Stoppage Time: Save a few for the Red, White and Blue

2:34 PM, Mar 4, 2013   |    comments
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(Sports Network) - When Brian McBride decided to hang up his cleats as a member of the United States national team following the 2006 World Cup, the search began.

In the six-plus years that have followed, there have been players who have looked capable of filling McBride's shoes as the man to lead the line for the Americans, but no one who has taken hold of the role on a regular basis.

Players like Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey have scored goals for the United States, but both generally line up in behind the striker or out wide in space.

What Jurgen Klinsmann's attack has been missing is a reliable target man who can hold up the ball for players like Dempsey and Donovan to run off, while also providing a consistent threat in front of goal.

And that is where Jozy Altidore comes in.

On Sunday, Altidore scored in the second half of a 2-1 defeat for Dutch club AZ Alkmaar, taking his goal total to 24 in all competitions this season and breaking Dempsey's record for most goals scored by an American in a European club season.

Keeping in mind that the Dutch Eredivisie is the equivalent of Coors Field for a home run hitter, Altidore's total is still impressive when you consider that he still has 10 games to play.

Dempsey's 23 goals for Fulham last season is maybe the most impressive campaign by an American in one of Europe's top leagues, but Altidore's performance for AZ shouldn't be overlooked.

After securing a big move to Spanish side Villarreal in 2008 from Red Bull New York, Altidore has struggled to live up to the considerable expectations of American fans.

He floundered in his time with the Yellow Submarine, appearing in just nine games over a three-year period for the club while being loaned out to three different teams.

But since his move to the Netherlands in 2011, Altidore has been receiving regular playing time, and this season he has been finding the net on a consistent basis, something that is very important for a player who is still just 23 years of age.

The New Jersey native has already earned over 50 caps for the U.S. national team, and he raised the bar considerably with some early success on the international level, including a hat trick in a 3-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago as a 19-year-old.

It appeared at that time the search for McBride's successor had been found.

At 6-foot-1, Altidore is the right combination of size, speed and power. But his last goal for the national team came on Nov. 15, 2011.

Since that goal against Slovenia in a friendly, Altidore has battled injuries and fallen out of favor with Klinsmann. But he will need to bring his current scoring form with AZ across the pond for the U.S. squad at the end of the month.

In the first game of the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying in February, there were a few very visible errors made by the defense in a 2-1 defeat at Honduras.

But what was also very obvious was the fact the U.S. attack lacked imagination, and instead resorted to kicking the ball long and hoping for a player like Altidore to latch onto something.

The sabbatical of Donovan certainly doesn't help, so a return to form for Altidore is even more important as the team prepares for a pair of crucial games at the end of the month against Costa Rica and Mexico.

An in-form Altidore gives the U.S. attack another dimension that it will need to overcome an increasingly improved CONCACAF region on its way to the 2014 World Cup.

But if Altidore reverts back to the player he has been while wearing the Stars and Stripes over the past year, qualification is far from certain.

Dempsey was able to parlay his big year with Fulham last season into a move to Tottenham for more money, something that Altidore's current campaign will likely do for him.

There is interest from a number of teams across Europe already. But maybe Altidore can save a few of those goals for the national team, and in the process of earning himself a sizable raise, help the U.S. qualify for a place in Brazil next summer.

Until that time, the search continues.

The Sports Network

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