SALVADOR, Brazil – In the mid-day heat, the U.S. Men’s National Team began its training session as it normally does: with a huddle around head coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
On Monday, though, the crowd gathered around another old friend. Greeted with hoops and hollers from his teammates, Jozy Altidore stepped into the middle of the circle as his teammates jumped around him. A round of applause followed. Officially speaking, Altidore is available for selection after a hamstring injury suffered in the team's opening game of the World Cup.
What exactly that means for his role on Tuesday remains to be seen.
"This is what we hoped for, this is what the medical staff is working since the injury on him and they’ve done a tremendous job day and night with Jozy, so just having him with us tomorrow is huge," Klinsmann said. "We don’t know how much because we need to see how things go, but he’s available and this is what we want."
In any case, Altidore's return will boost a U.S. team that has adjusted tactically since the forward went down in the first half against Ghana. The U.S. played that game in a 4-4-2 formation, but saw out the 2-2 draw with Portugal and the 1-0 loss to Germany in a 4-5-1 formation, with Clint Dempsey as the lone striker. Altidore's return could potentially alter that alignment.
In whatever capacity Altidore participates in the game, it will certainly be a physical test. The temperature at kickoff, expected to hover around 80 degrees with 75 percent humidity, could play a factor. But so could the length of the game itself. Each day of the Round of 16 has featured at least one game that has gone into extra time, including two penalty shootouts.
"You know you need to have a team that is willing to go the extra mile, every single player needs to go at it 120 minutes and possibly into a penalty shootout. So, it’s very, very demanding," Klinsmann said. " But that’s what we are looking forward to, that’s why we worked very hard starting more than six weeks ago at Stanford University in California, trying to build a foundation for this moment and to be ready to go 120 minutes."
If the game does come to that, it appears that the United States’ top striker going into the World Cup could have a role to play in it. Judging from the team’s reaction to Altidore’s return, it could be a big boost.