By FRANCO PANIZO
NATAL, Brazil – Jozy Altidore and Matt Besler walked with noticeable limps. Clint Dempsey’s nose was so swollen you could have mistaken him for a light heavyweight boxer.
The U.S. Men’s National Team was battered and bruised.
The U.S. may have defeated Ghana to get its World Cup campaign off on the right foot, but the dramatic 2-1 win at Arena das Dunas was extremely physical and demanding and that took its visible toll on the Americans.
The biggest injury concern following the match was Jozy Altidore, who left the match in the 23rd minute after going down in a heap and being stretchered off. The image of Altidore with his hands covering his face as he was helplessly taken into the locker room hinted at a serious injury that could rule him out for the remainder of the tournament. But the U.S. insisted after their Group G opener that the severity of what is being termed as a left hamstring strain is not yet known and won’t be until the veteran striker undergoes medical exams back at the team’s homebase in Sao Paulo on Tuesday.
“I was crushed, because I knew right away that I couldn’t continue,” said Altidore. “That was probably the worst feeling.”
Besler was another player who had to deal with a hamstring issue. Besler felt tightness in his right leg and had to be replaced at halftime by John Brooks, who wound up scoring the winning goal on a dramatic late header.
Besler said after the match that he felt the problem arise when he slid in the 40th minute, and he fought through the pain with the hopes that he could loosen it up during the intermission. He couldn’t and had to be replaced.
“Personally, you have a major low at halftime when you find out that you’re not going to be able to go anymore,” Besler – whose recovery timetable is also unknown – told SBI. “Selfishly, you’re disappointed but for me it lasted 10 seconds. I had a job to do: to be a good teammate and I forgot about being selfish in that moment, came out, got my treament and supported the guys.”
Dempsey, meanwhile, said during his post-game press conference that he thinks he has a broken nose. The U.S. captain and author of the Americans’ first goal against Ghana received a kick in the face from John Boye late in the first half when trying to fight for an aerial ball, and was left bloodied and in need of assistance from the medical staff.
While it has yet to be determined if Dempsey’s nose is actually broken, Dempsey admitted the injury left him winded at times throughout his 90-minute performance.
“I had trouble breathing,” said Dempsey. “I was coughing up blood a little bit, but I felt fine and I could keep going. I did get a little bit tired out there, but hopefully I’ll be able to start breathing through my nose again and play next game.”
Even if Dempsey gives it a go against Portugal on Sunday, the U.S. depth is sure to be tested at Arena Amazonia. Altidore seems likely to miss the game and Besler is a question mark, which will leave head coach Jurgen Klinsmann weighing his options in the days leading up to the game.
The U.S. is confident, however, that it has players capable of filling in and getting the job done.
“We’ll get through it and the guys stepped up tonight,” said goalkeeper Tim Howard. “I thought Aron (Johannsson, who subbed on for Altidore) played well. He was confident and got the ball down and played well and obviously Brooksie was good. It’s good to know we’ve got guys in reserve who are ready.”