup,” Klinsmann said. “Obviously he has to work the next couple of weeks to confirm our trust, which we think he will absolutely do.”

The circumstances this year are far different for Altidore, and not just because the Americans are prepping for the sport’s grandest tournament.

Last year, Altidore carried the momentum of a sensational season with Dutch club AZ Alkmaar — 31 goals in 41 matches — into the summer campaign and vanquished a stretch of 18 appearances with one U.S. goal.

This year, he arrives from Sunderland with two goals to his name: against a third-tier club in the English League Cup in August and against Chelsea in league play in December. His playing time faded to the point where he was relegated to an under-21 match last month.

“When it comes to the World Cup, the season is behind you,” Altidore said. “Everything that matters now is what you do going forward when [Klinsmann] picks that team. Nobody cares about what you did a year or two or three years ago. It’s what you do now.”

At his best, Altidore is Klinsmann’s primary striker. But the German-born coach can also turn to Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Aron Johannsson, Terrence Boyd or Chris Wondolowski. None of them can compensate for Altidore’s physical presence but all have impressive scoring portfolios at the club or international level.

Altidore’s form could impact Klinsmann’s tactical approach in Brazil. With Altidore on the field, Klinsmann would probably stick with a lone-striker alignment, supported by three attacking midfielders. Without him, Klinsmann would likely use a pair of forwards — as he did with Dempsey and Wondolowski in a friendly against Mexico last month.

Altidore has four weeks, three friendlies, a closed-door tune-up in Brazil and a few intrasquad scrimmages to find his way back.

“You are going to go through tough times,” he said. “In a career in soccer, a lot of it is mental. You have to stay strong at the tough moments because there are going to be a lot of them.”

Altidore’s move to Sunderland was a cautionary tale about the risk of jumping to a stronger league. No one blamed him for leaving AZ Alkmaar — where he scored 50 goals over two years — for the glamour of the Premier League. Sunderland paid a $14 million transfer fee, the largest ever for a U.S. national team player.

Both Altidore and the Black Cats struggled, and until a late-season surge, they were in danger of being relegated to the second tier.

“It was tricky but it was also good to sit back and see what I could do better,” he said. “I feel like I improved even though I wasn’t in the team. The bigger picture is we stayed up” in the Premier League.

U.S. notes: Midfielder Maurice Edu (concussion) was cleared to begin training. . . . Dempsey, Graham Zusi, Matt Besler and Michael Bradley reported Thursday.

Good news for organizers

World Cup organizers finally had some good news to deliver after one of Brazil’s most troubled stadiums held an important test event without any major setbacks.

The test match at the delayed Arena da Baixada in the southern city of Curitiba was a step forward, local officials said.

There were some problems during the exhibition Wednesday between Corinthians and host Atletico Paranaense, with fans having difficulty getting into the venue. But organizers said that was expected because the stadium infrastructure remains unfinished.

“The pressure paid off after we had all the delays with construction work,” said Ricardo Trade, CEO of the local World Cup organizing committee. “There are some adjustments to make, but everything went well.”

The test match was held at Arena da Baixada despite seats still being installed and unfinished work outside the stadium. . . .

Manchester United was the most-watched Premier League team in the United States despite its poorest season in a quarter-century.

United averaged 557,000 viewers for its telecasts on NBC Universal networks this season, according to data released by the networks.

Liverpool was second at 519,000, followed by Chelsea (515,000), Swansea (485,000), Arsenal (477,000) and champion Manchester City (456,000).

The least-watched teams were Hull (302,000), West Bromwich Albion (315,000), Fulham (332,000), Stoke (339,000) and Southampton (343,000).

Figures include telecasts on NBC, NBC Sports Network plus several games on other networks such as USA and CNBC. Games on the Premier League Extra Time package are not included.

— Associated Press

Steven Goff is The Post’s soccer writer. His beats include D.C. United, MLS and the international game, as well as local college basketball.
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