Will Jozy Altidore return for U.S. World Cup round-of-16 match vs. Belgium?


Jozy Altidore, left, at U.S. camp in Sao Paulo on Friday. (By Kevin C. Cox — Getty Images)

Sidelined since straining his left hamstring in the World Cup opener, Jozy Altidore has been jogging and running for three days and might be available for the U.S. national team’s World Cup round-of-16 match Tuesday against Belgium.

“We are very optimistic,” Coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “Every day is a big step forward. It’s 11 days now, and it’s looking better every day. So we are optimistic to have him be part of the Belgium game.”

In Altidore’s absence, Clint Dempsey served as the lone forward in the U.S. starting lineup in the last two Group G matches. Aron Johannsson replaced Altidore when the veteran striker left the Ghana game in the first half, but Johannsson has not played since.

Realistically, after sitting out two matches and not training at full power for an extended period, Altidore is not a candidate to start against Belgium in Salvador. However, if he continues making strides, he would likely be in uniform and become an option late in the game.

Meantime, midfielder Jermaine Jones fractured his nose in a second-half collision with teammate Alejandro Bedoya during the Germany game Thursday, the USSF confirmed. Dempsey suffered a broken nose in the group opener, taking a Ghanaian player’s leg to the face. Jones’s injury is a minor fracture, the USSF said, and like Dempsey, will not wear a mask in the Belgium match.

Both Jones and Bedoya were evaluated for a concussion at the time of the incident, after the game, late Thursday and again early Friday. All tests were negative, the USSF said.

The U.S. squad will train in Sao Paulo on Saturday before chartering to Salvador on Sunday for two days of preparation.

Other highlights from Klinsmann’s media briefing Wednesday at Sao Paulo FC:

On whether the squad will begin practicing penalty kicks, now that it has reached the knockout stage …

“We were practicing already in Stanford. It’s just part of normal preparation. You prepare set pieces, you prepare penalties. It’s a mental moment. If you are not prepared for that mental moment to walk from the halfway line in front of 60,000 to the penalty spot and get the job done, then it’s wrong. We coaches have to walk them through that process and hopefully they are prepared to put it in their favorite corner or wherever that is.”

On whether the cancellation of the Belgium closed-door scrimmage two weeks ago turned out to be a good thing …

“Traffic was so bad, it would’ve taken [Belgium] more than 2 ½ hours to get here. It doesn’t matter. We played them twice in the last three years. We have everything laid out in detail about every Belgium player. So we are very familiar with this very strong team. It is one of the secret favorites in this World Cup. We have absolutely no fear at all. We feel like we are in a position now to challenge it. We believe we have built a foundation that we are able to beat them.”

On the decision to drop Geoff Cameron and Bedoya from the starting XI against Germany …

“We needed a bit of freshness.”

On personal satisfaction of advancing out of the so-called Group of Death after being criticized for coaching decisions …

“It’s no big deal getting criticized. It’s just part of the environment. It’s probably far less in the process than when I went through those two years in Germany. Every day you got hammered there.”

On whether Galatasaray has contacted him about its coaching job

“No.”

Steven Goff is The Post’s soccer writer. His beats include D.C. United, MLS and the international game, as well as local college basketball.
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