Jozy Altidore needs to step up 

September, 7, 2012

KINGSTON, Jamaica -- Ask anyone around the national team which American player has raised his game the most in the past year and you're likely to get a bunch of different answers. Geoff Cameron has gone from U.S. bubble player to Premier League starter. Fabian Johnson has solved the Americans' decades-long left back problem. Terrence Boyd hit the ground running in Austria.

It's not surprising that the newcomers get most of the attention; Cameron, Johnson and Boyd started their first games for the U.S. within the past nine months.

But if the U.S. is to beat the Reggae Boyz for the first time in a World Cup qualifier here tonight, it's another much-improved American, striker Jozy Altidore, who could play the biggest role.

Altidore is expected to return to Jurgen Klinsmann's starting lineup for the first time in seven games since his deft pass set up Clint Dempsey's memorable winner in Italy way back in February. And with Landon Donovan injured and Dempsey's status uncertain -- he has not played in a match in three months due to a drawn-out transfer saga that was resolved just last week -- the Americans' main goal-scoring threat figures to come from the 22-year-old veteran.

Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine. He has covered American and international soccer since 2002.