USA's Altidore ruled out of Portugal match, Besler passed fit
JUN 19, 2014 9:50a ET
SAO PAOLO --
Striker Jozy Altidore has officially been ruled out of the United States men’s national team’s second World Cup game against Portugal on Sunday with a strained left hamstring.
He pulled up lame early in the USA’s 2-1 win over Ghana in Natal on Monday and received an MRI exam on Tuesday. Defender Matt Besler, who also tweaked a hamstring, tested fine and will be available for the game. Captain and forward Clint Dempsey, who broke his nose, is expected to play as well.
“We are hopeful that he will be available in the tournament,” US Soccer spokesman Michael Kammarman said on Thursday morning. Following the game, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s had also said that he was optimistic that Altidore might return later on in the World Cup campaign.
Altidore, who is 24 and has scored 23 goals for the USA in 71 appearances, is receiving treatment. But it is unclear if he’ll return in time for the final group game against Germany on June 26.
His absence complicates an already difficult task for the United States. Portugal was humiliated 4-0 by Germany in its first game and will be looking to reclaim its dignity in the hot and humid Amazon jungle town of Manaus on Sunday. The Portuguese need the win to keep their chances of advancing to the knockout stages alive. The USA, meanwhile, can all but assure a spot in the round of 16 from their group of death with a second victory.
But that prospect is clouded by Altidore’s absence. The Haitian-American striker is a mercurial sort, with his form meandering from prolific highs to goal-barren lows. But even when he isn’t scoring, and he scored twice in the USA’s final send-off game against Nigeria on June 7, he has an irreplaceable utility for the Americans.
Altidore is the only target man on the roster, meaning he is the kind of striker who can bring down high balls lumped forward, hold up play, and get onrushing teammates involved. Other target men Terrence Boyd and Eddie Johnson didn’t make the final World Cup roster.
Klinsmann’s attacking formations revolve in large part around Altidore’s contributions. When a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield is deployed, Altidore allows Dempsey to make runs and drop off while retaining the team’s tactical length. In the 4-5-1 formation, he is the lone striker with a mandate of laying the ball off the for attacking midfielders. Either way, he typically keeps at least two defenders busy with his burly brand of athleticism.
As such, Altidore’s absence will pose Klinsmann with real problems against a strong opponent. Even though Portugal will be without suspended defender Pepe, injured left back Fabio Coentrao and striker Hugo Almeida, and with its superstar forward Cristiano Ronaldo still battling niggling injuries and ineffective by his own lofty standards, it is the bookies’ favorite for the game.
With Altidore out of the picture, the job will be a good bit harder for the Americans to pull off than it already was.