And now, the hard part begins.
The U.S. national team opened its 2014 World Cup campaign with a 2-1 win against Ghana, but it wasn’t exactly a perfect start.
First off, the U.S. was clearly outplayed throughout the match. The Americans were outshot 21 to eight, and outpossessed 59 percent to 41 percent. In between Clint Dempsey’s first-minute goal and John Brooks’ 86th-minute winner, Jurgen Klinsmann’s team was scrambling.
Secondly, the U.S. now faces some injury concerns.
While several countries saw star players go down in pre-World Cup friendlies, the U.S. made it through unscathed. Unfortunately, its luck ran out against Ghana.
Midway through the first half, forward Jozy Altidore pulled up with a hamstring injury and had to be removed on a stretcher. He’s been officially ruled out for the team’s game against Portugal on Sunday, and, realistically, it’d be a surprise to see him again this tournament.
Altidore’s absence was clearly felt against the Ghanaians. Aron Johannsson was brought on in his stead, but it was hardly an even replacement. While Altidore is a freight train who physically bullies opponents, Johannsson is a slender trickster, known for gliding past opponents and for his scoring touch.
And therein lies the problem: the U.S. doesn’t have anyone else like Altidore on the roster. Outside of Michael Bradley, he’s arguably the team’s most irreplaceable player.
When Klinsmann decided to leave Eddie Johnson off the 30-man roster, and then subsequently cut Terrence Boyd from the final 23-man roster, he ensured the U.S. wouldn’t have another physical striker like Altidore.
Altidore uses his strength to hold the ball up and relieve pressure. Against Portugal and then Germany, much like the Ghana match, the U.S. will likely need somebody to provide a respite.
Against Ghana, the U.S. averaged just 2.5 passes per possession, the second fewest in any game since Klinsmann took over in August 2011. Without a target forward, the team quite simply couldn’t keep the ball.
Dempsey will start at forward again Sunday, but the question is whether he’ll be alone. Johannsson could get the start alongside the Seattle Sounders star, or Klinsmann could opt for Chris Wondolowski, who is more of a poacher than target forward.
Regardless of who starts, the American’s task just got a lot harder. Even with an opening win, Klinsmann’s men are up against it now.