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Missing Altidore: Who steps up? The case for Chris Wondolowski

Jun 18, 2014, 7:18 AM EDT

Wondolowski 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.

WIth that in mind, 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 Wondo.

[ MORE: Missing Altidore: The case for Aron Johannsson ]
[ MORE: Coy but positive, Klinsmann leaves us in the dark on Altidore ]

[ RELATED: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly ]

The United States squad has found itself in a fantastic position.  With a chance to clinch against a beat up Portugal side, there is every reason for Klinsmann to go for the jugular.

And with that in mind, he has Chris Wondolowski on the bench. Either choice to replace Jozy is a risk because, well, it’s not Jozy.  But it’s certainly arguable that putting Johannsson up top against Portugal is more of a risk simply because he’s much more of an unknown.

source: Getty Images

Chris Wondolowski provides experience and a knack for the net up front. Will he win the battle to take Altidore’s spot?

Wondo has been in fantastic form the past six months for the United States despite often starting on the bench, and at 31 years old, he’s much more experienced. Seemingly cropping up with a goal at the perfect time, Wondo provides a solid option up top for the USMNT.

Unfortunately, there are drawbacks.  A true target man and poacher, Wondo at the front means Klinsmann needs to build the formation around him, and everyone else is support staff.  Unlike Altidore, Wondolowski can’t be counted on to help in build-up play.  With just two assists in MLS play since the start of the 2013 season, he’s solely there to score goals.

With a solid midfield behind him, Klinsmann would likely put true service on the wings, with Alejandro Bedoya and Graham Zusi both solid options to send the ball in accurately and in dangerous locations.  Both are also able to help defend, which wingers will need to do on a regular basis with Cristiano Ronaldo sure to be seen in all areas of Portugal’s attack.

However, his age does provide a problem. In the heat of Manaus, will he be able to hold up much longer than the first half? We’ve never seen any serious issues with his fitness before, but the Amazon rainforest is also something we’ve never seen before.

With that in mind, no matter who starts, it’s certainly possible we end up with a combination of the two players. Klinsmann may plan to start one and relieve with the other, giving us a chance to see how the two provide different options for the US up front.

Who do you think should start in Jozy’s place?

  1. renhoekk2 - Jun 18, 2014 at 9:14 AM

    Johannson was invisible after coming on for Altidore. The fact that Klinsmann’s choice was him instead of Wondoloski in such a big match says a lot. I have zero faith in either one of them to contribute against the likes of Portugal and Germany.
    I was absolutely shocked that Eddie Johnson was left off of the team for Brazil. He seemingly played his way onto the team with his performance at the Gold Cup. He can be more of a target man like Altidore, but also has pace to play a transition game. Not to mention he is also the best aerial threat in the box. Bad decision on Klinsmann’s part.

    • twerkslikeMiley - Jun 18, 2014 at 10:16 AM

      While I agree that AJ was invisible, short of playing MF and on defense, how was he supposed to get the ball? Or have a chance to do anything with it? Bradley was brutal all game, Jones and KB were left to desperately clear the ball. Ghana put 21 shots on net, most of the quality kind.

      • kopy - Jun 18, 2014 at 11:07 AM

        You’re being too mean to the US defense. Ghana put 21 shots in the general direction of the net, but only 8 were ON net, when the US had 7 shots on target.

  2. guerojose - Jun 18, 2014 at 9:24 AM

    Wondo will be fine, if chosen. All he does is score. But far more important than who’s up front will be if the US can possess the ball in midfield. If they look as nervy as they did against Ghana, with unforced bad passes from everyone including Bradley, then they’ll lose. Simply bombing it forward and hoping for the best was a flashback to the worst Bruce Arena days, and is what allowed Ghana to take control. Guys, watch the film, you had more time to make a pass than you think you did. Own the ball, and let Portugal unravel under their own pressure.

    • rufusrainer - Jun 18, 2014 at 2:54 PM

      Didn’t score against Azerbaijan when he had two WIDE OPEN chances in front of goal. Portugal are a much better team so I’m not sure he’d even get looks like that.

      • guerojose - Jun 18, 2014 at 9:26 PM

        Meh, show me a player who converts 100% of his chances, and I’ll show you a unicorn. Perhaps Jurgen should put you in.

  3. midtec2005 - Jun 18, 2014 at 10:21 AM

    “In the heat of Manaus, will he be able to hold up much longer than the first half?”

    He has to play in Houston and Dallas in the middle of the summer. I bet he can handle it. Wondo is the Clint Mathis of this tournament, all we need is the “this is why he’s here” call.

    • nappy25 - Jun 18, 2014 at 5:30 PM

      He also plays away games in the CONCACAF Champions League. Horrible weather and fields should suit him.

  4. skipvanmeter - Jun 18, 2014 at 10:51 AM

    Two articles supporting Iceman and Wondow. There is a third option that should at least be considered and that is what Germany basically did: using neither with Dempsey as the lone false 9 and packing the midfield.

    • lyleoross - Jun 18, 2014 at 11:39 AM

      This has been tried. It’s a fail. It doesn’t suit Dempsey’s strengths. You need him paired behind a striker. I hate LD (his attitude stinks), and Eddie put himself out, but those who are pointing out that having one or the other would have done the trick are correct.

      Here’s the missing point. I can’t see how JK could not have foreseen the possibility of having to lose JA. I’m guessing he has a formation in mind. We will see come Sunday.

      • jcmeyer10 - Jun 18, 2014 at 12:24 PM

        Yah, he seems like a sharp guy. Sharp enough to see (especially after the first few days) cramping and muscle issues might come up, especially with players prone to those types of injuries.

        Right now, I reckon, he just wants to keep Portugal guessing.

      • skipvanmeter - Jun 18, 2014 at 1:21 PM

        No it is not a fail if you insist on only seeing things in black and white. The reason being is that the problem is not just about Altidore and you can’t just isolate Altidore’s injury from the greater team issues on offense.

        The biggest problem is not no Altidore but the service from midfield as Bradley confirmed what Roma among other teams knew: that as good as he is you can’t make him into the team’s a-mid against top teams. He;’s best coming as a secondary creator from deep midfield. So he needs help. There’s a few options, none of which is perfect but all should be looked at

        – Replace Beckerman with Diskerud and add Zusi for a 5 man midfield. Basically the team will need 5 midfielders to deal with CR7 and friends. Diskerud would help shoulder the creativity burden.

        – Move Fabian Johnson to left wing, replacing him at right back with Chandler. Johnson is a creative force in his own right. Plus he might be the best winger to deal with Ronaldo cause CR7 won’t track back. With this change you could still not replace Altidore and add in Diskerud or leave in
        Beckerman.

        Ultimately the team needs to take account of Portugal’s better midfield, especially their ability to use the wide spaces. This is why you practically MUST have a fifth midfielder, much like Germany did (and they had a sixth mid). That is why Dempsey as the false 9 must be an option. Just putting in Wondo or Kevin Bacon won’t help the defense and without better service they are alone. Bradley needs help.

      • lyleoross - Jun 18, 2014 at 3:05 PM

        I can’t assess MB fully in the context you’ve raised. I didn’t watch him that often with Roma, but up until he got hurt, he looked decent there, and created a number of chances. I always thought they didn’t bring him back because his replacement was as solid, or more so, and bringing Bradley back would mean a major rework late in the season. That said, you may be right, and certainly if things don’t change there, we are going to get thumped.

        I’m still going to disagree with your false nine. Yes, I know Messi makes it work, and Dempsey looks to be back in form, but getting Dempsey to create out of less forward positions on his own won’t work any better than having him create out of a more forward position. If you use the false nine, who is going to pull the pressure off Dempsey? Barcelona has so much up there that it works. What team is going to view anything we have as a threat in this formation? You need a striker who is dominant up there, and it can’t be Dempsey based on his past performance up front.

        I will concede that you may have something with FJ. If you put him out on a wing position, to pull the pressure of Dempsey, that might work, but as good as he’s looked lately, he still doesn’t have the skill and gravitas it takes to make the false nine work IMO. And of course then you have Chandler against Ronaldo. Owwwww.

        Most importantly, you’ve trained in a diamond, or flat four for the last year, now you’re asking them to adjust to a four five one, or four six and you already have problems with some players covering their assigned territories. My feeling is this would be a disaster. You’d end up conceding the mid so Ronaldo would have a nice run up before beating Chandler. Even worse, MB has shown that when we are weak back there, he will pull back into a more defensive posture to help out, so essentially, you move Jones up, and Bradley back (based on their personalities and playing style).

        One way or the other, we are going to see come Sunday. And just think, if JK doesn’t go with the false nine, and they lose, you can say I told you so. :)

      • lyleoross - Jun 26, 2014 at 1:08 PM

        Did someone say false nine? I didn’t even see it, but clearly they are falling into it at times. Wrong game, but good call, clearly Klinsmann was listening to you. Good Call.

      • rufusrainer - Jun 18, 2014 at 3:09 PM

        I think your assessment of Bradley is pretty spot on skip. Bradley is a defensive center mid at heart. Play to his strengths. Diskarud is a more attack minded player – and has the technical ability on the ball to boot. Put him at attacking mid or Dempsey.

        I think the US’s inability to remain composed with the ball at their feet and defenders pressing really showed against Ghana. it’s hard to keep possession of the ball when you can’t dribble out of pressure and are forced to make a tough pass.

      • lyleoross - Jun 18, 2014 at 4:51 PM

        Diskarud is coming more and more to mind as someone who can create opportunities for Dempsey. I’d like to see it. Not sure it would work, but that is based more on my lack of knowledge. Given the other options, it seems the best though.

        I still can’t figure out why our composure was so bad. I expect some let down against a team like Ghana, but jeez.

  5. 950003cups - Jun 18, 2014 at 10:55 AM

    I don’t know anything about soccer besides that it’s played on grass with a black and white basketball.

    But I know the point system, and that win on Monday was exciting.

  6. mdac1012 - Jun 18, 2014 at 11:16 AM

    I prefer Wondo coming off the bench in the Portugal game. Despite Wondo’s limitations, the thing about him is he goes 100% on every play and makes smart runs. I could see him coming in for the last 15-20 minutes against a tired defense and poaching a goal because he wasn’t marked properly.

    • awhayes - Jun 18, 2014 at 11:20 AM

      Agree mdac – I think there is a very good chance Wondo could score coming off the bench in the 75th minute or so. He is so high energy he would be an absolute nuisance for Portugal and I bet he’d get a goal if we could get the ball up to him.

  7. mikeevergreen - Jun 18, 2014 at 12:22 PM

    Why not Dempsey as target? It’s not like he can’t pass, folks.

    • rufusrainer - Jun 18, 2014 at 3:13 PM

      he’s a better hold up player than people give him credit for. He doesn’t have the physical strength of someone like Altidore, but he is good at drawing fouls when defenders try to muscle him off the ball.

  8. dwforney - Jun 21, 2014 at 1:36 PM

    Wondo is great at scoring late goals and scored 27 goals in 32 games in 2012. Enough said.

    • thereisonly1zlatan - Jul 1, 2014 at 8:23 PM

      Wondo had a chance to be a hero and score a “LATE GOAL” in the 93′ minute – and f’ed up a finish I’m confident my 13 year old female cousin would at least put on net…

      he will never forget that one. neither will I, but the future looks bright… Julian Green

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