Injury to Jozy Altidore Ultimately Doomed the USMNT at the World Cup

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistJuly 1, 2014

AP Images

The tremendous effort in goal from Tim Howard was there. The defenders in front of him put in the performance of their lives. But one thing was missing that ultimately cost the United States men's national team a spot in the quarterfinals at the 2014 World Cup. 

In the buildup to the round-of-16 clash against Belgium, the American camp teased the possibility of Jozy Altidore making an appearance against Belgium, but it was evident late in the match that was just a tease and nothing else. 

Altidore, who pulled up lame against Ghana in the first match for the Yanks in Brazil, was greatly missed up front in his role as a powerful forward, and because of his absence, the United States was not able to play the way it had been leading up to the tournament. 

It was clear from the minute Altidore exited the Ghana match the Americans needed a miraculous effort from Clint Dempsey up front, which in the end was too much of an ask for the captain. 

By having no direct replacement for the 24-year-old in the 23-man squad, manager Jurgen Klinsmann was left hoping that his captain could carry the load, but when it counted the most against Germany and Belgium, Dempsey couldn't create many chances by himself up front. 

Jul 1, 2014; Salvador, Bahia, BRAZIL; Belgium defender Daniel van Buyten (15) and United States forward Clint Dempsey (8) go up for a head ball during the first half of their round of sixteen match in the 2014 World Cup at Arena Fonte Nova. Mandatory Cred
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The American attack finally found life late in the match when Chris Wondolowski entered in the 72nd minute, a move that let Dempsey drop back further in the midfield to gain possession and work with Michael Bradley.

By not having that extra forward in the lineup from the outset, the Yanks were once again met with an onslaught of shots from their opponent. 

Without Howard sprawling all over the place to make 16 saves, we wouldn't even be having a discussion about extra time and the terrific fight shown by the Americans after going down by two goals. 

The Belgian attack was handed the opportunity to batter Howard with shots because there were few occasions when the Americans kept a steady stream of possession. By not controlling the possession battle, which Klinsmann insisted that his side would do before the match, the defense was not handed much of a breather. 

Jul 1, 2014; Salvador, Bahia, BRAZIL; United States goalkeeper Tim Howard (1) makes a save against Belgium during the second half of their round of sixteen match in the 2014 World Cup at Arena Fonte Nova. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The desperation for scoring a goal near the end of regulation also hurt the American defense, since DeAndre Yedlin was caught forward on the right flank late in the second half. 

With Yedlin leaving his fellow defenders out to dry, players like Bradley and Jermaine Jones had to drop deeper on the Belgian counter to make sure the game did not end in heartbreaking fashion in regulation. 

Once Wondolowski was entered into the game, it gave the United States a better grasp in the possession battle because Dempsey was able to drop further back. He did not do that in the first 71 minutes because it would have left a void up front that no one would've filled. 

Then there was the missed opportunity right in front of the net that Wondolowski had right before the end of regulation, which was a shot that a striker of his ability should have been able to pummel into the back of the net. 

While you do have to put the enormity of the situation into context, one would have to believe that Altidore would have been able to finish off that shot, and the Belgians, before extra time. 

While the Americans did show plenty of life in extra time after they went down by two goals, it was too little, too late for a side that was in need of its target man from the start of the tournament. 

Despite failing to score at Sunderland during the club season, Altidore had a strong buildup to the World Cup, a span that included a much-needed brace against Nigeria in the final tune-up game. 

Altidore was feeling confident in front of goal, and that may have been one of the reasons why Klinsmann was naive and decided to not select a second strong forward to go to Brazil. 

Jul 1, 2014; Salvador, BRAZIL; United States manager Jurgen Klinsmann reacts during overtime against Belgium during the round of sixteen match in the 2014 World Cup at Arena Fonte Nova. Belgium defeated USA 2-1 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebil

In the end, it was that roster decision, not the one to exclude Landon Donovan, that will be criticized for quite some time. 

Had the United States used a player like Eddie Johnson or Terrence Boyd at the top of a 4-2-3-1, it would have allowed Dempsey the opportunity to create more plays out of the midfield and take advantage of some give-and-go moves due to the hold-up play of the forward. 

Instead, Dempsey was left fighting for his ground up front, and he did not succeed in that role against Germany and Belgium. The new setup also hampered the play of Bradley, who was handed more responsibility in the midfield to create chances. 

The only time where Bradley looked completely comfortable as the field general in the middle of the pitch was after Wondolowski entered into the game in Salvador. 

Putting Dempsey in a lone forward role after the Altidore injury and not attempting to change it much until the end of the Belgium game cost Klinsmann's team its chance to challenge the mighty Lionel Messi and Argentina in the quarterfinals. 

Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.


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