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Missing Altidore: Who steps up? The case for Aron Johannsson

Jun 18, 2014, 7:15 AM EDT

Johannsson AP

When Jozy Altidore‘s hamstring became the World Cup’s first victim of the invisible sniper, it forced Jurgen Klinsmann to completely reshuffle the deck he had spent weeks organizing perfectly for play in Brazil.

The USMNT version of 52 pickup is happening as we speak.

Believe it or not, for all the talk of midfield diamonds and center-back pairings leading up to the World Cup, the formation Klinsmann unveiled for the match against Ghana was largely built around its target man Jozy Altidore.

As Everton manager and current ESPN analyst Roberto Martinez said, there is nobody on this team who can replace Jozy Altidore, because he possesses such a rare skill set.  He’s a big, physical body that draws defenders and creates space for his teammates, yet is skillful on the ball and can both body down a defender and take a man on one-on-one.

Now that he will likely be out for an extended period of time, Klinsmann must figure out how to restructure the attack.  There are two men who are the most likely candidates for Altidore’s replacement at the head of the attack: Aron Johannsson, and Chris Wondolowski.  This is the argument for Aron Johannson.

[ MORE: Missing Altidore: The case for Chris Wondolowski ]
[ MORE: Coy but positive, Klinsmann leaves us in the dark on Altidore ]
[ RELATED: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly ]

In Aron Johannsson, the United States have a vastly different striker from Jozy Altidore.  In fact, in just about every way, he’s completely the opposite.

Whereas Altidore relies on size and space, Johannsson relies on speed and technical skills. They both score goals, but their creativity is contradictory. As I explained before, Jozy uses his body and power to create space for his teammates, thus leading to confusing at the back.

source: Getty Images

Aron Johannsson may get his time to shine earlier than he may have expected.

Johannsson, on the other hand, creates chances by making runs, taking on defenders with the ball, and catching the opponent off guard with speed and agility. If you watch any goal compilation of his from AZ Alkmaar, you’ll notice just about every goal appears to come on the break.  He relies on catching the opposition on its heels.

Because of this, Klinsmann would not have to change the formation much to accommodate Johannsson. He has said himself he plays the best with another striker next to him, which makes sense since he works together with another dangerous man on the break.  Likely, this would be Clint Dempsey.

Dempsey played a versatile striker role next to Jozy, often dropping back deeper behind the big attacker to help in build-up play and also to make trailing runs. Now, Clint would have to pair up with Johannsson more often, removing him from link-up play duties, but adding his goal-hawk prowess to the front.

Another great aspect Johannsson provides is his assist potential. Always willing to dish to opponents, “Iceman” had six assists to his name in Eredivisie play last season compared to 17 goals.

Finally, the biggest advantage to playing Johannsson over Wondolowski would be the youth factor.  With many of the theory that Klinsmann is tending toward youth to build for 2018, playing Johannsson now against Portugal and Germany would go a long way to helping the team prepare for life in the 2018 World Cup.

There is no doubt the 23-year-old is a much less experienced option at the front, but eventually he is going to have to get meaningful minutes, and this would be his time to shine.

Who do you think should take over for Altidore against Portugal?

  1. jpbecnel - Jun 18, 2014 at 8:03 AM

    Why wouldn’t we see Brooks move into the role?

  2. msw11 - Jun 18, 2014 at 8:33 AM

    because Brooks is a defender…….

    • handsofsweed - Jun 18, 2014 at 10:00 AM

      LOL! I was picturing him referring to Mel Brooks or Brooks Orpik.

      • lyleoross - Jun 18, 2014 at 11:33 AM

        Mel! Mel! Mel! Biggest smile of the day.

  3. 950003cups - Jun 18, 2014 at 10:57 AM

    Put either guy in. Who cares. It’s not gonna cost us the cup. We just need one KO round win to be successful.

    • thereisonly1zlatan - Jul 1, 2014 at 8:20 PM

      Today, Wondo did cost the US a chance at the round of 8…terrible in the 93′ minute

  4. awhayes - Jun 18, 2014 at 11:27 AM

    Johannsson was not great against Ghana. I’m a huge fan of his but was disappointed by his play. That said, I think he was nervous and simply played awful. I am guessing that if he were given another chance, he would prove he deserved another chance. I still think that outside Zusi and Bradley (at times), Johannsson may rate highest in terms of technical skill.

    One more radical thought – maybe consider starting Zusi up front with Dempsey. I know he’s a midfielder, but the fact is without Zusi in the game we are zero threat on set pieces because Bedoya sucks at them. So he’d help with that but also, and more importantly, he is a fantastic passer with great vision who links well with Bradley – it’s easy to envision a Bradley to Zusi to Dempsey to goal scenario. And, despite all this hold up talk about Altidore (with is overstated), Zusi could be more effective holding it up because he is so good at possession and pass completion – he doesn’t turn it over anywhere near as much as Jozy does.

  5. player169 - Jun 18, 2014 at 7:52 PM

    I say both. Johansson for 1st 65, then Wondo for last 25.

    I like the Zusi idea too. He should definitely replace Nefoya for set pieces alone, but he also has a better motor then Bedoya. Zusi behind Dempsey and in front of Bradley would be sweet!

    The thing I’m interested in is, Does Besler start again if healthy?

  6. thereisonly1zlatan - Jun 18, 2014 at 11:41 PM

    Leading up to the World Cup, I was hoping Johannsson would see 2nd half substitution time coming in for Altidore. Part of me actually wondered whether he might be a fitting starter (had Altidore shat the bed against Nigeria in their last warm up). That was a long-shot kind of whimsical hope – but I was also disappointed in performance. They need more from him. I would never doubt his technical skills – but I’m hoping he’s mentally jazzed up against Portugal.

    Somehow, Klinsmann has to find a way to start Zusi. I thought he was an impact player from the moment he touched the pitch. I think it’s an easy choice of Johannsson over Wondo. The two other bigger questions to me are 1) the formation and 2) the defense.

    Related to the formation, you hear a lot about Klinnsmann’s willingness to tweak line-ups/formations depending on the opponent/situation. It would appear this would be a prime situation for that because of necessity versus tactics.

    Defensively, I thought DaMarcus Beasley was terrible – and that he should not start again. He got beat badly, several times. I’m not sure what the best alternative is there.

    I thought Jones was fantastic in the midfield. Next game, Michael Bradley needs to be more of a playmaker and facilitator….

    Does anyone miss Landon Donovan right now? Just throwing it out there…

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