Sunderland put on a great showing this past Saturday as they beat Newcastle United 3-0, creating separation between them and the relegation zone as they moved from 17th up to 14th place in the Premier League table. He did not score or have an assist, but Jozy Altidore played great and played a key role in Sunderland’s attack. He may have even played his best game in a Sunderland uniform. Unfortunately, this bright showing is a rarity for Altidore as he’s struggled in his second season in the Premier League with only one goal and two assists in 22 league appearances. He’s made 15 starts, and appeared as a substitute in seven additional games. Altidore’s slow start to the season has led many writers and so-called “critics” on Twitter to suggest the United States player should leave Sunderland and move back to an Eredivisie team in Holland, or come back home to Major League Soccer. I’ve seen things such as “poor system for his style of play” and “Premier League failure” as reasons for why Altidore should leave at the end of this season, but should he? I don’t think so. Is Altidore a failure in the Premier League? No, he’s far from it.
Jozy Altidore’s first season in the Premier League with Hull City in the 2009-2010 season was largely considered a failure, and to an extent it was. Altidore started only 16 of 28 league games, and had one goal. It can be considered a failure because of the pedestal we all put Altidore on. The American fan base’s eyes grew big at the thought of what Jozy could become. When was the last time an American player was going to be featured in a league as good as the Premier League at such a young age? Altidore was wrongfully put on a high pedestal, and along with that came the heavy ridicule when he didn’t succeed. He was only a kid at the time; a 20-year old kid. He was a 20-year old kid who had above-average success in Major League Soccer. He didn’t dominate and score every game, or even every other game. Scoring 16 goals in 41 games is a great achievement, especially since Altidore played from age 16 to 18, but expecting Altidore to go in and be an immediate threat in the Premier League on a team that was projected to finish at the bottom of the league was ludicrous. He was setup for failure in 2009, and the blame of him being a failure wasn’t all on his play, but rather lofty expectations.
Now, fast forward four years. The situation is a little different. Altidore has proven himself to be a phenomenal scorer after netting 39 goals in 67 games for AZ Alkmaar and 21 goals in 66 games for the United States Men’s National Team. He is again expected to perform in the Premier League. There are a couple of reasons as to why he’s struggled some this year. Altidore joined a new team, which isn’t that hard to adjust to in the long run, but also a manager change after being on the team for only three months. When Gus Poyet became manager in October, he decided to implement a new system which didn’t utilize Altidore as best as it could. The system hasn’t provided great service and scoring opportunities for Altidore, which caused him to over-think his play. Earlier this week, Altidore sat down with the Sunderland Echo and spoke about his frustrations so far this season. “I’m freezing up in front of goal lately and it’s difficult. The confidence or quick thinking isn’t there. I’m overthinking things a little bit,” he said. “That’s one thing which is different because in Holland, the whole team is designed to play for you, to look for you always. In England, it’s not so much like that… You have to get used to helping the team in other ways and I’m getting used to doing that.”
Altidore is getting used to that, and starting to excel in it. He leads Sunderland in assists in all competitions, and has been involved in many goal-scoring plays. This is precisely why Altidore should not move on after this season. The system he’s used to playing in with AZ Alkmaar and the United States Men’s National Team sets up chances for him and looks for him specifically as the man up top, but the one in Sunderland does not. Sunderland is asking him to go beyond solely scoring goals. Altidore is growing stronger in becoming a facilitator for his teams, playing with his back to goal, and helping in a complete team effort. Nothing’s more dangerous than a forward who not only can score, but one who can make the right passes at the right time. Altidore doesn’t need to go back to the Eredivsie or MLS to prove that he’s still a threat on goal. What Altidore needs is to stay in Sunderland, help his team in the fight against relegation, and continue being growing into a great team player. The goals will come.” I’m still getting chances, maybe not as many as I’d like, but I’m still getting them and freezing up,” Altidore told the Sunderland Echo. “It’s something I’ll carry on working on in training because if I didn’t have the ability, it’d be one thing. But I know I have it.”