I see that Martin Rogers at Yahoo is concerned about Altidore’s allegedly poor season at Hull with the head butt the “final embarassment.” I touched on the “head butt” incident yesterday, but is Rogers’ right that Jozy’s year was a disappointment:
Bradley goes into soccer’s greatest tournament with a first-choice forward who has managed just two goals this season and who failed to lock down a permanent starting role with one of the worst sides in the EPL.
I think, contrary to Rogers conclusion, that Jozy’s time at Hull was largely positive and that Bob Bradley going into the World Cup has a young player that took big strides this year and is much more of a complete player.
Let’s be clear, Jozy never set the league alight. He burst on the scene with an amazing first game, where he did everything but score. He then struggled to find his footing a bit in the fall, as he was in and out of the starting lineup and seemed to find his groove a bit just when Phil Brown got sacked. The last month of the season saw the new manager changing things up a bit.
But Jozy, contrary to Roger’s claims was a Hull mainstay. Jozy started 16 games and appeared in 12 others as a substitute. Remember he also missed a few games at the beginning of the year with visa issues and took a brief leave during the Haiti earthquake. Despite Rogers claim that Altidore couldn’t lock down a spot, he had started more games than Jan Vennegor of Hesselink. This is a lot of PT for a 20 year old Premier League newbee. I think that in and of itself is quite an accomplishment.
While the lack of goals is a real concern, there are a few things to consider. Firstly, the fact is that Altidore was playing on a really really crappy team. Strikers need opportunities, and while you could argue that 2 goals is still way to few, the fact is that Jozy rarely missed a sitter or an easy chance.
Secondly, Premier League relegation fighters often adopt very negative tactics – playing one up front, getting 9 behind the ball – as a result the #9 up front often serves merely as an outlet to releave pressure not to launch blistering counter attacks. To put it another way, bad Premier League teams are often not built to create chances for their strikers. The reason why Algerian Khamel Gilas who started the season well and looked like a dangerous pacey winger. Gilas is, I think, a very promising player, but he is not the right guy if you are looking to batten down the hatches. This hits on the larger point – good players often times don’t play because they don’t fit into the system (ie remember Benny Feilhaber at Derby). Altidore I don’t think fit into Hull’s system, but ultimately he both learned to fit in it, and was too good to leave out of it.
I think the lack of goals does reveal some weaknesses for Jozy – but these are weaknesses that one would expect with a 20 year old striker learning the game and are areas that he can improve. What are they? I saw a couple throughout this season:
First, Jozy, despite his size, is for some reason not a real goal scoring threat in the air.On free kicks and corners, Jozy almost never got in the mix for that first ball – instead he would often look for the deflection. To become more of a goal scoring striker he is going to have to improve the heading part of his game.
Second, some of the off the ball runs and positioning within the box left something to be desired from a number 9. When he doesn’t have the ball in the box, Jozy’s anticipation of where to be and his movment was often lacking or was predictable. But this is something that can be learned.
Where he developed:
First, he is now a target striker. Jozy is now a beast with his back to the goal and has learned to use his strength to torment defenders. Going into the Premier league season, Bob Bradley rightly hesitated playing Jozy up top as a lone striker or target man, as he was not very adept at playing with his back to goal, controlling possession and alleviating pressure on the defense. He has learned in the Premier League how to use his size to shield defenders on long balls.
Second, his passing. With his back to the goal Jozy became much more adept. He is a solid distributer of the ball now.
Third, attacking instincts. Jozy’s biggest inherent strenght coming into this season was his ability to run at defenders. He has pace and size and good technical ability such that he can put defenders on their heels. Just ask John Terry. But you can’t do this all the time. Jozy, I thought improved in his decision-making over when to have a go at a defender and when to lay the ball off.
Fourth, his engine has greatly improved. A question mark with Jozy has been his work rate and his stamina. At Hull, Jozy chased defenders and lost causes and tracked back. He may not have the engine of a Wayne Rooney, but he made a big stride in becoming a true 90 minute player.
To conclude, I think Jozy has the tools and, despite the current criticism, the mentality to become an elite World Class striker. He is not there yet and has areas where he needs to improve, but he made a significant leap this year in becoming a more complete player.