The USA could be handed a major fitness boost for Tuesday’s last 16 clash against Belgium, with Jozy Altidore returning to training following the hamstring injury suffered in the opening win over Ghana.
Limping off in the 23rd minute, Altidore subsequently missed the 2-2 draw with Portugal and 1-0 defeat to Germany, as the US defied pre-tournament expectations by progressing from the “Group of Death”.
With the Sunderland striker previously an integral part of Jurgen Klinsmann’s side, his possible return to the lineup is seen by many as a significant development, though Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho does not quite see things the same way.
‘I don’t like to play players not at their maximum condition,’ he said to Yahoo Eurosport. ‘A muscular injury is normally an important one. It’s one that the player feels not quite afraid but maybe limited in many actions, including sprinting, turning and in high intensity situations. I have doubts that a player can be at the top of his game.
‘On the other side, I liked how the USA played without him,’ he added. ‘They played without Altidore against Portugal and Germany and the team had a good dynamic and balance, so I don’t see the fact that Altidore plays or doesn’t play is going to effect a lot.’
While Altidore may have been widely derided by Sunderland fans over the past season for managing just one goal in 30 Premier League games, the 24-year-old has remained a regular in the US side since making his debut in 2007, currently playing in his second World Cup campaign.
His strength and hold-up play far more important to Klinsmann’s system than his goalscoring, the frontman’s physical presence up top is entirely unmatched in the squad, forcing the German coach to switch from his favoured 4-4-2 diamond to a 4-5-1 formation in his absence.
With Clint Dempsey the focal point of the attack, playing as a “false nine”, the team performed admirably in their final two group games to seal a place in the knockout stages, but it would still be an upset for Altidore to be left out of the Belgium match for anything other than lingering fitness concerns.
A fixture against Argentina or Switzerland awaiting the winners, if declared good to go then expect the Sunderland man to be in the starting XI on Tuesday, with the not-to-be underestimated Americans looking to add yet another upset to their already successful summer.