After being forced to leave Monday's World Cup Group G match against Ghana, United States striker Jozy Altidore has been ruled out for Sunday's encounter with Portugal, according to the U.S. men's national team's official Twitter feed:
The injury occurred during the 21st minute, with Team USA holding a 1-0 lead. Altidore was chasing a ball down the left flank before he clutched his left hamstring and immediately went down.
While a strain is better than some of the other possibilities, it became apparent—almost at the moment the injury happened—that it would be extremely difficult for Altidore to recover in time for the United States' next match.
Days prior to the Yanks' vital match against Portugal, the feeling within the locker room was that Altidore would not be able to play, according to Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports:
According to his teammates, Jozy Altidore will not play against Portugal. No official word though.— Dan Wetzel (@DanWetzel) June 19, 2014
Per Wahl, midfielder Jermaine Jones echoed that sentiment specifically:
Jermaine Jones says Jozy Altidore won't play vs Portugal.— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) June 19, 2014
Altidore was stuck in a significant goalless drought leading up to the World Cup, but he broke through in a big way during the United States' final friendly, scoring twice against Nigeria. With Altidore finally starting to find his form, he figured to be a major weapon for the Stars and Stripes in Brazil.
Among those who fully recognized the significance of potentially losing Altidore was midfielder Michael Bradley, per ESPN's Mike & Mike:
"Jozy (Altidore), that's a big player for us. We are optimistic that we can get him back somewhere down the line." Bradley on Altidore— Mike & Mike (@MikeAndMike) June 18, 2014
The fact that Altidore wasn't immediately ruled out for the remainder of the World Cup seemed to lift spirits to some degree. Following the diagnosis of a strain, Team USA head coach Jurgen Klinsmann expressed hope that Altidore might return eventually, per Doug McIntyre of ESPNFC.com.
We've got to see how he now reacts the next couple of days with his hamstring, and we're full of hope that he comes back still in the tournament. ... That's what we're going to work on every day. The medical staff is doing a tremendous job (for) weeks, so we still have the hope that Jozy will be back. How quickly, that is down to his healing process.
That return won't come against Portugal, but perhaps the United States' third and final group match against Germany on June 26 is still a possibility.
How will the United States fare against Portugal without Altidore?
The United States was able to persevere against Ghana, as a late header from defender John Brooks helped seal a massive 2-1 victory. A win over Portugal would send the Yanks into the knockout stage, while a draw would also help immensely in that regard.
Team USA has a legitimate chance to get a good result against A Seleccao, as they will be missing defender Pepe due to a red card and world-class striker Cristiano Ronaldo may not be 100 percent. Real Madrid defender Fabio Coentrao has also been ruled out of the rest of the World Cup for Portugal due to an injury.
The absence of Altidore definitely poses a challenge, though, since Klinsmann doesn't have another strong forward who can replace him. The smaller and quicker Aron Johannsson did so against Ghana, and Mike Foss of USA Today's For The Win believes that he is comparable in terms of skill:
Johannsson isn't a step down from Altidore. More a step to the side. Different type of player, skill set. Exciting to see it play out.— Mike Foss (@themikefoss) June 16, 2014
Johannsson didn't do much against the Black Stars, but perhaps things will be different against Portugal since he'll know the situation going in.
Klinsmann may have to make some tactical adjustments in order to ensure that he trots the best Altidore-less squad possible onto the pitch Sunday, but he has pushed all the right buttons to this point.
The United States won without Altidore for much of the match against Ghana, and it has an opportunity to do the same against Portugal with a total team effort.
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