The two strikers are different players than Jozy Altidore, but one or both of them will have to find a way to fill the hole left by the injured U.S. star.SAO PAULO — From the moment Jozy Altidore reached for his left hamstring in Natal, it was immediately evident that replacing him in the U.S. national team lineup would be a serious chore. With no true target striker on the roster to serve as a natural replacement, Jurgen Klinsmann was always going to have to change things up a bit to help fill the void.
The two players most likely to handle that task, Chris Wondolowski and Aron Johannsson, are fully aware of just how tough it will be to replace the Sunderland man.
“Jozy’s a special player. It’s like saying, ‘Hey, go be Cristiano Ronaldo,'” said Wondolowski. "You can’t necessarily replace certain aspects, but I think Aron and I bring different styles, different sets of skills that I think are useful.
“What we have to go do is incorporate those skill sets, and also be able to fit into the game plan as well. We’re going to have to do certain things that Jozy did do, and we’re going to have to be able to incorporate our styles as well.”
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“Both of us have different styles than Jozy,” Johannsson added. “If either one of us gets on the field, then we just try to play our game and do what the coach wants us to do. If that’s to play like Jozy, we try to do it. If he wants us to play like we normally play, then we’ll try to do that.”
Klinsmann will have to decide which of the two forwards makes the most sense as Altidore's replacement, or better said, which of the two makes the U.S. starting lineup stronger against Sunday’s opponent, Portugal.
Johannsson drew the first chance to replace Altidore, coming on for the injured forward in the first half of the Ghana win. Johannsson didn’t have much of an impact offensively, but did put in good defensive work to help the Americans pull out the victory.
Klinsmann could turn to Wondolowski to start, and use the same Wondolowski-Clint Dempsey tandem that most recently played together in April’s 2-2 tie with Mexico.
Working in the favor of the potential Altidore replacements is the fact that Portugal will be without defensive starters and Real Madrid standouts Pepe and Fabio Coentrao.
“I don’t think it changes our approach at all,” Wondolowski said of Portugal’s missing defenders. “I think that we’ve had the same game plan whether the defenders were in there as well (or not). I know that those are two big guys that they’ve lost, but I think our game plan is still going to be the exact same.”
Wondolowski and Johannsson faced plenty of questions about Altidore, but also managed to field the latest inquiries about Portugal star Ronaldo.
“First and foremost, Cristiano Ronaldo is a supreme player. He’s done amazing things, and especially in this past year the level he has taken it is pretty special,” Wondolowski said. “Our focus, we definitely want to stop him, but we don’t want anyone else to beat us. We want to stop the guys, Eder up front. He came in and he’s dangerous.
“We have to stop the service into the box,” Wondolowski added. “We feel that we have a great game plan in limiting certain things. But they have certain players all across the field, like Nani on the other side, they’re all dangerous. So right now we’re still just fine-tuning that game plan and how to stop the whole team. We’re not focusing on one guy because when you do that there’s 10 other guys out there that can beat you.”
For the Americans, and Klinsmann, they will be hoping that Wondolowski and Johannsson can be the ones beating Portugal on Sunday.
“It’s a big loss losing Jozy, he’s been playing really well and is in great form, but I think our roles are going to stay the same,” Wondolowski said. “We’re both, for myself and Aron, We’re both going to be ready to play at any minute. Just looking for the opportunity, and making the most of it whenever we get the chance.”