92013_isi_altidorejozy_bpi_sundvfulh.go7d Greig Cowie/isiphotos.com
Americans Abroad

Tough Times Staring Down Jozy Altidore, Sunderland

Life in the Premier League is never easy, but Jozy Altidore and Sunderland will face a murderer's row of competitors between now and the end of 2013. Can the team, and the striker, survive the onslaught?
BY Blake Thomsen Posted
September 20, 2013
3:03 PM
IT'S FAR TOO EARLY to draw any significant conclusions from the Premier League table. Stoke City is level on points with Chelsea and the Manchester clubs. West Ham has conceded just one goal. West Brom has scored just one. It goes without saying that things will change dramatically in the days ahead.

Jozy Altidore and last place Sunderland, however, may not be primed for much change at all, especially in the coming months.

This isn’t entirely Sunderland’s fault. Yes, the club could have done more to improve before the transfer deadline. (A Michael Bradley type, or perhaps even Bradley himself, could have helped.) And yes, bringing in a calmer manager—one less prone to publicly admonishing his players, perhaps—might have helped as well.

But the bigger problem is this: The Black Cats have just embarked on a historically difficult stretch of matches.

Somehow, the fixture gods have cursed Sunderland with an absolutely diabolical run of home games to open the season. Having just faced Arsenal at the Stadium of Light, Sunderland next plays the following six teams at home: Liverpool, Manchester United, Newcastle, Manchester City, Chelsea, and Tottenham.

No matter how you slice it, it’s not pretty for Sunderland.

The Black Cats have just one point after four games, and they won’t be favored in a single one of those upcoming home games.

And with away wins in the Premier League exceptionally hard to come by—Sunderland managed just four last season—the Black Cats may find themselves with a precariously low point total before the games finally get a little easier beginning when Norwich City visits on December 21st.

Optimists may look at this run of games as an opportunity for Sunderland to grow and improve as a team. Surely the Black Cats will have an opportunity to improve when matched up against the league’s best in rapid succession. It’s simply a matter of whether the players’ confidence can survive if the squad only pick up eight or so points in its next 13 games.

Much in the same way that Sunderland, the team, will be tested, so will its American striker, Jozy Altidore.

Never before has he faced so much quality opposition in such a short time.

And he may see even less of the ball than he did with Hull City—Sunderland managed just 31% possession on Saturday, and 33% away at Southampton a few weeks back.

Cynics will fear the worst for Altidore, perhaps even predicting another long scoring drought similar to his barren stretch for the U.S. men’s national team from 2011 through June 2013.

The flipside, though, is Altidore could raise his game and reach even greater heights than he did this past summer.

If the 23-year-old can get on a hot streak and net four or five goals during the stretch, his star will shine even brighter. In truth, scoring a quality goal in even one of those brutal home games would be an achievement worth celebrating.

Looking toward 2014 with one eye on the World Cup, this quirky schedule might actually serve Altidore and the U.S. side quite well. The natural byproduct of facing all of the good teams in the fall means this is what Sunderland will be facing at home in 2014: Aston Villa, Southampton, Stoke, Hull City, West Bromwich Albion, Crystal Palace, West Ham United, Everton, Cardiff, Swansea.

Not exactly world-beaters.

The prospect of Altidore facing such pedestrian opposition at home to finish the Premier League season will have U.S. fans dreaming of a confidence-building, goal-scoring bonanza leading up to Brazil.

The trick for Altidore will be proving his value to the team against a string of strong opponents in 2013 so that he is still an automatic starter when the schedule becomes significantly easier in the second half of the season.

The home matches against the Manchesters and Liverpool and Chelsea will be uphill battles for Sunderland, and essential to Altidore’s long-term success with the squad.

Does this run of games—combined with the Black Cats’ dreadful start to the season—make Sunderland a relegation favorite? How many goals will Jozy have on Christmas day?

Blake Thomsen is a freelance writer and an ASN contributor.

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