The coach gambled a bit when he didn't bring a second true target striker to the World Cup, and now with his star striker injured he must consider his options.
Klinsmann obviously felt good about his other forward options, Aron Johannsson and Chris Wondolowski, but he also couldn't have expected Altidore to pull his hamstring in the opening match. Klinsmann's tactics have been thrown into doubt as he tries to figure out how to replace the one player who he doesn't really have a natural replacement for.
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When Altidore left last Monday's win over Ghana, Klinsmann turned to Aron Johannssson, who struggled to deal with Ghana's physicality. That doesn't mean he wouldn't be a good fit to face Portugal on Sunday, but Klinsmann will have to consider all his options -- not only for the match in Manaus against the Portuguese, but potentially for the group finale against Germany on June 26.
The onus will fall on Johannsson and Wondolowski to compete to fill the void left by Altidore, unless Klinsmann decides to use his midfield depth to cope with Altidore's absence. If Klinsmann does turn to his forwards, he will be looking at a pair who bring different qualities to the team, though they do have some similiarites.
"They both help the team in offense/defense, they do a lot of stuff that's not on the stat sheet, they're both tricky with the ball and they both have a nose for goal," U.S. midfielder Kyle Beckerman said of Johannsson and Wondolowski. "So I'd say there's more similarities than differences."
"They’re two guys that like to move off the ball, so there’s different ways Jurgen can use each of them, depending on how you want to play," U.S. midfielder Alejandro Bedoya said.
So what will Klinsmann do to replace Altidore against Portugal? Here are his options:
This might seem like an unattractive option given the lingering memory of how ineffective Johannsson was replacing Altidore against Ghana, but a few things worked against Johannsson then. For starters, the U.S. midfield couldn't keep the ball or provide much in the way of service in the run of play, leaving Johannsson to try and take on Ghanaian defenders in one-on-one battles he wasn't physical enough to win.
So why would things be any different against Portugal? The Portuguese defense will be without Pepe and Fabio Coentrao, and its defense won't be as physical as Ghana's was (certainly not without Pepe). There should be more space for Johannsson to work in, and the U.S. midfield should be able to keep the ball a bit better, and therefore provide more chances for him.
Wondolowski isn't your prototypical target forward, but he has the strength, tenacity and hold-up play to fill the role competently. He doesn't have Altidore's strength or top-end speed, but he has a good touch, can pass well and will finish chances if he is provided service.
From a tactical standpoint, if Klinsmann wants to have a five-man midfield against Portugal, then Wondolowski is his man, but it remains unclear whether Klinsmann will toy with dropping Dempsey deeper. If Klinsmann chooses the 4-4-2, then Johannsson seems a safer bet.
We saw this tandem show well in the team's April friendly against Mexico, and with Portugual offering some similar challenges to Mexico, perhaps we could see Klinsmann go back to this combination. Jermaine Jones has shown that he's capable of holding things down playing in a wide role, but with Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani looming as wing threats, Klinsmann might not want to try that again even though Jones was outstanding there against Ghana.
Why wouldn't this set-up work? It very well could, and would probably give Klinsmann as close to a lineup stylistically to what the team would be like with a healthy Altidore. That said, Johannsson is probably a better matchup against Portugal in a two-forward set, with Wondolowski a player he can bring on in the second half.
Dempsey hasn't played many matches for the U.S. as a lead striker or lone striker, but this could be a match where Klinsmann at least considers the possibility. The most recent time Dempsey led the line was in the team's 4-1 loss to Costa Rica in World Cup qualifying, a resounding defeat that was more about defensive breakdowns than Dempsey's ineffectiveness in a lead forward role.
So why even try it? It would allow Klinsmann to deploy Alejandro Bedoya and Graham Zusi on the wings, to use their work rate to help cut down passing lanes to Cristiano Ronaldo, while deploying Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley in central midfield to shut down Raul Meireles. It would mean some hard work holding up the ball for Dempsey, who is nursing a broken nose.