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