Jozy Altidore's Return Vital for Team USA's 2014 World Cup Chances

Gianni VerschuerenFeatured ColumnistJune 27, 2014

NATAL, BRAZIL - JUNE 16:  Jozy Altidore of the United States pulls up injured during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group G match between Ghana and the United States at Estadio das Dunas on June 16, 2014 in Natal, Brazil.  (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)
Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

Jurgen Klinsmann is optimistic striker Jozy Altidore will recover from a hamstring injury in time for USA's 2014 World Cup round of 16 clash with Belgium, and the Yanks will need the forward in order to make a run in this tournament.

Via, Klinsmann told reporters Altidore's recovery is going well and that he's optimistic the striker will be fit to face the Red Devils on Tuesday: "We are very optimistic. Every day is a big step forward with Jozy. It's 11 days now and it's looking better every day so we're optimistic to have him being part of the Belgium game."

Altidore went down with an injury during USA's opening match against Ghana, and it was initially feared he would miss the rest of the team's World Cup. The Yanks have struggled to find a suitable partner for Clint Dempsey in his absence, and as a result, the team's movement up front has been limited.

The Sunderland man isn't a natural scorer, but his mobility is key in creating space for the players around him. Many people have pointed at Michael Bradley's lack of form during the tournament, but a lack of space in the attacking third certainly hasn't helped.

The USA's run in the World Cup has been splendid so far, but much of it has to do with the defensive solidity of the team and the superb displays of Tim Howard. Offensively, too much reliance has been placed on set pieces, as a lack of creativity has held the attackers back.

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - JUNE 27:  Jozy Altidore of the United States jogs around the pitch during training at Sao Paulo FC on June 27, 2014 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Going into a tie against Belgium, that's not a good omen. The Red Devils have one of the best stoppers in all of football in Thibaut Courtois, and they're one of two teams yet to concede a goal from open play.

Centre-back Daniel van Buyten was the single highest-rated defender of the entire group stages, per, and he is just one of many class backs playing in front of Courtois.

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - JUNE 26:  Daniel Van Buyten of Belgium acknowledges the fans after a 1-0 victory in the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group H match between South Korea and Belgium at Arena de Sao Paulo on June 26, 2014 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Photo by Ph
Phil Walter/Getty Images

Captain Vincent Kompany is still a question mark for the Belgians, but as detailed in this Bleacher Report article, the Belgians have plenty of depth at the centre-back position to deal with his absence.

The Belgian back four is big, physical and very talented, but they're not particularly mobile, especially without Kompany. That's where someone like Altidore could make the difference, using his pace and quickness to pull some of these players out of position.

Goal's Cristian Nyari agrees:

Going up against the 36-year-old Van Buyten, Altidore would force the Red Devils to drop holding midfielder Axel Witsel slightly deeper to help against the pesky forward. This would in turn free up Bradley, whose vision and creativity are vital to the success of this USA team.

With so much defensive attention going to Altidore, Dempsey could find himself having just a split second extra when controlling the ball, and as we saw against Ghana, that extra time is all the talented forward needs.

Altidore can do many things for this USA team, but on Tuesday, it won't be his goals they need the most. His mobility is the USA's biggest asset against Belgium's back-line, and it will be the key to unlocking the door to the quarter-finals.