The fans wanted more Jozy Altidore. The fans got more Jozy Altidore.
The 21-year-old American striker, who was developing a reputation for not scoring goals, delivered a goal and set up another for the United States in its 2-0 win over Canada Tuesday night in the Gold Cup opener at Ford Field in Detroit, Mich. It marked the 11th straight time the U.S. has opened the tournament with a victory.
Altidore wasn't perfect -- he missed a few other opportunities on the attack -- but you can't argue with his results in a game the Americans desperately wanted to win. Altidore opened up the scoring in the 15th minute with a goal that looked lucky at first, but better and better with each replay.
Running left to right across the box, he received the ball 15 yards from net on the right side and did what he does best, used his bulky frame to shield his opponent. However, rather than hold the ball and attempt to draw a foul, he took a quick touch and an even quicker shot at the near post. The strike stunned Canada goalkeeper Lars Hirschfeld as it slid under his gloves and dribbled into the net. It was a ball Hirschfeld should've smothered. Instead, it was Altidore's 11th career goal.
In the second half, just as it appeared that Canada was finding the form it was missing in the first half, the U.S. padded its lead. Landon Donovan delivered a nice ball to Altidore deep in the right side of the box. Altidore slotted a perfect ball through the middle with Juan Agudelo and Clint Dempsey streaking toward the net. It was Dempsey who knocked it in for his 20th career goal.
For the Americans, who have never lost in the group stage of the Gold Cup, it was a game they needed after falling 4-0 to Spain three days earlier.
Consider this: The United States is trying to sell itself as on the cusp of understanding and mastering the world's game. They may never belong in the upper echelon -- with powerhouses such as Brazil, Spain, Germany, etc. -- but among the top 10 or 12 is certainly plausible.
The U.S. seemed to get closer to that goal by winning its group in the 2010 World Cup for the first time in 80 years, but looking at the big picture, how far had they really come since? The U.S. (when it fields its "A" lineup) is certainly a threat to win on any given day, but it just hasn't happened in the last year. In the four games of the World Cup and the eight games since, the U.S. had compiled exactly two wins (2-4-6).
A six-pack of draws doesn't necessarily excite a fan base. The Americans need to start winning -- and Tuesday night was a nice first step.
-- The U.S. started Tim Ream and Clarence Goodson at center back, with veteran Oguchi Onyewu on the bench. Carlos Bocanegra was on the left and Steve Cherundolo on the right. This may indicate that head coach Bob Bradley isn't as high on Jonathan Bornstein as he once was. In the World Cup, when Onyewu was benched for the final two games, Bradley played Bocanegra in the middle with Bornstein on the left. This pairing of Ream and Goodson also shows Bradley's growing confidence in Ream.
-- Jermaine Jones got the nod at central midfild over Maurice Edu, who subbed in for him in the 79th minute. Jones looked a bit shaky in the first 20 minutes, but finished strong.
-- Bradley used all three of his subs (Wondolowski in for Agudelo, 64th; Sacha Kljestan in for Altidore, 74th; Edu in for Jones, 79th).
-- Although Agudelo is starting as a teenager and there's plenty of hype about his future, it's nice for him to pair up front with Altidore, who is burdened with so much pressure himself. Agudelo can sneak under the radar a bit while Altidore tries to prove himself -- again -- to the American fan base.
-- Canada's best chance in the first half came on a stunning strike by Dwayne De Rosario, who was otherwise quiet on the attack. His curling shot just missed the right post from 25 yards away.
-- Canada's best chance of the second half was thwarted by an acrobatic display from goalie Tim Howard. The Everton keeper stopped a few point-blank shots in the 85th minute to preserve the clean sheet.
-- Starting lineup:
--------- Agudelo (Wondolowski, 64) -- Altidore (Kljestan, 74) ----------
Dempsey ------------ Jones (Edu, 79) -------- Bradley ---------- Donovan
Bocanegra ------------ Ream ----------- Goodson ------------- Cherundolo
------------------------------------------| Howard |-------------------------------------