SAO PAULO, Brazil – There’s no point trying to replace the hamstrung Jozy Altidore in Manuas on Sunday against Portugal. Eddie Johnson’s at home tweeting encouragement. Terrence Boyd didn’t make the cut, either.
Instead, should Jurgen Klinsmann opt for a like-for-like replacement as he did when Altidore went down in the first half against Ghana clutching his strained left hamstring, Chris Wondolowski or Aron Johannsson will get the call in a match that could yet seal the United States’ place in the knockout stage.
Just don’t expect either to try to imitate their fellow striker.
“Jozy is a special player. You can’t [replace him]. That’s like saying, ‘Hey, go be Cristiano Ronaldo,’” Wondolowski said. “You can’t necessarily replace certain aspects of it, but I think that both Aron and I bring different styles, different sets of skills that I think are useful.”
Johannsson was the choice on Monday in Natal when Altidore was carted off in the 21st minute with tears in his eyes, but the man who also replaced Altidore at AZ Alkmaar recorded just one shot, none on goal, and seemed to struggle with Ghana's physical play.
With Portugal center back Pepe suspended because of a violent head butt against Germany, the match in Arena Amazonia may be slightly less rough and tumble. Still, neither player was willing to tip their hand as to the potential XI.
"Both of us have different styles than Jozy,” Johannsson said. “If either one of us gets on the field then we just try to play our game and try to do what the coach wants us to do. If that’s to play like Jozy, then we’ll try to do that. And if he wants us to play like we normally play, then we’ll try to do that."
They may try, but Altidore’s shoes, as Wondolowski said, are likely to be impossible to fill.
His 24 international goals are more than double the combined total of his two potential replacements, and both Wondolowski and Johannsson are playing in their first World Cup. Still, they’ve certainly got their strengths, if not the track record of the man they’ll be replacing.
“[Wondolowski] can score from anything. He can score when you think there’s no chance and then next thing you know he scores,” US midfielder Kyle Beckerman said. “He’s also a guy that does so much things for the team. He plays defense, he works his tail off for the guy behind him. He does a lot of things that don’t show up on the stat sheet.
“[Johannsson], he’s a guy that does similar things. He’s got this kind of attitude about scoring that he just kind of does it and he feels like he has to do that. He’s crafty, he’s really tricky with the ball. They both have some pace that can get away and get their shot off from nothing as well.”
Altidore, meanwhile, will travel with the US to Manaus, but it hasn’t yet been decided whether he’ll sit on the bench with his teammates, according to a US Soccer spokesperson.
Is it a shame for a player who’d already endured a frustrating season at Sunderland? Of course, but the US still hold out hope, realistic or not, that he may be back for the group finale no matter how things go against Portugal in Manaus.
“I think we all came into this World Cup thinking ‘This is going to be a huge World Cup [for Jozy],’” Beckerman said. “You know, he got two goals before we took off, so we’re extremely bummed for him, and for the team. But we bring 23 players, so it’s just a chance for somebody to step up and hopefully the injury’s not too bad, and we can see Jozy later on in the tournament.”