As the U.S. Men’s National Team convened for World Cup Qualifying camp this week, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann spoke highly of the options he’ll have available up front when his squad takes on St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad & Tobago.
“Jozy Altidore is back scoring. Jordan Morris is doing really well. Then we’ve had the European-based players Bobby Wood and Rubio Rubin starting their season right now,” Klinsmann said this week. “It looks good. Chris Wondolowski is scoring as well. We know our strikers are hungry for goals, and hopefully they can start with that right away in St. Vincent.”
The form of his strikers is comforting given the news late last week that veteran forward Clint Dempsey was forced to withdraw from the team after doctors discovered an irregular heartbeat.
“Every time one of your leaders is missing it’s a bummer,” Klinsmann added Tuesday. “In Clint’s case, we wish him the very best with his tests now and hope that he gets cleared as soon as possible.”
Chief among the likely starters are Altidore and Wood, who have had particularly good runs of form lately.
While Altidore had to miss out on this summer’s Copa America Centenario due to a hamstring injury, his return to action for Toronto FC has seen the 26-year-old rack up five goals and an assist in his last seven MLS matches. With captain Michael Bradley (suspension) unavailable for Friday’s match, Klinsmann confirmed Monday that Altidore will captain the side against St. Vincent and the Grenadines, marking the seventh time the striker has earned that honor.
Wood scored in his league debut at the weekend with his new Bundesliga side Hamburg in their 1-1 draw with Ingolstadt. The goal was a continuation of a big 18-month period that saw the 23-year-old forward score timely goals for the U.S. against the Netherlands, Germany and Mexico, help the MNT to fourth-place at Copa America Centenario, and finish third in scoring in the Second Bundesliga for Union Berlin while setting a scoring record for a U.S. international in Germany.
“Bobby made big, big strides, there’s no doubt about it,” said Klinsmann. “That jump from Union Berlin to a big club like Hamburg is huge. The way he opened up things in his first game with a beautiful goal is a strong signal from him. He says, ‘I’m ready to take over more responsibility here and have a bigger load on my shoulders.’ That’s what he was hoping for, and he seems to respond well.”
While Altidore and Wood have limited time playing together, it’s been incredibly productive. In the three matches the tandem has started front, Altidore has tallied five goals and Wood contributed one. The pair also has experience together against Friday’s opponent, accounting for half the goals in the MNT’s 6-1 victory against St. Vincent last November in St. Louis, a game in which Dempsey was also absent.
As he watched from afar during Copa America Centenario, Altidore saw Wood continue his stride in improving his game up top.
“You look at Bobby Wood, and you can see he grew,” said Altidore. “I think for a long time he took a lot of stick for maybe not performing as well as he could, but the group believed in him. We’ve all known him here, he’s been a part of the team for a long time. To see him come out of his shell is no surprise. He’s a talented player and he’ll continue to grow.”
Bobby Wood (right) congratulates Jozy Altidore who donned the captain's band and scored a brace in the USA's 2-1 friendly win vs. Peru in September of 2015.
On Tuesday, Wood credited Altidore with helping him come out of that shell and grow into his role with the National Team.
“He’s always one of the guys that was always there for me,” Wood said. “After games he took me aside to tell me what I can do to try to improve. You always have respect for him.”
Looking around the group, Morris has found the back of the net nine times during his rookie season with Seattle Sounders FC. Wondolowski is one goal away from tallying double-digit goals in a would-be record seven straight MLS seasons, and Rubin has returned to action for FC Utrecht in the Dutch Eredivisie.
Altidore echoed Klinsmann’s confidence in the group being able to produce goals against St. Vincent and Trinidad & Tobago in these critical qualifiers.
“For us it’s no different,” he said. “We are trying to be effective and trying to be dangerous, and I think you look around now at the player pool we have, especially the striker depth, we have a lot of guys that can step in and do a good job.”