Jozy Altidore sat out Sunderland’s loss on Saturday to Crystal Palace with a hamstring injury. Meanwhile, the U.S. National Team is set to play at Costa Rica on Friday and then hosts Mexico next Tuesday in a pair of important World Cup qualifiers.
Given the Chicken Little nature of many U.S. fans, is a hamstring issue to the squad’s top striker reason to panic? Maybe not. Here’s what U.S. Soccer had to say on Saturday:
Early Monday morning U.S. Soccer announced Brad Evans would be replaced by Michael Parkhurst due to injury. Granted, he’s not nearly as important to the squad as Altidore, but if his injury were serious perhaps Jurgen Klinsmann would have made a preemptive roster move to bring in another attacker.
Everything about Altidore’s injury sounds vague, so panicking before the U.S. team doctors get a chance to look probably isn’t the best course of action. Altidore played last Tuesday for Sunderland in the League Cup, scoring his first goal for the club. (Monday Sunderland added Liverpool’s Fabio Borini on loan, giving Altidore another player to compete with for minutes.) With or without the New Jersey native, the U.S. is on the verge of clinching a berth in Brazil at the World Cup next June, as it sits atop CONCACAF qualifying two points clear of Costa Rica with four games to go. Better than that, the U.S. is five points ahead of third-place Mexico for the final automatic qualification berth.
A realistic scenario, given the nature of hamstring injuries, would be for Altidore to sit out the match on Friday at Costa Rica (10 p.m., beIN Sport) — giving him time to rest up for the Mexico game in Columbus. The U.S. has won 12 straight matches overall, with Altidore scoring in his last five appearances including a hat trick vs. Bosnia in an August friendly. Rushing him back if he’s not 100 percent is a risk.
Should Altidore’s hamstring issue force him to the bench or to withdraw from the squad, Klinsmann doesn’t exactly have a like-for-like replacement at his disposal if he plays a lone striker in a 4-2-3-1 system. Klinsmann could start the very technical Aron Johannsson, but it would mean the Icelandic-American makes his first start for the U.S. on the road in a hostile environment. As sharp as he looked vs. Bosnia and in YouTube highlights it could be asking a lot. On the flip side, if Johannsson is sharp all week in training, why not try him out? It’s doubtful Costa Rica will spend the week breaking down at video of him. The element of surprise could pay off.
A more likely scenario, with both Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan together in the U.S. lineup for the first time since June 2012, Klinsmann juggles the lineup putting one of two in an advanced position to lead the forward line. Eddie Johnson’s strong form in MLS play could position him for a potential starting spot should Altidore be unable to go.
As great as this summer has been for the United States in establishing an attractive style of play and loads of goodwill, Klinsmann’s side still isn’t blessed with a wealth of international caliber strikers. It’s why any injury concern over Altidore is worrisome — fortunately it’s September 2013, not May 2014. Altidore in his current form makes the U.S. look like a side that can almost keep pace with anybody in the world. Without him, well, let’s just say it’s not a pretty picture to paint.
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