Jozy Altidore appears to have made progress

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 7, 2010

PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA -- As daylight began to fade at Pilditch Stadium on Sunday and the U.S. World Cup squad headed to the locker room after a light workout, Jozy Altidore remained behind.

Under the close supervision of fitness coach Pierre Barrieu, the prominent striker sprinted from the end line to midfield and back. He repeated the routine several times, testing the right ankle that he sprained last week.

The injury had sidelined him for the Americans' final tuneup, a 3-1 victory over Australia on Saturday in nearby Roodepoort, and jeopardized his availability for the Group C opener against England this Saturday night.

The U.S. Soccer Federation did not make Altidore available to answer questions and Coach Bob Bradley wasn't accessible.

In prepared comments distributed to reporters later, Bradley said: "Jozy has been able to add to his workload every day, which has been positive. We are pleased with his progress and will continue to move him forward. The team has a day off [Monday], so we have another opportunity to work with him individually and gauge his status for training."

Altidore appears to have made progress after sitting out several practices. On Sunday, he accompanied teammates for a jog around the field and stretching exercises. Later, he participated in ball work.

Altidore was clearly not at full strength, examining his ankle a few times, but didn't seem to experience significant discomfort. There was not an unusual amount of medical tape above his bright yellow shoe.

Teammates are optimistic that he will return for the England match at Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg.

"It seems like he's getting a little better," goalkeeper Tim Howard said. "It's going to be sore of course, but we still have a long way to the game in terms of needing time to heal. I think he will be fine but that's barring setbacks."

If healthy, Altidore is almost certain to start. The youngest player on the 23-man list, he has scored nine goals in 25 U.S. appearances and had the equalizer in a 2-1 victory over Turkey on May 29 in Philadelphia. Strong, agile and with experience that belies his age (20), Altidore has the qualities to endure the rigors of World Cup soccer.

On a bad ankle, however, he would probably be of little use against England. Without Altidore in the mix, Edson Buddle would likely take a larger role. In addition to scoring twice in the first half against Australia -- his first international goals in just his third appearance -- Buddle displayed vision and maturity on the ball.

An Altidore-Buddle partnership is also conceivable, which would keep Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, both frontline candidates, on the midfield flanks, where they have excelled the past two matches.

Robbie Findley and Herculez Gomez are also in the running to start at forward, though both seem better cast for reserve roles. Findley's speed and pressure troubled the Aussies but his finishing touch was poor. Gomez scored for the second time in three matches Saturday, but might have greater impact in a narrower time frame.

Besides the unsettled frontline, Bradley will have to decide whether Oguchi Onyewu is fit to start in central defense. Although he has trained regularly for six weeks after recovering from a ruptured knee tendon, Onyewu has not played a full match since October. "We have been working Gooch hard in training since we arrived in South Africa, and [on Saturday] we felt that, all things considered, it was best to use him as a reserve," Bradley said. "In all ways, we are trying to move him along appropriately."

Onyewu's experience and strength are needed against imposing England, and even if the 6-foot-4 veteran were still not in top form, Bradley might very well start him anyway and stay with him as long as possible.

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