The United States topped its World Cup group for the first time since 1930. A great achievement in the history of U.S. soccer, but one that saw every American fan forced to wait in agony for a reprieve until Donovan obliged wth a strike in extra time against Algeria that delivered the U.S. into the knockout rounds to face Ghana on Saturday.
The team fought until the end and were eventually rewarded for their persistence in the form of a goal in extra time. There are many positive to take out of the group stage like the team's fitness an ability to play an effective 90 minutes, their knack for always pushing to achieve a result and receiving winning contributions from a number of different players. A far cry from the disastrous 2006 campaign.
That's not to say however that there is no room for improvement and in fact if the U.S. wants to continue its run into July there must be improvements in defending during the initial 15-20 minutes in the game. Perhaps the greatest area for concern and one in which improvements must be made quickly is finishing scoring chances when they present themselves.
If there is one player on the U.S. team in particular who's improvement in this area would greatly improve the team's chances of advancing deep in the tournament it is Jozy Altidore.
That's not to say that Altidore has played poorly.
Far from it he has been one of the better players on the team for much of the group stage. He's won balls when playing isolated up front by himself, taken players on individually, played dangerous balls into the box and created chances for others to finish by winning aerial challenges, like the one that setup Michael Bradley's goal against Slovenia that drew the U.S. level.
The problem though is that Altidore is a striker and strikers are judged on their goal scoring record. Altidore currently has as many goals as me through 3 games, but not that cannot be blamed on a lack of chances.
Against England he made a terrific run using his pace to get around Liverpool's Jamie Carragher and into a one-on-one situation with the goalkeeper, Robert Green. Jozy shot near post and Green got a hand to it as the ball hit the post and bounced out of the box.
In yesterday's match against Algeria a Donovan shot was blocked by the keeper and bounced directly in front of Altidore who was a little more than 6 yards from the goal. Rather than directing the ball into goal he seemed to lash out at it and it flew over the crossbar.
A great striker must finish both of those opportunities, in particular the second one, which nearly forced Team USA home after just three group games if not for Donovan's late heroics.
This season when playing for Hull City in the English Premier League, Altidore produced only one goal in 12 starts and 16 appearances. Granted he wasn't playing alongside elite talent, but when opportunities did appear Altidore rarely capitalized on them.
His combination of size, strength, technical ability and athleticism are perfect for a striker, but unless he starts converting on scoring chances that should be taken, the U.S. will find it becoming increasingly difficult to gain favorable results in the knockout stages.
He's only 20 years old, but the question you have to ask yourself is will he ever have a better shot to advance to the semi-finals of a World Cup? Many of the other key American players in this campaign are finished products at the peak of their careers like Landon Donovan (28), Clint Dempsey (27), Oguchi Onyewu (28), Jay DeMerit (30) and Tim Howard (31).
While the presence of Donovan, Dempsey, Onyewu and Howard on the the U.S. roster is likely in 2014, they will be on the downslope of their careers and even more will be expected from Altidore.
There are a number of promising young Americans that will eventually step up to replace these players, but it is impossible to know if they will be able to match up to the standard set by this generation.
So at the age of 20, with every game now the most important of his still young career, Altidore must elevate his game to give the US a cutting edge in the attacking half. Without scoring contributions from our most talented striker, the knockout rounds will not be forgiving as the quality of competition increases with each game.