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.
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.
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?