Saturday, December 28, 2013

Jozy Report: Cardiff 2-2 Sunderland

Turning his right ankle a few degrees inward would have changed the entire memory of Jozy Altidore's role in Sunderland's 2-2 draw at Cardiff Saturday.

Instead, he sprayed his 31st-minute point-blank chance off a deflected Ki Sung-Yong shot wide. Now his performance is mostly recounted through grinded teeth.

Altidore's performance was an intelligent one, leading the line for a still scatter-brained Sunderland side. And while his ability to open up space with the sheer amount he takes up and the off-ball runs that scramble defenses, only a goal could have fully made up for his would-be equalizer. It never came.

He excelled in the channels, mostly the left, setting up 1-2s that teammates often killed with sloppy second passes. When Sunderland coaches review Saturday's tape, Altidore will look best in the 66th minute when he dropped deep on the left flank. Andrea Dossena's cross from the then-vacant wing was nearly finished, but Altidore went without a hockey assist too.

The halftime addition of Steven Fletcher ultimately proved helpful for Sunderland, but it hardly helped Altidore. Whereas his teammates often looked to Altidore in the first half with Fabio Borini playing underneath - albeit with poor execution - they seemed to trust Fletcher much more. 

Altidore was never targeted on any of Sunderland's six corner kicks, leaving him to more of a facilitator role in the final third. Even there, he struggled with a rocky-touched turnovers in transition.

For those concerned about Altidore's effort and body language, nothing real or perceived about either stopped him from making nearly all the right moves off the ball.

He closed down Cardiff defenders better than anyone else in a Sunderland uniform, forcing a pair of Cardiff turnovers. His attacking movement only sputtered when Sunderland trapped itself into its half-court, circle-the-box offense late in the game.

Otherwise, Altidore played a smart game. It can't be called a successful one though - not when that chance went begging and not with some of the more elementary turnovers that followed.

Altidore is far from ruined. Damning as it may be of the Black Cats, he was still Sunderland's best source of possession and one of the most dynamic player's on the field. In short, Altidore is almost a complete striker.

In this form, however, and without the goal that was more necessary than easy, he's one simply lacking finish.

Best look: Apart from the goal that wasn't - the product of an instinctive run - Altidore opened up the left channel in combination in the 70th minute. With the return pass, he dribbled two defenders and shot right-footed from 18 yards out. The solid attempt was a half chance at best, but he created it himself.

Most Impressive: In the 84th minute, Altidore held off then turned and split Gary Medel and another defender 40 yards from goal on the right flank. They wisely fouled him afterward.

-Lee Cattermole is significantly less useful than any central midfielder the U.S. national team deploys. Yes, he's mostly a shield, but his attempts at forward progress ended attacks, too often with the ball out of play or being run at an overworked Sunderland defense.

-The 4-4-2 does work better for Altidore, just not the way Sunderland played it today. Again, there appears to be more trust in Fletcher.

-Altidore dragged his marker to the lower right side of the 18-yard box, opening up the crossing lane for Borini's half volley in the 42nd minute. Borini was sick before the game and collapsed at halftime. He was released from the hospital but remained in Wales. He's set to return to Sunderland on Sunday.

Final stats (team total)
Shots: 2 (21); Shots on goal: 1 (9); Fouls drawn: 2 (14)

Altidore really is doing 90 percent of his job correctly. He's making good runs, but they either go ignored or a different ball gets played. It's hard to point fingers there. As long as Gus Poyet continues to recognize the overall good that Altidore does for the team, he'll get minutes and goals will come.

That miss today though, that can't happen. 

Player rating: 5

- Jacob Klinger


Scott Peterson said...

I would rather see him at AZ. Playing with Sunderland worries me for his world cup readiness. That team is struggling in every facet. Jersey boy looks lost... not his fault.

UnitedDemon said...

People are way too harsh on him, saying he missed a tap in. If you call having to throw your body out instinctively to redirect a deflection off the goal keeper which had strange English on it, all within about .15 seconds of seeing the ball deflected. It was not a tap in, it was an opportunity, that would have required him to do three things right in the blink of an eye- react, get down, make the correct touch. He did two out of three, and juding by the way that ball was moving, that last one was tough.

Neal Hollis said...

Jacob - your take on the Sunderland/Big Soccer message boards that are slagging Jozy? Overwhelming consensus is that he is playing horrible, even for a forward on a bottom table side. Some are even demanding he be sold in january, which tbh, would be fine by me. Lets be honest, he couldn't have picked a worse situation to go to after AZ. God I hope 2014 is better for the guy. Your take?

futfan said...

Not sure what there is left to say really. Sunderland is abysmal and unless Altidore goes on a tear scoring goals and he is MOTM for a few games running, things will continue to spiral downward for him. I don't see any way they won't. Maybe, maybe, if Sunderland can sign some decent midfielders and/or wingers in January, something can be salvaged of his and Sunderlands season.

I am a fan of Altidore just as I am of the vast majority of the USMNT players but, if I am being completely honest, I don't think he is really up to it. He's simply not good enough to produce goals at this level while on a shitty team. Despite perceptions (biased U.S. fan perceptions) he's not actually that great of a player. He's "world class" in the sense that he is the top choice striker for a decent national side but he certainly isn't world class when comparing him to truly world class strikers.

Ahh well. I'll keep rooting for him and hoping things turn for the better for him but I can't see it happening at Sunderland.

John said...

The team/midfield is still pretty poor but they have improved over the last few months under Gustavo Poyet. Jozy just needs to grind it out and step his game up, but that will be hard to do because I think he will be in the bench a lot soon since his performances have been below average in the last couple of games.

Noah Rosen said...

as a sunderland and usmnt (and jozy) fan, am doing my best to support all 3. think jozy has been unlucky and unfairly criticized to some degree, but think most (reasonable) sunderland fans (i.e., not the message board and tweeting trolls) recognize he puts a shift in, does many things well, and will get behind him as soon as he scores. but he's got to take those chances like yesterday's. . .

Jacob Klinger said...

The team is getting better and it really is just Jozy's job to keep doing the good things he's been doing and ice them with some finishes.

He can still realistically bag 5-7 Premier League goals, a few more in a cup run and go into World Cup camp - and the system that's more favorable to him - in good form.

@NealHollis I haven't read the Sunderland/BS boards in a while. My take is that they're wrong about him playing horribly. A regular striker for a Premier League team can't let Saturday's chance go, but he is a very good player who frankly, is being scapegoated by fans who don't know better.

As for a move, a loan back to AZ wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, but I have no problem with and don't see him doing anything other than sticking this one out. That's an uninformed opinion, just to be clear.

@futfan If we're talking about his ability to create for himself, I'd have to agree that that's the biggest separator between him and the "world class" label. In the long term, though, it's something he appears to be improving at and he even showed as much against Cardiff.

brooklyn cat said...

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