The USMNT could not have had a better start to their World Cup when Seattle Sounders’ talisman Clint Dempsey scored in the first minute of group play against Ghana in Natal. It wasn’t all that easy though, as twenty-six minutes later the star striker, Jozy Altidore, went down holding his hamstring and he was replaced by Aron Johannson.
We have yet to see Johannson since and another player who has seen little action this summer is the other out-an- out striker Jurgen Klinsmann brought to Brazil, Chris Wondolowski. The San Jose Earthquakes striker has played only eight minutes thus far in the tournament. Klinsmann has instead opted to play former Fulham and Tottenham Hotspur attacking midfielder Clint Dempsey in a lone striker’s role. While Dempsey has played to his full potential in the position he almost certainly could produce better in his natural spot just behind the forward. But Klinsmann has opted to keep Dempsey up top and largely ignore his other striking options.
There were many occasions while playing Portugal, when the USA needed a player who could hold the ball up and bring players around him into the game, something the USA captain’s skill set does not necessarily make possible . In the end Portugal got an equalizer due to the pressure they were mounting on the US back four and the collapse of the US midfield in second half stoppage time. If a striker similar to Altidore had been on the pitch the US may have been able to use their physical presence to hold onto possession, thus inadvertently preventing the goal. In the end the equalizer meant very little as Portugal’s poor goal difference guaranteed Klinsmann and his men the second place spot.
What the US manager was looking for in the group stage was a big name to lead the line, and in Dempsey he had that. He wanted someone who other managers would know and design their tactics around, thus allowing the likes of Fabian Johnson and DaMarcus Beasley go under the radar and have a major impact on the game. If this was in fact the German’s plan then he executed it superbly as many defenders attempted to man mark Dempsey, which left space for Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman to push up into.
Another reason Johannsson and Wondolowski have seen little game time this summer is their lack of experience at the international level. They have 31 caps between them whereas Dempsey has 108. With the importance of the games the USMNT were playing the management team may have felt they could not risk anything. Johannsson is an incredible talent but it will most likely be in the 2018 World Cup where he makes his name.
The last 16 fixture against Belgium could see the return of Altidore but with the success of the team without the 24 year-old, he may find himself starting the match on the bench. The team has had a good balance and if Altidore is chosen for the starting line-up it may upset this balance. It’s great to have players of such quality that you have to make such big decisions like this. Either way fans of the United States will support the Manager’s decision and having Altidore back increases the tactical options.