Analysis

Detractors confirm Jozy Altidore's place among U.S. Soccer's best

Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

His goal-scoring rate is among the best in USMNT and MLS history, but he'll never be good enough to some.

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We know two things at the moment about Jozy Altidore.

First, that he’s in great form, passing the eye test and showing up regularly in box scores. The Toronto FC and United States international striker has three goals and an assist in his club’s last three matches, and his six goals this season tie him for third in MLS. Clearly, he’s getting the job done.

But that won’t stop the second thing that we know about Altidore: It won’t be enough for some. It never seems to be when it comes to him.

Altidore’s 37 goals in 102 appearances for the U.S. is impressive, a rate equal to or better than other well-regarded attackers such as Landon Donovan, Eric Wynalda and Brian McBride.

There is a subset of U.S. Soccer fans out there who will never be satisfied with Altidore’s contributions. It’s another odd condition of the U.S. Soccer supporter and one of the global soccer-watcher when it comes to certain, polarizing figures.

This puts him in good company. He’s hardly the first high-quality, highly valued U.S. men’s national team player to inspire rounds of (often senseless) debate.

Claudio Reyna and Landon Donovan often drew the same conversations, generally finding it impossible to satisfy all the detractors. Thomas Dooley got U.S. Soccer fans fussing and fighting as well in the ‘90s. Michael Bradley is, was and probably always will be a flash point.

These guys were proven commodities, tabbed as leading men by two or three different national-team managers, but somehow insufficient contributors for too many among the great unwashed. The more benign complainers suggested these guys could do more and be more. At the far end of the bitter spectrum, some fans just out-right said they can't play, which is a pretty silly statement.

So, yes, this misplaced distaste for Altidore rings hollow to some of us. But historically speaking, it isn’t all that surprising. If anything, it’s a compliment to him.

Assessing Altidore’s production

We all evaluate the game in different ways, assigning different value to a variety of skills. In a holding midfielder, you may like the smart, tactical screener of the back line. Or you may prefer more of hammer, the enforcer and tackler who lives for quick recoveries on lost possession. Or, maybe you prize offensive distribution, trusty and tidy, above all.

For your preferred striker, you may fancy a frontrunner comfortable in possession, someone to assist in the build-up. Or you may like strikers who excel in hustle-bustle, constantly stalking for turnovers. You may like a big target guy, a hold-up specialist. You get the idea.

But most of us can agree that, stylistic concerns aside, scoring goals is job No. 1 for a striker. And here, Altidore simply passes the test. To suggest otherwise is to ignore the hard data.

He has 29 goals in 58 appearances since returning to MLS in 2015. When it comes to forwards, scoring at a clip of once every two matches is the standard, where good begins leaning toward elite.

It’s a better rate than Clint Dempsey’s since he returned to MLS in 2013 (37 goals in 81 appearances.) We all see the potential in a guy like Juan Agudelo, but his hit rate over roughly the same time window is 27 goals in 80 appearances. Which is why Altidore is a U.S. men’s national team mainstay and Agudelo is not.

There are more prodigious rates among Major League Soccer strikers (David Villa, Bradley Wright-Phillips among them) but not many. The point is, one goal every other match in a good league checks the box for Altidore.

Internationally, Altidore’s 37 goals in 102 appearances is impressive, a rate equal to or better than other well-regarded U.S. attackers such as Donovan, Eric Wynalda and Brian McBride. Of the five U.S. all-time leading scorers, only Dempsey’s rate (0.42 per match) surpasses Altidore’s.

Look, we all know that numbers don’t tell the whole story in soccer, and they don’t tell all of Altidore’s story, either. He has greatly improved his passing, for one. But numbers tell a lot for the men paid to score goals.

Altidore certainly isn’t Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robert Lewandowski or Cristiano Ronaldo. But who is? Altidore usually gets the job done – for club and country.

NEXT: The delusion of infinite choice