The goal was a simple tap-in, but the finish itself could prove to be a crucial lift for the U.S. men's national team ahead of the World Cup.
Jozy Altidore got an elusive goal in the 31st minute of the U.S. team's 2-1 win over Nigeria on Saturday, and it was as if the striker's sigh of relief could be heard in the cheers of the 52,033 fans at EverBank Field.
It was Altidore's first goal since December, a string of 27 games for his club and the U.S. national team, and the finish may well have opened the floodgates. Altidore scored again in the 68th minute, shrugging off Nigerian captain Joseph Yobo on a cutback and smoking a shot to the far post.
Altidore downplayed the impact, saying he has felt pressure to score since he was 16, but U.S. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann acknowledged the potential benefits.
"I think it will give him a lot of confidence," Klinsmann said. "It's always a tough period when you don't score for a striker. And everybody around you knows that [you haven't scored], you know that, and so you get more and more anxious about the situation and you work harder and harder. ... And then you just wish the moment comes and you put it in there and then you go and start to be yourself."
Though not one of the 90 minutes played Saturday will serve as a predictor for what will occur in the next few weeks as the U.S. take on Ghana, Portugal and Germany, there was plenty to build upon.
Goal-scoring can be a frustrating art, often altered by the mental state of the striker, and if Altidore's "goal-scorer's block" has lifted, the Americans are undoubtedly a much more dangerous side in Brazil.
"To be honest, it makes no difference," Altidore said. "I know that's weird to you, but it's not weird to me. I've played for this team for such a long time now, I think it's my responsibility to kind of help the team in other ways."
The U.S. also finished unbeaten in its three send-off matches, a stat that can build some confidence if nothing else. The team improved in each outing and showed the versatility of the roster Klinsmann selected.
On the heels of Klinsmann proclaiming the death of the "formation" in soccer at his pre-game news conference on Friday, the U.S. employed a hybrid configuration that varied between a 4-3-2-1, 4-4-2 and 4-2-3-1 — depending on the viewer's interpretation.
The flexible look paid off against the Super Eagles, a team that could push Bosnia and Herzegovina to advance out of Group F along with favorite Argentina. The U.S. looked more disciplined and organized defensively, and when the Americans found a rhythm going forward, they were dangerous. It was the passing that led to Altidore's first goal. Alejandro Bedoya and Fabian Johnson combined in a pretty build-up on the right side to set up Altidore for the easy finish.
Nigeria added a goal in the 86th minute on Victor Moses' penalty kick, but that came after mass substitutions and with the U.S. still in control.
Now, the U.S. heads to Brazil with the hope of surprising many by advancing out of one of the toughest groups in the tournament.
"It's good to come away with a win," midfielder Michael Bradley said. "It's good to now finish things off with a good performance in front of a great crowd, but the reality is at this point these three games mean nothing. ... We kind of said to each other in the locker room afterward, 'The fun starts now.'"Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times