JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A must-win match, in the Caribbean, without his ace attacker, might be a cause for alarm for other managers. Jurgen Klinsmann described it as "a bummer.''
Clint Dempsey’s absence for evaluation of an irregular heartbeat didn't just place his immediate future with the Seattle Sounders in jeopardy. It also ruled him out of the US national team's World Cup Qualifiers against St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago on Friday and Tuesday.
“Every time one of your leader players is missing, it’s a bummer,” Klinsmann said prior to Tuesday’s training session. “In [Clint's] case we wish him only the best. He has to go through these testings now and, hopefully, he gets cleared as soon as possible. Not having Clint is not good.”
There is little doubt Dempsey’s absence will leave a Texas-sized hole in the attack. The only active players with more international goals than Dempsey’s 52 are Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Guatemala’s Carlos Ruiz.
An obvious replacement is Toronto FC forward Jozy Altidore, who has 13 goals in 29 World Cup qualifying contests, including the final goal in the Yanks’ 4-0 rout of Guatemala in Columbus in March. The 26-year-old has scored in five of his last seven MLS appearances to help Toronto vault up the Eastern Conference standings.
“Obviously, Clint is a big part of this team,” Altidore said before training at Hodges Stadium on the campus of the University of North Florida on Tuesday morning. “He is a big part of what we’re doing here. We’re going to miss him a lot. First and foremost, we wish him well. His health is the most important thing. But, obviously, the games go on.
“For us, it’s no different. Trying to be effective and trying to do be dangerous. I think if you look around in the player pool we have, especially the striker depth, we have a lot of guys who can step in and do a job.”
Altidore noted Bobby Wood is one who seized an opportunity when it was afforded.
Wood has appeared in every World Cup qualifier during the 2018 cycle — he scored the equalizing goal against St. Vincent and the Grenadines in November — and started in five of the six matches the Americans played in this summer’s Copa America Centenario. He will enter this weekend’s contest at the Arnos Vale Stadium in St. Vincent in fine form after scoring his Bundesliga goal in Hamburg’s 1-1 tie with FC Ingolstadt last weekend.
Whether Wood is partnered with Altidore in a 4-4-2 system or positioned elsewhere, the two forwards are confident they will be able to find a way to work together in Dempsey’s absence.
“He is a great player,” Wood said of Altidore. “It’s not going to be a problem playing with two strikers or whatever we do. I have to come in, adapt and do whatever we can to help the team.”