by A.J. Coltrane
There was a lot of surprised reaction last week when Jozy Alitodore was left off of the US squad for the two upcoming World Cup qualifiers. To quote Wahl:
Coach Jurgen Klinsmann left forward Jozy Altidore off his squad for the U.S.’s two important upcoming World Cup qualifiers, a decision that may well be the most surprising of Klinsmann’s 14-month tenure.
It’s true that Altidore has not had a standout year for the U.S., providing no goals and one assist in two starts and four substitute appearances. With Hérculez Gómez and Clint Dempsey expected to start up top in Friday’s qualifier at Antigua and Barbuda, it would not have been surprising to see Altidore come off the bench as a second-half sub. But for Altidore to be omitted entirely from the 24-man squad is a shock. (Pure forwards Gómez, Eddie Johnson and Alan Gordon are on the roster instead.)
After all, Altidore, 22, is tied for the Dutch league lead in goals with eight for AZ Alkmaar, including a terrific slaloming strike Sept. 30. The World Cup 2010 veteran has also played in a team-leading 17 straight World Cup qualifiers for the U.S. and brings big-game experience to the table. Under Klinsmann, the U.S. has scored more than one goal just three times in the coach’s 18 games, which makes you wonder why he would leave the U.S.’ most prolific European-based goal-scorer at the moment off the squad.
It worked out. Eddie Johnson scored two goals to lead the US against Antigua and Barbuda:
In his first game back with the U.S. national team, Johnson scored twice Friday night, including the winning goal in second-half injury time, lifting the United States to the verge of advancing in World Cup qualifying with a nervous 2-1 victory over Antigua and Barbuda.
If the Americans draw with Guatemala on Tuesday night in Kansas City, Kan., they will move into the final round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The U.S. has 10 points and so does Guatemala after a 2-1 win over Jamaica.
Johnson connected on headers in the 20th minute and then in the dying moments in his first game for the U.S. team in two years. He was added to the squad by coach Jurgen Klinsmann, ostensibly replacing the disappointing Jozy Altidore, and the move paid off.
“It’s good to be back in the mix,” Johnson said. “Going into this game the coach has a ton of confidence in me to put me wide out on the wing.”
“We have a world class coach who played at the highest level. He knows the game.”
And the correct quotes after the game.
Johnson was something of a speculative pickup by the Sounders prior to the season. He’s now 5th in the league in scoring, ahead of even Fredy Montero (7th). Their production has contributed to the Sounders +17 goal differential, good for 2nd in MLS. The team is advancing to the playoffs.
Everything else aside, he’s a huge upgrade from Nate Jacqua and he’s been really fun to watch.
That last link is an excellent read. Here’s something I didn’t know: Of Johnson’s 14 goals, 9 have come off of headers.