Why Jozy Altidore’s naughty deeds matter

Hull City's Jozy Altidore on Saturday ... a moment that will cost the young striker dearly going forward.

The World Cup comes around once every four years, as we all know. The spaces between and the attached anticipation mean everything is super-mega-magnified once the event finally arrives.

Score a goal at the World Cup and you may have made yourself rich. Talk shows want your time and politicians seek your endorsement. Score two and they might just start renaming major cities in your honor.

So it goes with stand-up performance in goal or in defense, too.

Well, I hate to kill the buzz here, but that coin has a less lovely side, too.

Mistakes in a World Cup are all magnified too, big ol’ ‘roided up monsters, in fact. They stand out like scabby, festering puss-filled sores on your forehead. They can sure ruin an afternoon – and they can even stain a career in some cases. They can happen in an instant, and they land with no prejudice.

Zinedine Zidane was a remarkable player, whose career was full of beautiful work and achievement. He scored twice in a World Cup final, for goodness sakes. Alas, you can’t think too long about “Zizou” without images of his mad moment in Berlin, can you?

This brings us to Altidore ... 

Over the weekend, a little tiff with Sunderland’s Alan Hutton turned downright nasty in a flash. Altidore ended his day (and perhaps his time in the Premiership) with a red card and a dog-eared, ugly report slipped into his permanent record.

Don’t think for a second that Bob Bradley won’t factor in such foolishness (and potential for more) as he selects starting lineups in June. It was always a stretch to think that Altidore, just 20 years old, could make a mark in South Africa. Simply put, 20 year olds rarely can climb such heights.

But Altidore was probably going to have a chance, at least, due to the major dearth of U.S. strikers. Truly, it’s almost comical as we all sit around watching and waiting for someone to boldly claim the roster spots that are sitting there, begging to be had. It’s like a prototype new iPhone left on a bar top, and nobody wants the $5k Gizmodo is willing to pay for it.

Altidore may yet get a big chance, but the odds just fell. A forward arrangement that includes Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey or both creeps ever closer. (That’s not a bad thing in itself, of course, but not ideal for the scheme Bradley wants to play.)

Altidore simply can’t do anything imprudent or outright foolish this summer in South Africa. Nor can anyone else. Pablo Mastroeni’s ridiculous, needless challenge four years ago against Italy ruined the U.S. chance to exploit a man advantage and possible appointment with history in Kaiserslautern. Eddie Pope blundered that night, too. A few days later, the U.S. paid handsomely for Oguchi Onyewu’s mistake against Ghana. (Yes, it was a soft PK.) Claudio Reyna’s mistake with the ball was punished ruthlessly, too.

How far back do you want to go, reliving mistakes and their impact at the top level? Brad Friedel not coming for a free kick in 2002? Jeff Agoos’ misplaced clearances in Asia? Mike Burns at the near post? (How did that one manage to slip in?)

How about others, those not in U.S. kits? David Beckham almost didn’t get to become David Beckham. He was able to suffocate the fire and live down the petulant kick against Argentina in ’98, but it took a while.

I have no idea if Altidore learned from Saturday’s offense. Nor does Bradley, truly. The U.S. manager can talk to Altidore and hope that it all sinks in. But Bradley won’t know. And rest assured, if he plays, Altidore will be baited at some point.

It all must be factored in by the U.S. boss. Only he knows how it will turn out for the young U.S. striker. But this much can’t be debated: Saturday’s immaturity matters.

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