In today’s vital game against Portugal in the FIFA World Cup the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) must play without their number one striker, Jozy Altidore. This leaves it for Aron Johannsson or Chris Wondolowski to step up to the occasion on the world’s biggest stage. Altidore pulled up grabbing his leg in the first half against Ghana with what is being reported as a hamstring strain. There is hope that the big hold-up forward will return later in the tournament if the USMNT can advance out of their group. If the United States wins today against Portugal they will be top of the group with six points, ahead of the Germans with four, the Ghanaians with one and eliminating Portugal from the FIFA World Cup with zero points. A win today would secure a birth to the knockout stages as well.
In the first game when Altidore was injured, Aron Johannsson was substituted in to replace him. Johannsson is originally from Iceland, but decided to play for America because he spent a large portion of his youth in Alabama. He was the third leading scorer in the Dutch Eredivisie this year with seventeen goals for AZ Alkmaar in the league and 26 goals in 51 appearances overall. Johannsson has sound soccer technique and a great touch, but does not hold up the play with his back to goal. He prefers to make quick runs between the center backs or come back into midfield to pick up the ball and link up play. He is therefore much more of a front to goal forward that will look to get on the end of crosses from the far post for an easy finish.
The other choice that Jurgen Klinsmann has to decide upon to lead the line against Portugal for the USMNT in the FIFA World Cup is Chris Wondolowski. Wondo as he is often called, holds the MLS single season scoring record set back in 2012 with 27 goals. He is seen traditionally as a poacher who seems to be in the right place at the right time for club and recently country. He has nine international goals in his last 13 appearances for the USMNT. If forced to compare him to another player in the FIFA World Cup group it would have to be Miroslav Klose from Germany. Obviously Klose has done much more than Wondo is his international career, but they are both players who find ways to score without dribbling through two or three defenders or hitting a long 25-yard screamer into the upper-90 of the goal.
The last option that a few people in the media have talked about is to have Clint Dempsey lead the line by himself. This would change the USMNT’s formation surely, with it becoming more of a 4-1-4-1, with Beckerman holding behind Jones and Bradley in the central midfield. This could be very effective in defensive, keeping the lines close and compact, but giving the United States very little options going forward, with only Zusi adding an extra option out of left midfield instead of a real striker.
The best option seems to be to pair Dempsey with Wondolowki, who does have the ability to hold up the play a bit better than Johannsson. The United States could need a breather when defending against Ronaldo, Nani and company so playing a long ball to Wondo to hold up for a few seconds while runners come up to support him may be necessary. It would also allow Johannsson to come of the bench in the second half with the likes of Mix Diskerud or Zusi to try to attack a Portugal defense that will be without their leader Pepe, and their starting left back Fabio Coentrao. Johannsson may even have to replace Dempsey if his broken nose gives him problems breathing for 90 minutes in the rough heat of Manaus, Brazil. The decision for choosing the starting XI against Portugal in the FIFA World Cup for the USMNT of course goes to the coach, Jurgen Klinsmann, who as a former forward himself, and therefore has plenty of experience in how to play against certain defenses especially on the world’s biggest stage.
Commentary by B. Taylor Rash