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World Cup Preview: USA Options vs Portugal

by Photo of Matthew Golda

With Altidore’s status for the remainder of the World Cup in doubt, who do the US turn to next?

World Cup Preview: USA Options vs Portugal

USA's win over Ghana on Monday was, to say the least, dramatic. It was exactly the sort of result the United States needed, and hoped for, as the three points were vital. Sub John Anthony Brooks, who was born in Berlin, Germany and is only 21 years old, headed a corner off the foot of Graham Zusi (who was also a sub) that gave the US a late 2-1 lead

However, what wasn't key are the injury concerns the US now face after star forward Jozy Altidore went down with a hamstring injury and will almost certainly miss a decent chunk of time. It was a non-contact injury, which is never a good sign. Also, team captain Clint Dempsey took a kick to the face that broke his nose. It was a reckless play by Ghanaian defender John Boye, who could have been booked for it.

Jozy Altidore is a one-of-a-kind player for the US, as he brings a dimension of speed and strength no one else on this roster possesses. The US turn to the 24-year-old Altidore for some much needed possession in the final third of the pitch and Klinsmann had much of his offensive game plan pieced around the versatility of him. He is very strong with the ball and at six foot, he has enough size to matchup up against the bigger center backs. So, if Altidore is out, which is still up in the air according to Yahoo, then where do the US turn? Let's take a look at this dilemma and who could fill in:

Aron Johannsson

Johannsson is who Klinsmann opted to put in when Altidore went down in the 23rd minute. He didn't play terribly, but didn't really impact the game either. Granted, the US went into a much more severe defensive mode than we've seen from this team under Klinsmann after Clint Dempsey scored an early goal, a goal clocked in at 30 seconds (the fifth-fastest in World Cup history and the fastest in American history). But it was evident the US lost a threat when Altidore exited. as the Ghanaians were able to push more consistently without Altidore up front and Johannsson had trouble winning one-on-one battles. 

Chris Wondolowski

"Wondo" is a favorite of Klinsmann and this is his first World Cup at 31 years old. He is the only other forward they could sub Altidore with. Wondolowski had an impressive stretch of goal-scoring prowess during the qualifying run of the United States. He has nine career goals in international play, all of which have been scored since July 5, 2013. He is a great striker in the MLS and has proven he has the goal scoring touch, if Klinsmann opts to turn to him. However, I feel Wondolowski is better suited as a late sub rather than a fill-in starter for Altidore.

The Landon Donovan Factor

No, Landon Donovan cannot be called into duty for the US, but his omission now looms larger with Altidore down with an injury. The omission of Donovan, the most decorated player in United States soccer history, was not necessarily a shock, as there were grumbles about how fit he was and how his form wasn't great in the run-up to the final camp for the US. However, it was definitely a surprise. His experience and leadership alone should have been enough for Donovan, who scored perhaps the most iconic goal in US soccer history at the 2010 World Cup. Klinsmann, who has an eye at 2018 with a new contract extension, clearly felt otherwise and left off the aging star. 

Instead, he opted for youngster Julian Green, who just turned 19, Chris Wondolowski, an MLS veteran but a World Cup newbie, and Brad Davis, a 32-year-old midfielder. There have been a lot of discussions about Davis and Wondolowski, as Klinsmann has said he wanted youth, but chose veterans Davis and Wondo over Donovan. Either way, Donovan is off the roster and now Klinsmann's decision to leave him off is even more glaring and could cost the US a chance of making it out of the group.

Manaus, The Jungle

In the middle of the Amazonian jungle, the stadium in Manaus is tough to play in. It's also where the US play their next match against Portugal. Let's forget about the fact that there were doubts about this stadium even being completed on time and let's look at the weather. If the Italy/England game was any indication, then be prepared for a sluggish affair. Both Italy and England admittedly struggled through the second half due to the sweltering heat and humidity, so the US players need to take note, as Altidore left with a hamstring injury and Matt Besler exited at halftime with a hamstring problem. 

US fitness levels will have to be at an all-time high to play a complete 90-minute game in the jungle against a solid Portugal squad. They looked slow against Ghana, which can't happen again, as their fortunes may not be as good. Portugal is also struggling with injured players though, so this could be a war of attrition. Klinsmann needs to take note of the weather when finding a sub for Altidore. Who can withstand the heat best? 

Another Midfielder

There is also the possibility that the US simply change their formation and go with another midfielder. They would be perfectly content with a draw against Portugal, who will most likely be looking for a win after their 4-0 loss to Germany. If things don't go well for the US with the added midfielder, then Klinsmann has the option to add some offense with Johannsson or Wondolowski later in the match. The two midfield options are Mix Diskerud and Brad Davis. 

The Decision 

The safe bet might be on Johannsson, who played last game, but I would love to see Klinsmann opt for Mix Diskerud and play a more defensive approach in the jungle of Manaus. Goals might be hard to come by, as the pace of the players will be impacted by the weather. Call it a hunch, but I see Klinsmann calling on Mix, who took Donovan's number 10 when he was left off the roster. Now I see him taking over for Altidore, which would be a huge step forward for the young Norwegian-American.

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