Toronto FC and Sunderland have inched closer to an agreement where Jermain Defoe would head back to the Premier League in exchange for U.S. Men's National Team star Jozy Altidore. Defoe was spotted leaving a medical exam at Sunderland on Thursday afternoon, so it appears that the swap is imminent. Assuming the deal goes through, it would mark an end to Altidore's incredibly disappointing 18-month spell in the Premier League with the Black Cats. After moving to Sunderland for $13 Million from Dutch club AZ Alkmaar, Altidore has only managed to score a single Premier League goal in 40 league appearances for the club over the last two seasons. As Altidore previously had a disappointing season on loan with Hull City back in 2009-10, this likely marks the end of Altidore's Premier League career.
What does this mean?
Although U.S. Men's National Team manager Jurgen Klinsmann has publicly supported Altidore's move back to the MLS, he cannot be pleased behind closed doors. Klinsmann has been consistently outspoken about his preference that his American players challenge themselves in Europe instead of the MLS. And Altidore (along with new NYCFC signing Mix Diskerud) is yet another example of an American player coming back to the MLS from Europe, following in the footsteps of Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley. There is an argument to be made that Altidore (and by proxy, the national team) will be better served with Altidore getting consistent action in the MLS instead of riding the bench in England, which given his form for the club is likely where he would remain. But the competitor in Herr Jurgen has to be disappointed that his star not only failed to succeed in England, but also no longer wanted to fight for his place.
It also is another black eye for U.S. Soccer, as another one of its top national stars has failed to impress on the big stage, and limped back across the Atlantic. With the Americans constantly searching for the respect of the "big boys" of international soccer, Jozy's spectacular failure at Sunderland despite his ample opportunities is a major setback. DeAndre Yedlin just arrived at Tottenham in January; perhaps he will have the success that Jozy failed to achieve and encourage more young players to move to, rather than away from, Europe (this also serves as a reminder of just how good and rare Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard are).
What went wrong?
It is surprising that Altidore's second spell went so poorly. During the season that preceded his move to Sunderland, Altidore scored an impressive 31 goals in 41 appearances in all competitions for AZ Alkmaar. Although the Eredivisie does not have nearly the level of competition of the Premier League, it is still a major European league, which is what prompted the Black Cats to splash the cash to bring Altidore aboard.
He clearly has the strength to compete in the Premier League, but he never was able to put it all together and turn himself into a goal-scoring threat. With the talent around him at Sunderland, he probably wasn't ever going to win the Golden Boot, but 1 goal in 40 league appearances is inexplicable. Perhaps his failure to score enough early in his tenure led to a loss of confidence and he began to press. The clip below shows a player that is completely bereft of self-belief, that in no way resembles the man that dons the red, white, and blue for the United States. In his international career, Altidore has scored 25 goals in 76 total caps; why can't he duplicate that form in England?
I'm sure that Jozy will do just fine when he returns to the MLS for the first time since he was a teenager. In Toronto, he'll get to play with his national squad teammate Michael Bradley, and Jozy is still only 25 years old. I understand if he wanted to move back to the MLS rather than kick around some second (or third) tier European league again. He's been there, so he knows what that entails and this time, he probably understands the Premier League (or any other top flight league) likely will not come calling again. So why not come home?
This seems to me like a case of elevated expectations. Jozy burst onto the national scene in this country when he was very young; he scored a goal in the U.S.'s 2009 Confederations Cup semifinal against Spain, and then he played in his first World Cup in 2010 at the tender age of 20. Soccer enthusiasts across the 50 states hoped that this was finally the player that U.S. Soccer was looking for, that had the physical and technical abilities to lead the U.S. deep in the World Cup. And along with that came expectations of success for Jozy at a club in one of the top European leagues. For whatever reason, that just did not happen.
There's no question that Altidore coming to Toronto is a boon for Major League Soccer. The addition of more national team members from last summer's World Cup has great marketing appeal, and gives fans another reason to attend the matches as they know more of the players on the pitch. One of the reasons I went to the DC United-Toronto match last season was to see Michael Bradley: the next time they're in town, they'll have Altidore with them. I'd pay to see that.
So best of luck in Toronto Jozy. We at the18 are hoping that you rediscover your goalscoring touch just in time for the national team's 2015 fixtures.
Follow Mike Smith on Twitter @thefootiegent
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