The kabuki theatre surrounding Jozy Altidore's injury is finally behind us. On Thursday, U.S. Soccer confirmed that the injured forward, last seen pulling up lame with what looked to be a serious hamstring injury against Ghana, is officially out for Sunday's game against Portugal. Now, we can speculate as to who will replace him without having to give any thought to the potential sorcery that would have been needed to get Altidore on the field.
The obvious pick seems to be Aron Johannsson. The AZ Alkmaar forward is coming off a season in which he scored 17 goals in the Eredivisie and eight more in other club competitions. He's also the player Klinsmann chose to replace Altidore in the Ghana match.
There's also the fact that he's not Chris Wondolowski, whose status as Chris Wondolowski seems to be the biggest mark against him. Quiz a room full of U.S. soccer supporters about which of the two players they want to see start against Portugal and it's a safe bet the overwhelming majority will pick Johannsson, the guy they've probably only seen play a handful of times. Wondolowski has never been a fan favorite outside of the diehards who strip off their shirts and threaten to the rush the field every time the San Jose Earthquakes score a goal.
There's just nothing particularly sexy about the player who holds the MLS single-season scoring record.
But he is probably the right choice for Jurgen Klinsmann against a Portugal team that will be missing at least two of their top defensive players.
Wondolowski doesn't really do much that will wow the casual observer. He's not going to dribble through traffic or unleash a spectacular 20-yard shot. Wondolowski isn't going to do a lot of the dirty work you expect from a target forward, either. To be absolutely clear, he is not Altidore and is in no way a like-for-like replacement. The only players in the pool that would have plausibly replaced Altidore in that way were Terrence Boyd and Eddie Johnson. Both are sitting at home, for better or worse. But Klinsmann knew that when he built this roster.
Wondolowski may not be either of those players, but he does do one thing about as well as anyone else in the pool: score goals.
Ever since Wondolowski burst onto the scene with his 19-goal season in 2010, he's been arguably the most consistent American scorer. He's done it not through impressive athletic ability or dazzling skill, but by understanding what defenses are trying to do and exploiting the weaknesses. Call him a poacher if you must, but there's nothing more valuable than a striker who will consistently put himself in dangerous positions and finish chances. Wondolowski has done it against MLS teams, against international minnows and, more recently, against the likes of Mexico. Brazil couldn't score against Mexico.
It would stand to reason that a player with 78 league goals over the past five and a half seasons and nine goals in his past 13 international appearances would be someone worth trusting. But MLS bias runs deep, even among those of us who considers ourselves fans of the American domestic league. We know what Wondolowski isn't, even if we recognize what he is. Johannsson, oddly enough, benefits from the opposite. We don't really know what he is, but we like to fantasize what it could be.
But the United States doesn't need to dream about beating a weakened Portugal side. An early goal might be enough to force them to hang their heads. It doesn't have to be pretty or well taken. It just needs to find the back of the net. And that's Wondolowski's specialty.