SAO PAULO, Brazil — The news on Jozy Altidore’s strained hamstring was the same Wednesday as it was Tuesday, which is to say there’s no news.
Altidore left the field on a stretcher midway through the first half of the U.S. team’s opening-game win over Ghana on Monday and was scheduled to undergo an MRI exam the next day. Asked for an update Wednesday, a U.S. Soccer spokesman said, “It’s the same as yesterday” — which either means that MRIs take a long time in Brazil or U.S. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann is done talking about Altidore.
“Don’t anticipate an update prior to Jurgen’s flight home,” said one team official, who was not authorized to speak publicly.
Given the fickleness of Altidore’s left hamstring — he missed significant playing time in 2011 with a strain to the same muscle — his World Cup appears over. But if you’re Klinsmann why confirm that for Portugal, which the U.S. meets Sunday in the Amazonas capital of Manaus?
“I don’t want to go too deep into details, because obviously we want Portugal to guess a little bit as well,” Klinsmann said Tuesday. “But when one of your key players is not available, does it change certain things? Absolutely it does.
“We’ll still field 11, you know, we’re not a man down. We still have somebody coming in. We’ll find solutions.”
Against Ghana, the solution was Aron Johannsson, who rarely saw the ball after coming on for Altidore. If he plays again Sunday he’ll need to be more dangerous to take attention away from Clint Dempsey, who will be playing despite a broken nose. Another option is Chris Wondolowski, who isn’t as good a playmaker as Johannsson but is excellent around the net.
BESLER EXPECTED TO PLAY
Though Altidore’s balky hamstring has left the U.S. hamstrung up front, the loss of central defender Matt Besler could be even more crippling. Besler limped through the final minutes of the first half Monday before coming out at the start of the second with a hamstring strain of his own.
He, too, was to undergo an MRI exam Tuesday. Although those results remain top-secret as well, Klinsmann said Besler will play Sunday. Without him, the U.S. backline would be significantly weakened going against a Portuguese team, led by reigning player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo, that is desperate for goals.
MAKING THE RIGHT CALLS
U.S. referee Mark Geiger, the first American to officiate a World Cup match in 12 years, called perhaps the biggest game of his life Wednesday when Spain met Chile.
He won rave reviews for his work in Colombia’s win over Greece last week, and after another solid performance in Wednesday’s high-profile game, he may be asked to stick around. In the World Cup, referees are guaranteed one assignment; after that they are promoted or demoted based on their performance.
For example Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura, who made controversial calls that may have cost Croatia two goals in its loss to Brazil in the opener, will be the fourth official for his next game Friday between Honduras and Ecuador. That means the next time you see him he’ll be holding up an electronic signboard showing how much stoppage time will be added to each half.