Wondolowski

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.

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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?

Premier League AT HALF: Arsenal fights back, Hull City on top

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 10:  Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal (L) and Francis Coquelin of Arsenal (R) celebrate after Theo Walcott of Arsenal (not pictured) scored Arsenals first goal during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Stoke City at the Emirates Stadium on December 10, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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Goals and controversial penalty decisions are a big part of Saturday morning’s quartet of Premier League matches, all of which are at the break.

[ STREAM: Every PL game on NBC Sports ]

Arsenal 1-1 Stoke City

Joe Allen took an elbow from Granit Xhaka inside the 18, and Lee Mason awarded a PK that Charlie Adam converted to give the visitors an early lead. But Theo Walcott scored his 100th goal as a Gunner off a classy Hector Bellerin cross to make it 1-1 before the break.

Burnley 2-1 Bournemouth

The Cherries will have to dig out of another hole this week, and it all began with Jeff Hendrick‘s phenomenal opener. Fellow Irishman Steven Ward scored an economical to goal to double the lead.

But Ryan Fraser continued his fine December with an assist on Benik Afobe‘s goal before halftime.

Hull City 1-0 Crystal Palace

Robert Snodgrass drew a penalty with a pretty easy grass grab, and the Tigers have a

Swansea City 0-0 Sunderland

Not much cooking at the Liberty Stadium.

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Koeman: “Nervous” Everton has a problem after another loss

WATFORD, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 10:  Ronald Koeman manager of Everton arrives prior to the Premier League match between Watford and Everton at Vicarage Road on December 10, 2016 in Watford, England.  (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
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One win in 10 for Ronald Koeman‘s Everton has the Dutchman on the hot seat.

Koeman seems to be clawing for air after the Toffees’ latest setback, a 3-2 loss at Watford.

The loss puts the Hornets ahead of Everton on the PL table, and — while unlikely — it’s a mathematical possibility that the Toffees could be a bottom half team by the end of the weekend.

[ STREAM: Every PL game on NBC Sports ]

That’s a brutal development for a club expected to challenge for a European place this season.

Here’s Koeman:

“I see a lot of similar problems in the team. The team is too much reactive. Of course it’s maybe a lack of confidence, but if you start the game well, 1-0 up, you need a bigger belief in the team and not going back and defending, and nervous, and not enough ball possession. In my opinion that’s a problem.”

A big problem with that? It can be put down to the manager. Is Koeman in trouble already?

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VIDEO: Hendrick scores incredible volley from distance

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Jeff Hendrick, take a bow.

Burnley’s Republic of Ireland international midfielder pulled off a stunning piece of skill on Saturday to put the Clarets ahead against Bournemouth.

[ STREAM: Every PL game online ] 

A long ball forward was flicked on to Hendrick and he took a stunning first touch to tee himself and then settled himself before spanking a volley into the top corner.

Sensational goal from Burnley’s club-record signing.

Click play on the video above to watch it.

Messi’s latest goal dares you to count the touches (video)

PAMPLONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 10:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the La Liga match between CA Osasuna and FC Barcelona at Sadar stadium on December 10, 2016 in Pamplona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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There’s a danger in observing Lionel Messi on a week-by-week basis, and it has a lot to do with how he makes greatness look routine.

So while it’s easy to dismiss yet another mazy dribble through a defense, one of those “Frogger” style with calm-but-vicious cutbacks, try to consider everything that goes into Messi’s second goal against Osasuna early Saturday.

[ MORE: Watford 3-2 Everton ]

On first look, you might count 9 touches for Messi starting with his right-footed collection of the ball. But move to the slow motion replays, and recognize the truth: Often Messi is letting the ball do the work for him, essentially moving the duo closer to goal while he used his preferred left foot as a must-respect threat.

That he does it in such traffic and at full speed is incredible. It’s literally one of those goals in which a linguistic luminary like Ray Hudson would have trouble over-emphasizing the greatness.

Messi now has 11 La Liga goals in 12 matches, and 22 in 19 overall.

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