For years, Jozy Altidore has been alone as the top striker in the American player pool. While players like Terrence Boyd, Juan Agudelo, and Chris Wondolowski have occasionally threatened to dethrone Altidore at the top, no one ever could. Altidore brings too much size and on his best nights, too much creativity to ever lose his job to a group of guys who never really rose above second division sides in Europe or being a solid contributor in MLS.
However, any USMNT fan who has watched Altidore throughout the years knows about the off nights. Altidore can have games where he looks like the American Chicharito, and others where he appears completely disinterested and disengaged. Jozy scored 13 goals for Toronto FC in 26 appearances this year and four goals for the United States, though none since March 25, indicative of his Jekyll and Hyde nature. Thus, frustrated with his striker situation, Jurgen Klinsmann sough a younger, more consistent option.
Enter Bobby Wood, a 22-year old striker out of Honolulu, Hawaii currently playing in the 2.Bundesliga for Union Berlin. While Wood has failed to find a consistent club during his brief career in Germany’s second division, his game winner against the world champions in June certainly put clubs on notice. It’s worth mentioning, that was Wood’s second game winner of the week, as he also netted the goal to beat the Netherlands earlier in the international break. All of a sudden, it seemed Klinsmann’s faith in the then free agent striker was remarkably well placed.
Since his move to Union Berlin, Wood has taken the 2.Bundesliga by storm. The Hawaiian has five goals through 14 games, and is receiving starting nods consistently for the first time in his career. While his strong performances for his club are nice, it’s his performances with the national team that truly stand out.
Frequently, Klinsmann discusses the need to put pressure on his players and force them to be their best selves, with the knowledge that if they don’t meet the standards, someone will come in to replace them. Wood has clearly taken that to heart. With the national team, only a handful of guys in the USMNT’s history have demonstrated the tenacity and desire to win that Wood showcases on a nightly basis. Whether it’s a friendly or a World Cup qualifier, Wood hustles for every ball, fights through every tackle, and does anything in his power to help his team win.
It can’t be overstated how good it is for Altidore to be paired with that kind of player on top. While Altidore has every physical gift a soccer player can have, he occasionally lacks the passion needed to score goals at a high level.
That’s where Wood comes in.
He demonstrates the scrappy demeanor that helps strikers knick easy goals, dispossess defenders, and be a complete nuisance for the entire 90 minutes. Wood represents the spark plug that USMNT fans haven’t seen in quite some time, and they wouldn’t be happier for it.
Time will obviously tell if Wood develops into anything more than a starting striker on a second division club in Germany, but for the time being, Americans are happy to have him around. His competitiveness in every match is infectious, and while he may be young at just 22, he has the opportunity to become one of the leading figures on a transitional national team headed towards the 2018 World Cup. If Wood can keep up his attitude and continue to develop new and creative ways to utilize his speed to create attacking chances, he will find a place on the USMNT for many years to come.