If only replacing an injured striker was as easy as taking one striker out, and then bring another straight in. Unfortunately for USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, things are not quite that simple. Jozy Altidore, although not in the greatest form or vein of confidence right now, is still a pivotal player for the USMNT, and as he now faces time out with a hamstring injury, he may well be leaving a hole that the U.S. just cannot fill.
The severity of the injury is still unknown, but Altidore is surely set for time on the sidelines, with the real question merely being just how long he will be sat there. It’s bad news for the U.S., not only from an emotional standpoint — you never want to see any player miss such a huge competition — but from a tactical standpoint too.
Altidore, of the strikers in the USMNT roster of players, is the only one who brings the attributes that he does — he may well be irreplaceable in that respect. He is strong and physical but with good agility and running power also as a great athlete. He has the ability to drag the team up the pitch by holding the ball up, running the channels for loose balls and drawing fouls in the opposition half. Who will now give the team that escape up the pitch from the constant pressure of the opposition?
The U.S. spent a lot of time defending deep in their own half against Ghana and will surely now spend a similar amount of time doing exactly the same against more talented teams in Portugal and Germany. At some point, though, the defense needs respite and relief from the work it is having to undertake. That is where the worth of Altidore comes in; he can give the defense that respite by holding the ball up and getting the U.S. into the opposition half by drawing fouls and linking up with the midfielder players.
Of the remaining strikers, Aron Johannsson does not particularly excel in any area physically but has been a good goalscorer during his time Holland. Clint Dempsey is a hardworking striker with a touch of the unknown in his locker who can create or score from nothing. And Chris Wondolowski is a predator in and around the opposition box with some decent hold up play at times.
They all bring their own attributes and skill sets, but none of them can replace the athleticism and hold-up play that Altidore brings to the table. The proof will ultimately be on the pitch, of course, but there has to be a real concern right now that the U.S. will lack any real out-ball as they move forward in this World Cup. Sitting deep and defending for most of a game against Ghana is one thing, but doing it against some of the better teams in the competition will be asking a lot.
Maybe Klinsmann can somehow find an alternate answer to the problem that Altidore’s injury creates, or perhaps the injury does not prove to be as bad as first feared — either way, the U.S. need an answer from somewhere because a solution to this problem is not immediately obvious and, frankly, may not even sufficiently exist for the USMNT and Klinsmann.