For Toronto FC supporters, Jozy Altidore injury news rates as “concerning” more than “fall over alarming.” Major League Soccer’s campaign is long and winding, and the playoff format is overly forgiving, if we are being honest. The well-paid young striker has plenty of season still ahead.
But for U.S. Soccer supporters, this latest Altidore injury setback leaves a bigger imprint of worry lines. In the short-term, he won’t be around for road friendlies in June against the Netherlands and Germany, matches that were going to be toughies, anyway. It certainly won’t help being without your best striker, a strong one who can be a handful for defenders even on days of lesser sharpness – so long as he isn’t going all sailor mouth on some poor referee, that is.
More worrisome still: We don’t know if Altidore can get healthy and (even more problematic) game-fit before CONCACAF Gold Cup matches that begin in less than six weeks. That Confederations Cup spot in 2017 is at stake at the Gold Cup, and U.S. Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann has made no secret that he badly covets that spot.
In the bigger picture, a hamstring strain – the same injury, although on the other leg – that will keep Altidore sidelined for 4-5 weeks exposes depth issues. It’s an increasingly sore spot for a fourth-year manager who is being compensated handsomely to fill such holes in the program, with questions sure to arrive more regularly now on whether Klinsmann is doing enough to advance the depth issues.
No national team can replace a “great;” you just cannot change out a Leo Messi, a Zlatan Ibrahimovic or a Luis Suarez like-for-like. But the better teams are deep enough to replace a “good,” and that’s what we have in the 25-year-old Altidore.
The problem is that the candidates to play striker over the coming weeks fall into one of two categories: unproven at highest level or ill-suited for that highest position on the field. (Not that Klinsmann has a problem playing his men out of position, as we have seen.)
We have been here before, of course, and rather notoriously. That exacerbates the problem for Klinsmann, because Altidore’s situation reminds everyone of what is easily the manager’s most controversial roster choice. When Altidore fell to the hamstring injury last summer in Brazil, no suitable replacement was in country. Landon Donovan certainly isn’t a target striker, but having his experience and talent on hand could have provided further attacking options, at the least. Or have we all beaten that dead horse enough just yet?