Lost in the euphoria of the United States’ 2-1 victory over Ghana in its 2014 World Cup opener was the fact that injuries took their toll on U.S. Soccer. Biggest among them was starting forward Jozy Altidore, who went down with an apparent hamstring injury in the 21st minute.
On Thursday, U.S. Soccer announced that Altidore is out for the second group stage game against Portugal.
“Jozy Altidore has a strained left hamstring and he will not be available for the next game,” U.S. Soccer spokesman Michael Kammarman said, via Yahoo! Sports. “But we are hopeful he will be available in the tournament.”
While the hope is to have Altidore back, the reality is hamstrings are a difficult injury to rehab quickly and have confidence in as well. It creates a very uneasy situation for the United States up front, as they are down to Aron Johannsson or Chris Wondolowski up front.
Or are they?
There’s no doubt that Johannsson and Wondolowski will be in the mix to take Altidore’s spot, but a straight swap against Portugal may not be the United States’ best option.
Johannsson got the call against Ghana and didn’t produce much in his 70 minutes of action. He brings pace, pace and more pace to the mix, as well as a good aerial game—something we’ll discuss more in a minute.
Wondo, on the other hand is older (31) and brings a wealth of experience to the table as well as a good ability to play the holding role up front.
Yet, the choice between the two may be less about what they bring to the table and more about what Portugal won’t bring to the game on Sunday.
The Portuguese will be down a pair of defenders, with Pepe suspended for his red card and Fábio Coentrão out injured as well. Star forward Cristiano Ronaldo is also an injury scare and fellow forward Hugo Almeida is out injured too.
More than anything else, those injuries could have an impact on the way the United States shapes its attack. There’s little doubt that with Coentrão and Pepe in the back line Portugal are very gifted physically and having Altidore or Wondolowski up front would be a must.
Yet, with Andre Almeida replacing Coentrão and Ricardo Costa likely to start in place of Pepe, the United States’ options open up and Johannsson could be a more viable option against a defense that is older and slower than what would’ve been place with the two starters in tact.
Jurgen Klinsmann may be thinking beyond just the Johannsson vs. Wondolowski debate, though. There could be the thought by Klinsmann of playing Dempsey alone up front and going 4-3-2-1 or even a straight 4-5-1 formation.
It is something that has been experimented with by the United States’ manager throughout the past year or so, and a constant debate among U.S. soccer fans. Should Klinsmann happen to go about leaving Dempsey alone up front, we could see a Brad Davis or Graham Zusi slot in to the extra midfield position.
The point is, assuming the debate is just about Johannsson vs. Wondolowski is missing the bigger picture. Klinsmann clearly has plenty of options in replacing Altidore, and some of them could be tactical vs. physical.
After the confidence shown by Klinsmann in subbing in John Brooks against Ghana there’s little reason to doubt he’ll make the right choice once again against Portugal.