Photo by ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
When Jozy Altidore was left off the U.S. Men's National Team roster for a pair of crucial upcoming World Cup qualifiers, the decision looked to be a serious head scratcher considering Altidore has been one of the best forwards in Europe in the early months of the new club season.
It was no mistake though. It was a decision Jurgen Klinsmann made based, not on Altidore's club form, but rather on his national team form, which has been disappointing during Klinsmann's tenure as head coach.
"I communicated with Jozy that I was not happy about his latest performances with us, maybe even over the last 14 months," Klinsmann told media on Monday during a conference call to discuss the U.S. roster. "I think Jozy can do much, much better and the reason he is not coming in is mainly because of the performances in Jamaica and at home, also in training, also certain things that went on through the May-June camp."
Altidore has scored eight goals for AZ Alkmaar, good for the Dutch Eredivise lead, but his continued struggles to have a similar impact with the national team ultimately led Klinsmann to look at other forward options in San Jose's Alan Gordon and Seattle's Eddie Johnson for Friday's qualifier at Antigua & Barbuda, and the Oct. 16th qualifier vs. Guatemala.
That Klinsmann summoned Johnson and Gordon ahead of Altidore (and fellow missing forwards Terrence Boyd and Chris Wondolowski) for the games against Antigua & Barbuda and Guatemala was even more eye opening, but Klinsmann cited tactical reasons for his forward selections.
"I spoke to both to Wondo and Terrence and we wanted to bring in Eddie and Alan because both are really strong in the air," said Klinsmann. "We expect two difficult games where the opponents will probably play more defensively and kind of get a lot of numbers in their box to play more defensive against us, so we need to force things with crosses coming over the wings and get really strong in the air.
"They don't leave much space probably on the wings behind their back lines, so that's the reason we bring in Eddie and Alan, two guys that are really good in the air, that can lay balls off and that's how I also explained it to Terrence and Wondo."
The omissions of Altidore and Wondolowski seem to go against Klinsmann's previous comments about the importance of club form, but the U.S. coach made it clear that club form is just one factor he considers.
"It's absolutely important," Klinsmann said of his players' club form. "For sure, now it looks kind of a little bit different in Jozy's case because he's doing well with Alkmaar and he's scoring goals. But he hasn't done well with us in the last couple of camps and that is why now I have more trust right in these upcoming two games in Alan Gordon and Eddie Johnson.
"It is important that they have their club rhythm, it's important that they play well, it's important that they have their starting spot there. But it doesn't mean coming back into the national team, things are for granted, so that's as simple as it is."
As for whether Altidore's absence should be seen as a bad sign for his future with the national team, Klinsmann downplayed the long-term ramifications of the snub.
"This is a decision as of today, for these two games," said Klinsmann. "The door is always open and we hope to see a positive reaction from his end and put more effort and commitment into this whole approach and there will be the next calls coming up."