DALLAS – With Jozy Altidore sidelined by a hamstring injury, the front end of the US national team's starting 11 could look a bit different than usual entering Wednesday’s friendly against Ecuador (8 pm ET; ESPN2, UniMás, UDN).
And Jurgen Klinsmann isn’t hiding it.
“It’s a huge problem for Jozy and for us because you want to have a player like him at your disposal,” Klinsmann said. “That changes a few elements up front, there’s no doubt about it. But on the other side, we have players who have a possibility to step it up and prove a point.”
One of those players is US mainstay Clint Dempsey, no stranger to providing an offensive spark for the Yanks. Dempsey has scored 49 goals to go along with his 122 caps for the USA, and is also no stranger to playing up front without Altidore.
When the Toronto FC forward went down with the same injury during the 2014 World Cup, Dempsey had to slide into a position he feels he didn’t particularly excel at.
“We miss Jozy. He’s a strong player, good hold-up player, can run behind the lines, picks up important goals,” Dempsey said. “In the World Cup after he went down, I kind of played more of a target role, which is not necessarily my main strength.
“I like to be like the withdrawn forward and get on the half-turn and stuff like that. But I’ve played some games with Bobby [Wood]. We have a good rhythm, and I thought we did well against Guatemala.”
Wood may be heavily relied upon in Altidore’s absence, sporting five goals in 17 USMNT appearances. But even if Dempsey finds himself playing out of position in Altidore’s absence, Klinsmann isn’t worried.
“Clint obviously fits wherever you need him,” Klinsmann said. “He shows it with the Sounders. Sometimes he plays on the side, sometimes he plays back in the midfield and drops more, or sometimes he plays the role up front. He doesn’t have a problem anywhere you put him.”
To further complicate matters, the US will be facing a litany of stout defenses over the next five weeks. Even when focusing solely on this week’s friendlies, Klinsmann understands the severe test his team is facing – with or without Altidore.
“It’s going to be a nice benchmark for our forwards in a tournament like that against the defenders you face, starting with AC Milan [and] Inter Milan’s connection with Ecuador, or with Colombia when you start the tournament,” Klinsmann said. “When you look at the other defenders and where they play their club soccer, then you know you have a hurdle to jump. And that’s cool. That’s what you want.”
Dempsey echoed his coach’s sentiments, pointing to what’s at stake in the big picture.
“We’ve got to get back to doing well as a country,” Dempsey said. “And what better opportunity than to play a major competition on your home soil and make sure you use that energy to your advantage? We’ll be looking to do that.”