KENYA BROWN - Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Sunderland accomplished what was deemed an insurmountable feat as they went on a late unbeaten run in the latter half of the season to guarantee their safety in the Premier League for next season.
The Black Cats 2-0 defeat of West Bromwich Albion on May 7, part of the team's five game unbeaten run at that time, made sure they did not suffer relegation to the English Championship.
After a tumultuous period under former head coach Paolo Di Canio, who was fired in September last year, Gus Poyet came in to right the ship using primarily players that were not signed by him. Now that the Black Cats' safety is assured, the Uruguayan coach can now turn his attention to the 2014/15 EPL season.
There is no doubt changes will be made during the summer transfer season as Poyet does not want to go through the experience he had over the past months. Some of the changes in the team will come up front, which leaves in question the future of U.S. national team striker Jozy Altidore.
When Altidore completed his 13-million dollar transfer from Dutch Eredivisie side AZ Alkmaar in July 2013, many questioned whether it was the best thing for him as he was entering a World Cup year. Perhaps spending another season at Alkmaar would have been best for him, and if he were to replicate the same form that saw him score 31 goals in all competitions last season and follow that up with a strong showing in Brazil in the summer, the world's top soccer teams would be clamoring to sign him.
However, after only scoring one goal in the league, the New Jersey native now finds his club situation in peril as he has been pushed down the depth chart. In his place, the likes of Fabio Borini and Connor Wickham supplied the goals which paid off for the team during their unbeaten run.
When Poyet was appointed Sunderland's head coach in October last year one of things he mentioned to the media was that he was determined to end Altidore's goal scoring drought. In a story written by Mike Prindiville on NBC Pro Soccer Talk, Poyet emphasized that Sunderland's playing style needed to serve Altidore. The coach's words indicated that he was patient and not in a hurry for his striker to score goals immediately.
However, the fortunes of the former New York Red Bulls man have not turned around since Poyet's arrival and several lackluster performances pushed him to the bench. The lowest point of his time at Sunderland had to be when he was not selected for the team that played in the Capital One Cup Final against eventual winners Manchester City. This was due in part to his poor form.
Altidore has made no secret that his confidence is low. In the games he has played this season there has been a lot of hesitation to take chances at goal, and when he has taken those chances they have been nowhere as effective as he displayed in Holland. Some may point to his performance against lower league side Kidderminster Harriers in Sunderland's 1-0 FA Cup win as the best example of his poor form. His poor touches on the ball in addition to being invisible for periods of the game left some Sunderland fans wondering whether he was worth the amount of money the team paid.
There is no question that one of the problems Altidore has faced while at Sunderland is the lack of service from the midfield to take chances on goal, but he will also have to look at himself because in the position that he plays strikers will often times have to create chances by themselves if things are not clicking with teammates. Of course it is frustrating for both coach and player, and those frustrations can been seen in the press.
In an article in the UK Telegragh newspaper in March, Altidore claimed that Sunderland's system and tactics were responsible for his failure to adapt to soccer in England. In the same article Poyet fired back by saying that Altidore is to blame for his poor form, adding that he cannot treat the player as a "charity."
It seems that the writing is on the wall for Altidore's career at Sunderland, but it may not be easy for Poyet to offload the player as the board will definitely want to recoup a majority of the money they paid Alkmaar. That is where this year's World Cup comes into play.
U.S. national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann will certainly have Altidore in his 23-man roster for the month-long tournament, and being in a more comfortable environment will do some good for the 24-year-old as he will be around a circle of teammates and coaches who will try their best to boost his confidence as they go into their last tune up games before heading to Brazil. His form will be vital to the team's performances against their foes this summer, but it could also give him a chance to show how he can contribute to another European team should Sunderland seek a transfer.
Some analysts have pointed to a return to Major League Soccer for the former Villarreal signee as some teams have used their Designated Player slots to sign U.S. national team players to lucrative contracts. While the likes of the Portland Timbers or new teams such as New York City FC and Orlando City SC may have the funds to lure Altidore back to the United States, at this point in his career it may not be the best move for him.
One lousy season at the Stadium of Light does not spell doom for Altidore's European career and there will be some teams on the continent that will take a chance on him.
One of the best options could be in Merseyside as Everton will certainly be looking for a striker to replace Belgian international Romelu Lukaku, who was on loan from Chelsea this season. Depending on what happens at Chelsea in the offseason, with reports that the team are looking to sign Atletico Madrid striker Diego Costa, the Toffees could try to sign the 20-year-old permanently.
However, should that move fail, Everton could look to Altidore as an alternative, and for a more reasonable transfer fee compared with what Chelsea might demand for Lukaku. In addition, he would most likely have a better working relationship with head coach Roberto Martinez, who has so far exceeded expectations at Goodison Park.
Altidore could also find opportunities waiting for him in the Bundesliga. Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund may not be knocking at the door to sign him, but there are a host of other teams that would consider signing a striker of his size and ability. Of course, he will not be making the same money as he is now, but to be in a team in which you can gel with teammates, have a good relationship with the head coach and return to the form that you once had in Holland would be worth sacrificing some money.
It is uncertain as to what plans Poyet has for Altidore in the offseason, but all eyes will be on where the American hangs his hat come the summer transfer window. He still has much to offer to any team that signs him and definitely has the ability to turn around what has been a disappointing spell in England.