SANDY — Jozy Altidore is a changed man. The 23-year-old striker has turned into a stone-cold finisher.
Before the U.S. national team got together for this round of World Cup qualifying, Altidore had just finished off one of the best seasons ever for an American in Europe. Across all competitions, Altidore scored 33 goals for AZ Alkmaar of the Netherlands.
That proficiency has carried over to the national team.
Altidore's goal against Honduras in a 1-0 win for the Americans Tuesday at Rio Tinto Stadium was his fourth-consecutive game scoring across all competitions, and his third-straight in World Cup qualifiers. Scoring in four straight matches ties a record with five other Americans.
"We are very happy for Jozy," said U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. "We always told him from a coaching perspective it takes a lot of hard work. It takes a lot of adjustment. It takes the right moment to be there; it takes a hunger, and the energy he has put in the last four or five games has been tremendous. It's not only that he scored those goals, (but) it's the work that he does for the team is awesome."
Altidore first scored against Germany in a friendly in the team's last warm-up before the qualifiers. His goal broke a streak of more than a year without an international goal. Since then, he has just taken off.
"I think he's doing everything great," said defender Omar Gonzalez. " I think for Jozy, he's put a lot of work into being here and I think it is finally paying off for him. I think he's doing great."
With as well as Altidore has been playing as of late, perhaps the most exciting thing for U.S. fans is the fact that he knows he hasn't finished growing.
"I think I'm far from a finished project," Altidore said. "I think there is still a long way to go in terms of the learning curve. All I can do is try to be a sponge, try to absorb everything, try to get better everyday."
NOT THE SAME OLD STORY: As has been the norm, the U.S. again had a different starting lineup. With DaMarcus Beasley serving a one-game suspension due to yellow card accumulation, it would have been impossible for the U.S. to start with the same lineup as it did against Panama, but besides losing Beasley, the Americans got back Jermaine Jones, who missed the Panama game because he was still suffering from lingering symptoms of a concussion he sustained against Jamaica. Jones replaced Geoff Cameron in the midfield. Also back from serving his one-game suspension was Sporting KC's Graham Zusi, who returned to his normal midfield slot as Fabian Johnson slid back to fill Beasley's vacant spot in the back.
NO LOCAL PRESENCE: Neither Real Salt Lake team members, goalkeeper Nick Rimando or midfielder Kyle Beckerman, got off the bench for the U.S. side. Not that either one was complaining.
"It's special," said Rimando. "To be here in front of my fans and my family and friends in my home stadium, it's very special to get a huge win like that and put us at the top of the table and to be a part of soccer here in the USA."
SATISFIED CROWD: Rio Tinto Stadium was packed to the brim as 20,250 fans were able to enjoy a closely fought U.S. win. Not only did they get to see the home side capture a win that nearly locks up a berth in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, but they also got to leave with a souvenir scarf specially made to commemorate the game against Honduras.
"It was a great atmosphere. I was surprised how many Honduras supporters there were here," said Rimando. "But the United States fans showed up. I'm used to playing in front of the fans and know what it is about, but I think the guys were impressed."
Michael Black is a writer, editor and page designer at the Deseret News in Salt Lake City. He has been involved in the publication of the paper for the last 10 years with an emphasis in sports. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: blackend84047
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company