JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The goal was a simple tap-in, but the finish itself could prove to be a crucial lift for the U.S. men’s national team ahead of the World Cup.
Jozy Altidore got an elusive goal in the 31st minute of the U.S. team’s 2-1 victory over Nigeria on Saturday, and it was as if the striker’s sigh of relief could be heard in the cheers of the 52,033 fans at EverBank Field.
It was Altidore’s first goal since December, a string of 27 matches for his club and the U.S. national team, and the finish may well have opened the floodgates. Altidore scored again in the 68th minute, shrugging off Nigerian captain Joseph Yobo on a cutback and smoking a shot to the far post.
Altidore downplayed the impact, saying he has felt pressure to score since he was 16, but U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann acknowledged the potential benefits.
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“I think it will give him a lot of confidence,” Klinsmann said. “It’s always a tough period when you don’t score for a striker. And everybody around you knows that (you haven’t scored), you know that, and so you get more and more anxious about the situation and you work harder and harder. … And then you just wish the moment comes and you put it in there and then you go and start to be yourself.”
While not one of the 90 minutes played Saturday will serve as a predictor for what will occur in the next few weeks as the Americans take on Ghana, Portugal and Germany at the World Cup, there was plenty to build upon.
Goal-scoring can be a frustrating art, often altered by the mental state of the striker, and if Altidore’s “goal-scorer’s block” has lifted, the Americans are undoubtedly a much more dangerous side in Brazil.
“To be honest, it makes no difference,” Altidore said. “I know that’s weird to you, but it’s not weird to me. I’ve played for this team for such a long time now, I think it’s my responsibility to kind of help the team in other ways.”
The United States finished unbeaten in its three Cup sendoff matches.
• Pedro Morales scored his team-best sixth goal on a penalty kick in the 81st minute and the Vancouver Whitecaps stretched their unbeaten streak to seven with a 3-3 draw against the host Philadelphia Union in Major League Soccer.
In other MLS matches, Toronto beat San Jose 1-0, and D.C. United and Columbus played to a scoreless draw.