SAO PAULO – Jozy Altidore may have been on the bench on Tuesday night in Salvador. He may have warmed up. But he was never in the running to see the field, according to Jurgen Klinsmann.
Despite suggesting Altidore would be available on Tuesday in the United States’ Round of 16 game against Belgium, Klinsmann confirmed a day later that the 24-year-old, who suffered a strained left hamstring just 21 minutes into the tournament, was never truly available to play in the match.
“We knew that bringing Jozy on the bench was not meant to have Jozy on the field,” Klinsmann said. “He still needs a couple more days.”
Meanwhile, the Belgians went to their own burly English Premier League forward, Romelu Lukaku, and he broke the Americans’ backs in extratime, assisting on the opening goal and adding a second against his club teammate, US goalkeeper Tim Howard.
But the real impact, according to Klinsmann, came in how Altidore’s absence from the starting lineup affected the players around him. Without a target forward in the squad – both Eddie Johnson and Terrence Boyd were left at home – captain Clint Dempsey played alone up top against Portugal, Germany and Belgium.
“[Jozy’s] a big part of our spine, as we call it,” Klinsmann said. “He’s a player that keeps two centerbacks on their toes, he can hold the ball and gives Clint more space and more freedom to roam around him to get the whole game higher up the field.”
Dempsey still scored two goals to lead the US, but the team had trouble holding possession in dangerous areas without their outlet in Altidore. Still, Klinsmann said the Americans had plenty of chances to produce without their star forward, even if his absence certainly changed the trajectory of the tournament from a tactical standpoint.
“Injuries happen to other teams as well,” he said. “It’s not at all an excuse, but definitely it had an impact.”