WASHINGTON — Jozy Altidore has carved a reputation as a streaky striker. When a goal comes, it's a safe bet that more are on the way. Confidence breeds production.
That certainly was the case in June 2013, when Altidore ended a 19-month international scoring drought with an emphatic volley against Germany at RFK Stadium, kicking off a stretch of seven goals in five matches. After the 25-year-old scored twice in a 2-1 win over Peru on Friday at that same venue, marking his first U.S. national team goals since March, there's hope that the burly target forward is burying his summer struggles.
"Coming back and scoring two goals is the best medicine for every striker," U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. "There's no doubt about it."
On a day the U.S. didn't play the most attractive soccer, looking scattered before halftime and losing the possession battle overall, it was Altidore's hold-up play that gave the Americans a lifeline.
After using his physicality to draw a penalty, Altidore netted a 59th-minute equalizer by converting the rebound of his own saved spot kick. Nine minutes later, the Toronto FC striker hit a precise through ball to free DeAndre Yedlin down the right flank before eventually finishing off the frantic sequence with a point-blank finish.
Altidore has struggled to reach full fitness in recent months after suffering a hamstring strain in May. Without Altidore at his best, the Americans have lacked potency up top beyond the goal-scoring exploits of veteran Clint Dempsey. But the win over Peru showed glimpses of the player who caught fire in the summer of 2013 and scored 23 goals during the 2012-13 Dutch Eredivisie season.
"I feel like I'm getting there," Altidore said. "Your body might feel good but your mind isn't there yet. A lot of people don't understand how it is with that kind of injury because they don't go through it."
While Altidore bounced back from his injury in time to participate in July's CONCACAF Gold Cup, he was sent back to Toronto after an ineffective group stage and told to find form on the club level. Yet his lack of sharpness carried over to MLS, with Altidore losing his place in the starting lineup after a handful of indifferent outings and a frustration red card.
How did Altidore respond? With three goals over a pair of appearances off the bench before reporting to national team camp.
"Jozy is a guy that has experience now," midfielder Alejandro Bedoya said. "He's been through a lot, and I think he's handled it really well. Even in the league, when he wasn't starting for whatever reason, he was coming off the bench and still being a spark and working his butt off for the team."
By all accounts, Altidore was on his game during training sessions this past week in the nation's capital. It was perhaps a sign of faith and a motivational tactic as Klinsmann handed the captain's armband to Altidore, whom teammates also praised for his vocal presence and workrate.
"He's here for scoring goals — that's his job," midfielder Jermaine Jones said. "He's a guy that sometimes it looks like he's lazy and sometimes he's maybe not fit. But I know him a little bit now and know that he's going to try to look forward and try to help the team and try the best. Sometimes it maybe looks not like that, but I'm happy that he scored today."
With the Confederations Cup playoff against Mexico looming, it's worth noting Altidore has played just 69 competitive minutes against the Americans' archrivals. He missed the 2011 Gold Cup final because of a hamstring injury, then was suspended for the September 2013 qualifying match that secured a World Cup ticket. He also found himself suspended for a 2-0 friendly win in April.
It's a trend Altidore hopes to reverse Oct. 10, when the nations meet at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. As observers saw Friday, a U.S. team with a fit, confident Altidore could look a lot different than the largely toothless squad that limped to fourth place at the Gold Cup.
"I haven't gotten a lot of big games against Mexico for whatever reason, so hopefully I can get out there," Altidore said. "If I'm fit and the manager picks me, I hope I'll be the difference."