Injury bug troubling for the U.S.

The Sports NetworkJune 17, 2014 

(SportsNetwork.com) - One of the biggest stories in the approach of the World Cup was the growing number of international stars who would be unable to compete due to injury.

With each passing week, it seemed as though another world-class player had checked out from the tournament for whatever ailment, leaving his country to slump into a state of disappointment and trepidation.

This phenomenon began in January when Radamel Falcao suffered a torn ACL in AS Monaco's Coupe de France victory over Monts d'Or Azergues. Falcao was hopeful of recovering in time to feature in Colombia's first World Cup appearance since 1998, but he ultimately fell short and understandably was omitted from the nation's roster.

Another fly dropped in April when Christian Benteke ruptured his Achilles' tendon during training with Aston Villa, a major blow to Belgium's World Cup endeavor.

The trend continued at an astounding rate as even bigger stars were ruled out of the competition.

Injuries forced Mexico's Luis Montes and France's Franck Ribery to return home before the start of the tournament, while England's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Uruguay's Luis Suarez overcame injury scares to secure spots with their respective squads, but they were unable to make appearances in opening matches.

Several key players even entered the tournament with injuries but still managed to play, regardless of whether they were truly at full fitness.

Diego Costa, working his way back from the hamstring injury that plagued him at the tail end of Atletico Madrid's season, started in Spain's opening match on Friday and managed to win his side a penalty in the first half, but he struggled to make any further impact as La Roja ended up suffering a humiliating 5-1 defeat to the Netherlands.

Meanwhile, Cristiano Ronaldo and Arturo Vidal overcame knee injuries to feature in their nation's opening matches, but they made minimal contributions as Portugal suffered a 4-0 loss to Germany and Chile eased past Australia in a 3-1 victory with little need for the Juventus man.

With so many afflictions to key players around the world, it was a wonder how the United States was able to stay so healthy in the buildup to the World Cup.

But like the weather in Brazil, when it rains, it pours.

The Americans got off to a winning start in Group G play, edging Ghana in a last-gasp 2-1 victory at the Estadio das Dunas on Monday.

Normally, such a result would reverberate elation among the team and its supporters, and it did just that, to a certain extent. But the win came at a hefty price as Jozy Altidore and Matt Besler were forced out of the match due to hamstring injuries.

Altidore's knock appears to be quite serious as the Sunderland striker was forced to leave the match on a stretcher. Besler's, on the hand, seems to be minor with U.S. officials stating that the defender was removed at halftime as a precaution.

Regardless, the misfortune forced Jurgen Klinsmann to make two substitutions before the start of the second half, and while he responded admirably to such adversity, it could hamstring (pun intended) the U.S. head coach ahead of a massive test against Portugal on Sunday.

Even Clint Dempsey, the recipient of a boot to the face, was bloodied and battered in victory. The Seattle Sounders striker was able to finish the match, but he speculated afterward that his nose was broken.

Not only does the United States have a growing casualty list, but Klinsmann's men needed to expend far more energy to get three points against Ghana than Portugal did in defeat to Germany. According to FIFA, the Americans ran a collective total of about 72.7 miles at the Estadio das Dunas, nearly 10 more than the Portuguese ran at 63.3, though Paulo Bento's side was reduced to 10 men in defeat to Germany.

Other nations have had plenty of time to develop contingency plans in the wake of injuries to major stars. Colombia, for instance, managed to score three goals against a historically defensive-minded Greece side despite missing Falcao, who is just five goals away from becoming the nation's all-time leading scorer.

But the United States is likely to be without Altidore, arguably its most important player and one for whom they have no like-for-like replacement, for the remainder of the group stage, perhaps even the rest of the World Cup. Pair that with potential fatigue setting in and the United States still has some serious questions to answer. And Klinsmann has just six days to figure out the answers.

According to data analytics website FiveThirtyEight (FiveThirtyEight.com), the United States now has a 67 percent chance of advancing from the group immediately following the defeat of Ghana, up 37 percent from Monday morning.

But the Americans have made a habit of defying the odds, and unfortunately in this case, injuries, fatigue and a difficult upcoming schedule could see them defy the odds and fail to reach the Round of 16.

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