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May 28, 2014

Jozy's chance?

Jozy Altidore has struggled as a Premier League striker but is still seen as a viable option for the U.S. national team.
Jozy Altidore has struggled as a Premier League striker but is still seen as a viable option for the U.S. national team.

Few people reflecting on their own disappointments in life could keep a straight face if challenging the idea that everyone -- even footballers -- deserve a second chance.

Let Jozy Altidore, whose two spells in the Premier League have so far produced two goals in 58 games, one apiece at Hull City and Sunderland, step forward to take his.

And the World Cup in Brazil must be his starting point, assuming he gets opportunities to show why he was able to score 31 goals in 41 games for AZ Alkmaar in Netherlands before joining Sunderland for six million pounds last summer.

So far, so good. In a warm-up game at the Candlestick Park in San Francisco, Altidore appears to have performed competently if without distinction in a largely unimpressive 2-0 victory over Azerbaijan.

- Carlisle: Rough diamond - Video: Jozy's ups and downs

This was the six-out-of-10 verdict at the mlssoccer.com site: "The striker remained lively through a pretty good beating across 90 minutes. We'll always take seven restarts from the power forward, but Altidore is capable of more."

In pre-match comments, the US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann was noticeably appreciative. Acknowledging that part of his task was to rebuild Altidore's confidence after his dismal Premier season -- humiliatingly excluded altogether from Gus Poyet's squad for the Capital One Cup final versus Manchester City -- he said preparations at the Californian training camp had yielded "a couple of good answers from Jozy ... he's sharp, he's hungry and he's scoring."

I already hear Sunderland (and Hull City) supporters chortling. Goals in practice sessions are not quite the same as goals in proper games.

We should read no more into a pre-World Cup friendly than we would into a pre-season warm-up game when a manager automatically insists, if on the losing side, that it's all about fitness. Yet while Altidore did not manage to score against modest opposition, he played the full 90 minutes and the team won, even if tougher tasks lie ahead with friendlies against Turkey and Nigeria next month.

Klinsmann's own record as a prolific goalscorer at top clubs across Europe suggests he may know what he is talking about. If he genuinely believes Altidore is worth the effort, that should be good enough for Sunderland supporters frustrated by what they have seen so far.

A good World Cup would, of course, do wonders for that troubled confidence. It is by no means guaranteed that Altidore would even then return to the Stadium of Light for the resumption of the Premier. It may be no more than the product of football writers' lively imagination, but we do not yet know for sure even whether Poyet will still be in charge, let alone whom he would want in his squad if he is.

I may be in minority in believing Altidore is just a couple of morale-boosting goals away from being able to embark on a run to recall his Dutch successes. More than once last season, I found myself striving to find positive comments on his play but strive I did and there cannot be serious doubt that he made some telling contributions.

With all respect to Klinsmann, the concept of "winning a penalty" is not one that appeals greatly to the purist outlook on football, but it remains the case that Altidore twice, at Fulham and Chelsea, was adjudged to have been fouled in the box, the resulting goals helping Sunderland towards the six points that could be said to have kept them up.

If that happened to be the beginning and end of Altidore's ability to influence a game, few would tears at a summer departure. But if Poyet stays and shares Klinsmann's outwardly upbeat assessment of potential there to be exploited, he could be an important part of what will surely be a stronger Sunderland squad.