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

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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?

Giovinco strikes twice to lift Toronto FC to Canadian Championship (video)

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Sebastian Giovinco scored twice including in stoppage time as Toronto FC overcame Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla’s fantastic strike to win 2-1 in the second leg of the Canadian Championship at BMO Field on Tuesday.

TFC held the advantage after a 1-1 first leg in Montreal. The Reds advance to the CONCACAF Champions League.

Tabla, who just turned 18 in March, is an Ivorian-born Canadian youth international who now has four senior goals for the Impact.

Montreal veteran Patrice Bernier saw red in the 89th minute, putting the Impact’s chances behind the 8-ball.

[ MORE: USMNT Gold Cup questions ]

Toronto FC entered the match with a road goal advantage, which was undone in the quick flash of a left-foot, as Tabla dug a ball from underneath him and past a flying Clint Irwin to make it 2-1 on aggregate.

The goal was a double whammy for Toronto, which went to the break knowing it would need to score twice (or win in penalty kicks) to advance to the CONCACAF Champions League.

Yet TFC came back after a horrendous pass from Montreal, as Michael Bradley pinged a gorgeous diagonal ball to Sebastian Giovinco. The Atomic Ant recovered from a tough opening touch to bury his chance. 1-1.

And, oh yeah, watch this man work for his second…

Who is Kenny Saief, and other USMNT Gold Cup personnel questions

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Kenny Saief is an 23-year-old American left-sided player with UEFA Champions League experience.

So why do we know so little about the Miami-born man?

The answer is pretty straight-forward: Saief’s entire career has been under-the-radar. After coming up through a series of Israeli teams, he moved to KAA Gent in Belgium. None of those matches, even adding in his representing the full Israel national team twice, got a ton of play on American soil.

[ MORE: Saul scores stunner for Spain U-21s ]

So when Saief filed his one-time switch to represent the United States, paving the way for a USMNT call-up for this summer’s Gold Cup, even those of us who’d followed his career from afar had put a limited amount of actual observation on match footage.

So here’s the long-and-short:

  • Saief turns 24 in December.
  • He moved to Gent from Israeli second tier side Ramat haSharon in 2014.
  • Played a total of 35 minutes in friendlies versus Serbia and Croatia.
  • Saief has 20 total appearances between the Europa and Champions Leagues.
  • Posted a UCL assist versus Wolfsburg in the 2015-16 Round of 16.
  • Had goal, 2 assists in UEL this season, played 180 mins vs. Spurs.
  • Has 15 goals, 9 assists in 107 apps for Gent.

Saief should get an opportunity to make an impact for Bruce Arena’s USMNT, perhaps as soon as Saturday’s friendly against Ghana in East Hartford.

Who else stands a chance to gain the most from this tournament?

Joe Corona — The 26-year-old made his thirst-inducing name in American soccer circles by scoring a pair of goals in the 2013 Gold Cup, but has just 17 caps to his name. His call-up over veterans like Benny Feilhaber and Sacha Kljestan either shows how high he’s risen or how far those veterans have fallen.

Cristian Roldan — Seattle’s hard-nosed midfielder was playing college ball at Washington just three years ago, and it’s not crazy to think strong performances could boost him onto the radar of bigger clubs abroad (let alone make him a mainstay along Kellyn Acosta with the USMNT).

Dom Dwyer — If Roldan’s rise is surprising, Dwyer’s really is astounding. It’s easy to forget that the Sporting KC star forward was playing junior college soccer in 2010 before spending one season of Division I soccer with South Florida. Now he has 57 MLS goals and a look at becoming the clinical finisher the American side has wanted for some time.

Justin Morrow and Eric Lichaj — The 29- and 28-year-old fullbacks would love to prove their mettle is as good if not better than Jorge Villafana, the current front-runner to start at left back should the Yanks complete their revitalized run to the World Cup. Lichaj, a Nottingham Forest veteran, is also adept at right back.

This isn’t to say that Juan Agudelo and Kelyn Rowe won’t benefit from strong tournaments, but the names above have either been rescued from soccer’s scrap heap or at least Jurgen Klinsmann’s prison.

PODCAST: Bob Bradley talks MLS past, USMNT

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Scott Nicholls and Otis Earle welcomed Bob Bradley to their “Beyond The Pitch” podcast to discuss his time coaching the Chicago Fire, the Fire’s current squad, how MLS has evolved, the new generation of players coming into the USMNT and more.

Perhaps most interesting is Bradley talking about previous losses with stinging emotion that sounds like they happened yesterday, including the 2000 MLS Cup.

[ MORE: Latest Men In Blazers pod ]

Since being fired from Swansea City after less than 100 days, Bradley has been linked with the Norway national team gig as well as a return to Los Angeles. Keep up with the U.S. coach here, and check out the podcast here:

U.S. Open Cup preview: Which underdog has best odds?

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Every dog has its day, and the three lower-tier clubs remaining in the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup are hoping for a second.

Miami FC, Sacramento Republic, and FC Cincinnati enjoyed wins over Major League Soccer sides in the fourth round, and now get further MLS tests in this week’s fifth round.

[ MORE: Lampard linked with manager opening ]

Once FC Dallas and Colorado Rapids tangle on Tuesday, attention turns to the underdogs on Wednesday. Who has the best chance to advance?

  1. Miami FC vs. Atlanta United — Playing an MLS expansion side at Riccardo Silva Stadium will give Miami a bit of confidence, and this is also a side with some good experience in pressure spots. Whether it’s manager Alessandro Nesta or MLS vets Michel, Gabriel Farfan, and Michael Lahoud, MFC won’t shy away. Upset chance: Solid.
  2. FC Cincinnati vs. Chicago Fire — The visitors are having a heck of a season in MLS and don’t have a group which will be worried by a huge crowd, but there’s no debating that 25,000-plus in Southern Ohio give FCC more than a puncher’s chance. Upset chance: Improbable, but possible
  3. LA Galaxy vs. Sacramento Republic — If LA puts something close to its best side out there, Sacramento will struggle to stop its attack.  Upset chance: Long shot.

Elsewhere on Wednesday, New England hosts DC United, Philadelphia visits the Red Bulls, Seattle is off to San Jose, and Houston hosts Sporting KC.