Very few members of the U.S. Men’s National Team have garnered the sort attention that Jozy did in his 2013 transfer from AZ Alkmaar of the Dutch Eredivisie to Sunderland A.F.C. in the Premier League. His start to the campaign has been slow, and has seen the beginnings of slight hand-wringing from the United States fan base. Why hasn’t Jozy scored? Was his form over the past 6 months for the National Team merely an illusion? What will the U.S. do without his goals?
The Professional Foul thinks that this sort of anxiety is a bit premature (as does, it would seem, U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann). Altidore is 24, and is likely still getting acclimated to the best league in the world, and is forced to do so for a Sunderland side that has been very poor thus far. To underscore this position, we thought it worthwhile to take a look at Jozy’s statistical performance so far this season, and to compare him with Sunderland’s other striking option Steven Fletcher. Our conclusion is that Jozy should be relatively unconcerned about the potential of losing his spot in the Sunderland starting 11, and that, with time, the goals will come.
We started by comparing some of the raw attacking data between Sunderland’s two top attackers. In chances per game, the two are about even. Altidore takes about 1.3 shots per game, and Fletcher about 1.4. Altidore makes slightly more key passes per game than does Fletcher — .60 to .57 – and they draw fouls at the same rate. Fletcher has had better offensive results, scoring two goals in seven appearances (to Jozy’s notable zero goals and one assist in ten matches). But Jozy holds the ball significantly more effectively than Fletcher: Fletcher is dispossessed slightly more than twice a game, and turns it over on average 2.3 times per game. Altidore, on the other hand, has the ball taken away from him less than 1.5 times per game, and is averaging about one turnover each game. On these numbers alone, it would seem that Fletcher has enjoyed more effective results but Altidore has been better overall on the attacking half of the pitch.
We also looked at how well each player has contributed to their team’s overall offensive flow. We did this by comparing how each player contributed to positive developments in the attacking third. We looked at the recent Sunderland home fixture against Newcastle, a 2-1 victory for the Black Cats, that saw Fletcher tally a goal and Jozy contribute with an assist. What we found fit nicely with the narrative that Jozy has been the better player, but Fletcher has gotten the results.
Look for instance, at each player’s passing charts in the attacking third. Fletcher completed 28% of fourteen total pass attempts, and all but four attempts were away from the most dangerous spot in the field (i.e., from the center of the pitch to the wings). In fact, of his fourteen attempts, he had only one successful pass towards, rather than away from, the most dangerous attacking spot on the pitch. (Overlay his passing chart with this for a better idea of how helpful Fletcher’s passes were.)
Jozy’s passing chart looks much more complete. It’s true that he didn’t find the back of the net, but his passes were more successful, and more dangerous. He completed 73% of eleven pass attempts, and fully half of them were into the center of the pitch, and successful. Two led to shots on goal, and one led directly to a goal. (Try overlaying that heat map link above onto Jozy’s passing chart. See the difference?) There’s a distinctly positive aspect to Altidore’s work in the attacking third that isn’t present in the contributions of Steven Fletcher.
It may be hard to watch Jozy fail to continue his run of goal-scoring form from the summer. But take solace in what he’s done so far. He’s been the better striker on a terrible Sunderland team (albeit one that’s had some recent good results). And with the danger he creates in front of the net, there’s every reason to think that the goals will come. Have confidence, oh ye USMNT faithful.