By Michael Lewis
SANDY, Utah -- After enduring a seemingly endless scoring drought for the U.S. National Team, it seems that everything Jozy Altidore touches these days turns to goal.
Altdiore has been the hottest player in all of CONCACAF during this month's World Cup qualifiers, scoring in each of the United States' three hexagonal wins. His most recent goal was the lone tally in the Americans' 1-0 victory over Honduras on Tuesday night, a result that kept the U.S. atop the standings with a 4-1-1 mark and 13 points.
"We are very happy for Jozy," U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann told reporters after Tuesday night's match at Rio Tinto Stadium. "We always told him from a coaching perspective that it takes a lot of hard work, it takes a lot of adjustment, it takes the right moment to be there, it takes a hunger.
"The energy he put in now in the last four or five games has been tremendous. It's not only that he scored those goals but the work that he does for the team is awesome. How he starts, the high pressure that we would like more and more, he kind of shifts the defenders to the side, he chases the ball down, he wins balls back. That energy from Jozy is very important to that team. He can pump us up with Clint. He can lean on Clint if there's a difficult moment. I think they really get a better understanding with every match together. And obviously the biggest thing for our strikers is always scoring. It gives you confidence. It gives you energy. We are very pleased with his path."
How could Klinsmann not be?
It wasn't until the U.S.'s 4-3 international friendly win over Germany on June 2 that Altidore rediscovered his scoring touch, ending a personal scoring drought that dated back to 2011. That had to be confounding because Altidore soared to new heights this past season, striking for 31 goals for Dutch First Division side AZ Alkmaar, a record for an American player in Europe.
Altidore, 23, has continued his hot streak during qualifying, connecting in the 2-1 win in Jamaica on June 7, the 2-0 triumph over Panama on June 11 and Tuesday night's encounter. Including the Germany game, he has a four-game scoring streak, which tied a U.S. record that is also held by Landon Donovan (twice), Eric Wynalda, Brian McBride, current teammate Eddie Johnson and U.S. Hall of Famer Bill Looby.
Klinsmann noticed that Altidore was sharp in training camp.
"From day one on, Jozy was spot on," he said. "In the first training session in Cleveland, he looked sharp, he looked good, he looked hungry. Even if in Cleveland the game [a loss to Belgium] itself was a bit disappointing from a results point of view, we had the feeling that he had high energy, he was looking forward to it, he's positive. He is coming off a tremendous season at Alkmaar on a personal level and that's what we hoped, that in that stretch of three and a half to four weeks that he would keep on showing all those signs. That's what he did."
Altidore, who has tallied 17 goals in 60 international appearances, played as the lone striker up top for the Americans on Tuesday night, a role that he has become accustomed to playing.
"I've been playing as a lone striker at my club," he said. "I think it's just a matter of us clicking as a whole. I think these past four or five games have been our best in the past few years. I think it's no surprise that we're being successful now."
Of course, it certainly has hurt Altidore that he has a coach such as Klinsmann, who filled the nets for such top European clubs as Inter Milan, Sampdoria, VfB Stuttgart, Bayern Munich, Monaco and Tottenham and winning the 1990 World Cup with Germany.
"I think Jurgen — he knows a little bit about soccer," Altidore said. "I still think there's a long way to go for me in terms of a learning curve."
Those are words the rest of CONCACAF does not want to hear.