Trending Topics: Altidore Injury Gives Klinsmann a Chance to Revamp Lineup


Staff Writer

This is a column that will appear towards the end of the week discussing the hottest topic in American soccer. If you don’t like the Twitter connection or the Puck Daddy influence, oh well, thanks for clicking.

Jozy Altidore will not play against Portugal this Sunday, presenting US Men’s National Team Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann with a true selection issue for the first time in a year.

Similar to the thinking Klinsmann employed when deciding to start Brad Evans at right back in Jamaica, the selection issue at the striker position has to be resolved by adapting to the circumstances.

Fortunately for Klinsmann, both the right back issue in 2013 and the striker issue for this Sunday have circumstances that can work favorably, if manipulated correctly. Last year, the US were about to enter a stretch of games in which they would have the majority of the possession with fullbacks able to push up and influence the attack as midfielders. Playing a midfielder at right back was never as insane as it appeared, especially since there was precedent for this line of thinking in the fact that Jose Torres played left back against Antigua & Barbuda — Klinsmann’s first competitive match as USMNT Head Coach.

There is a very real possibility that Portugal will have not only a new goalkeeper in Beto, but with right back Joao Pereira serving as the lone holdover in a makeshift Portuguese defense for Sunday’s match. Fabio Coentrao is out for the tournament with a groin injury, Pepe is suspended and Bruno Alves missed training on Friday. As a result, a backline (from left-to-right) of Andre Almeida, Ricardo Costa, Neto and Pereira—a grouping who have never played together in a competitive match for Portugal — may be the only option Portugal has this weekend. It’s perfect bait for Klinsmann to be aggressive and try to exploit the issues that come with a backline comprised of backups.

Obviously, Portugal Head Coach Paulo Bento is not purposely playing this backline to try and get the US to attack, but he knows that his team is at its most dangerous while counterattacking through Cristiano Ronaldo.  An overeager US attack could play perfectly into his hands.

That is why, for all the talk of absent American forwards or absent Portuguese defenders, the best way for Klinsmann to resolve this issue is to keep possession, not goals, in mind. Therefore, the technical answer to the question of who will replace Jozy Altidore is Clint Dempsey and the subsequent answer to the subsequent question of who will replace Dempsey is Mix Diskerud.

Before the switch to a midfield diamond, the US played a 4-2-3-1 with either a second striker or number ten playing under a target striker. Dempsey is capable of playing as a target striker and Diskerud is the only natural number ten on the US roster, so the players can fit the roles. Although possession is the m.o., Kyle Beckerman would have to be sacrificed in favor of a Jermaine JonesMichael Bradley partnership. Bradley was incapable of linking the midfield and attack from his advanced position.  Moving him back to a holding position and giving Diskerud that responsibility suits both players.

Germany nullified Ronaldo through a combination of industry and numbers. Sami Khedira  dropped deep from midfield to cover for his right back, Jerome Boateng, advancing up the field. Jones and Khedira are similar players in their ability to cover ground and contribute to the attack and defense. Jones plays with a little more bite which can be a good thing in the physically draining conditions of Manaus. Additionally, Fabian Johnson is far more dangerous in attack than Boateng, so if Ronaldo does not track back, Johnson will have space to influence the attack in a variety of ways.

Regardless of whether or not Coentrao would have been available for Portugal, the US would have needed to use wingers to limit both his and Pereira’s ability to get forward and support Ronaldo and Nani on the wings. That would make Graham Zusi and Alejandro Bedoya vital to the cause for their ability to trackback and help in defense. Now, their offensive capabilities will be crucial not only to preserve width, but to give the US a numerical advantage in the midfield which is where this game will be decided.

If all the pieces come together for the US, they will be able to have wingers or fullbacks constantly available as options in possession, allowing them to control the tempo and force Portugal to work harder in defense. Additionally, the US’ willingness to press in the midfield will make Portugal’s attempts to counter more difficult and having Diskerud mark the deep midfielder, either Miguel Veloso or William Carvalho, is a better option than Dempsey who is rarely asked to contribute a great deal in defense for club or country. Having Bradley as the number ten is the best option to prevent Veloso or Carvalho from influencing the game from a deep lying playmaker position but again, his poor linkup play and lack of creativity does not help the US maintain possession.

The lack of strikers may make the US rather toothless in attack at first, but the concerns over Aron Johannsson’s stamina and Chris Wondolowski’s capability against elite international opponents are strong enough limiting factors to make not naming either in the starting XI justifiable. Having Johannsson and his ability to run the channels as well as Wondolowski’s poaching abilities make them both good options off the bench against tired opposition. Johannsson can exploit tired legs, Wondolowski can exploit tired minds.

Dempsey will have to make sure there are tired legs and minds.

While the selection issue for the US only concerns the striker position, the fact that there is an issue allows for Klinsmann to rework his lineup however he wants. The “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” adage would have had to have been seriously considered if Altidore had not been injured. Now, Klinsmann has an excuse to revamp his gameplan and tailor it to the opposition.

As we saw with Brad Evans, opportunities like that are usually seized by Klinsmann.

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