By Mary Cunningham

When he is on his game, Jozy Altidore can be a monstrous physical presence. Altidore lacks touch, but at 6-foot-1 and some 200 pounds, he’s the only American striker who can truly overwhelm opponents.

With Altidore out indefinitely with a strained hamstring, U. S. World Cup head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has some difficult choices to make about who replaces him as the team’s target attacker in Sunday’s game against Portugal.

Aron Johannsson (photo above), the Icelandic-American who replaced Altidore in the first half Monday against Ghana, is probably the leading candidate, though if he has been told he is the starter he didn’t say so Friday. Don’t count out Chris Wondolowski, who has penchant for getting his toe on loose balls in the penalty area, or even captain Clint Dempsey who could shift from his usual spot just behind the main striker.

No matter who replaces Altidore, the more significant shift might be in how the U.S. builds an attack to find the precious goal or two that might send the Americans to the knockout round.

Team USA’s confidence is running high after a victory against Ghana at the World Cup. Now, the Americans prepare to face Portugal on Sunday. American fans in Rio de Janeiro weigh in on the matchup and give their predictions for the pivotal game.

Dempsey usually attacks from the left side, but he has also spent time as a target for the U.S., and making him the target attacker could allow Klinsmann to shore up the crucial middle third of the field with an extra midfielder.

“In any big game, the battle that goes on in the midfield is so important,” said Michael Bradley, the team’s central midfielder. “It goes such a long way in deciding who wins the game.”

Klinsmann hasn’t spoken publicly since Tuesday, when he suggested that losing Altidore would indeed force the U.S. to present a different style of attack. “I don’t want to go too deep into details, because obviously we want Portugal to guess a little bit,” he said. “But you know when one of your key players is not available, does it change certain things? Absolutely it does. Jozy is a very strong key player in our group, so we’ll think about the right way to handle that situation.”

Altidore scored four goals for the U.S. in the final qualifying tournament, Johannsson had one, and Wondolowski had none, although he played mostly in the national teams ‘B’ side last year.

Johannsson was serviceable Monday night but created few problems for Ghana’s defense, even though he scored 24 goals for his club team AZ Alkmaar of the Dutch league. He does toil in Europe though, which can tip the scales for the German-born Klinsmann.

Wondolowski, on the other hand may be the more opportunistic striker. One of the most surprising additions to the U.S. team, Wondolowski, is a veritable walk-on who has scored more than 80 goals as a pro, mostly for Major League Soccer’s San Jose Earthquakes. He has an unteachable knack for finding tiny open spaces and loose balls in the penalty area. He has become a king of what are sometimes impolitely referred to as “garbage goals,” though they count the same as Robin van Persie’s diving headers and Arjen Robben’s wonder-strikes.

“Aron and I bring different styles, different sets of skills that I think are useful and I think what we have to do is incorporate those skill sets and also be able to fit into the game plan as well,” Wondolowski said Thursday.

In other words, a U.S. attack that has begun to depend largely on defender Fabian Johnson’s runs down the wing and his elegant crosses in front of the goal might now shift to creating a kind of chaos in the middle of the attacking zone and hoping someone’s foot can get a clean strike on the ball. The Americans won’t likely hold much possession against the highly skilled Portugal, so they will have to take any goal they can manage, no matter how ugly it might be.

“We’re going to have to do certain things that Jozy didn’t and did do,” Wondolowski said. “We’re also going to have to be able to incorporate our style.”


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