WASHINGTON, July 1, 2014 — Jozy Altidore, the U.S. soccer player who went out with a hamstring injury in the US v. Ghana World Cup match on June 16, is cleared to play in the game today against Belgium.
According to U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann, “He’s available. This is what we want, this is what we hoped for.”
Realistically, however, Altidore is unlikely to start or even to play most of the 90 minutes. If anything, Klinsmann will probably use Altidore at the end of the game or in overtime to give the team an extra boost and to position him to take a penalty kick in a shootout. Only players on the field at the end of overtime are eligible to participate in shootouts.
A serious hamstring injury, even after two weeks of high level rehabilitation, is almost certainly not healed. Asking Altidore to run the 6-8 miles the average forward covers during a game is simply not reasonable.
Despite that reality, however, Altidore could be the magic ingredient the USA needs to give it a win over Belgium.
Although Belgium has received far less press than Brazil or Colombia, is an incredibly talented team. Several of its players compete at the highest levels of the Champions League and are lauded for their individual skill and aptitude.
Coming into the game against the U.S., it has not allowed a single goal. The 22-year-old keeper, Thibaut Courtois, is consistently listed as one of the top goal keepers in the world, and the rest of the defense is outstanding.
On offense, Belgium has scored only four goals in the World Cup, but it is not due to lack of talent. Eden Hazard is a 23-year-old star who constantly scored for his club team, Chelsea, and has magnificent ball control skills. He served up the winning goal – assisting, but not scoring – against both Russia and Algeria. The team also has talented strikers in Romelu Lukaku who plays for Everton and 19-year-old fan favorite Divock Origi.
Despite the depth of the Belgium team, Team USA has a fighting chance. The U.S. will have to lift its game and come out more aggressively than it did against Germany, play tighter defense and avoid the type of mistake that gave Portugal an early goal in the USA v. Portugal match.
On the pitch, Altidore helps the U.S. The team is currently playing with only one forward, Clint Dempsey, without Altidore. Although he has had difficulty scoring lately, the 6’1” Altidore gives the U.S. physical size speed – when he is healthy – and bringing him on in the last few minutes of the game could give the US a final push toward the finish.
But even off the pitch, Altidore could prove decisive, giving the USA the slight mental edge it needs to make it to the next round.