The U.S. World Cup team charter flight resembled a MASH unit Monday night after the Americans’ stirring 2-1 victory over Ghana in Natal.
Forward Jozy Altidore had a considerable limp after going down with a strained left hamstring, and he told reporters as he left the stadium that he was “crushed” at the thought that his World Cup could be over. He was in tears, with his hands over his face, as he was carried off the field on a stretcher.
Barring a miraculous recovery, he will likely have miss Sunday’s game against Portugal in Manaus.
Defender Matt Besler walked gingerly after tweaking his right hamstring. Alejandro Bedoya was sore after cramping up and aggravating a nagging hip pointer. And captain Clint Dempsey, who ignited his team with one of the quickest goals in tournament history, had trouble breathing through his broken nose.
Altidore and Besler underwent MRI exams at a Sao Paulo hospital Tuesday to determine the extent of their injuries. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann said early reports were that Besler would be “no problem, fine,” and Besler is expected back for Sunday’s game against Portugal in Manaus.
Altidore’s situation appears more serious. He is doubtful for Sunday, but Klinsmann is “full of hope” the powerful striker will recover in time to play during the tournament.
“We have to see how he reacts in the next couple of days, and we are full of hope that he comes back still in this tournament, and that’s what we are going to work on every day,” Klinsmann said. “The medical staff has done a tremendous job.”
Altidore’s teammates rallied around him.
“Your heart goes out to him because he’s been working so hard, he’s been looking so sharp,” Dempsey said of Altidore, his partner in the U.S. attack. “To have that happen to him, he’s a big part of our team. Hopefully, he’ll recover soon.”
Dempsey might or might not wear a protective mask over his nose, but Klinsmann said his play Sunday should not be affected by the broken nose. He shrugged off nose injuries as part of the game.
“Clint has to shake it off,” Klinsmann said. “I broke mine three or four times, and it’s all right. We’ll give him a few days. Unfortunately, it’s part of our game, but he’s going to be all right.”
If Altidore can’t play Sunday, Klinsmann said he will find “solutions.” Aron Johannsson replaced Altidore on Monday. Terrance Boyd and Chris Wondolowski are other options up front.
Like any wily coach, Klinsmann would not offer specifics.
“I don’t want to go too deep into details, because obviously we want Portugal to guess a little bit,” he said. “But when one of your key players is not available, does it change certain things? Absolutely it does. Jozy is a very strong key player in our group, so we’ll think about the right way to handle that situation.
“We’ll still field 11. We’re not a man down. We still have somebody coming in, and we’ll make it very, very difficult for Portugal in Manaus. We’ll find solutions.”
As for Bedoya, he said his right hamstring cramped up when he tried to clear a cross just before he came out, and a nagging hip pointer flared up, but he fully expects to be on the field against Portugal. He said his World Cup debut has far exceeded expectations, and he is dying to play again. Walking onto the field Monday night for the national anthems was an overwhelming experience.
“It was amazing, a whole bag of mixed emotions, goose bumps on your body, and if you don’t have butterflies at a moment like that, you’re not human,” Bedoya said. “You feel alive, the whole stadium is rocking. When I first walked out of the tunnel for warmups, just to look around and soak it all in, look around the stadium and you really think to yourself, ‘Wow, I’m really here. This is the World Cup.’ ”
He waved at his family in the stands and celebrated with them after the victory. His father, Adriano, and grandfather, Fabio, both former professional players in Colombia, have been having a particularly good time. Adriano sent Alejandro an inspirational pregame message before Monday’s game. Fabio has been recording everything.
“He’s got his little camcorder, and he’s taping everything he sees,” Bedoya said. “We went on a pregame walk Monday morning on the beach, and I saw him from the corner of my eye, hiding between two palm trees recording, calling my name out, like paparazzi. He’s enjoying it like crazy, so that’s fun.”
Bedoya and his teammates arrived back at their Sao Paulo hotel around 4:30 a.m. and they slept in until lunchtime. They had a late-afternoon training session at their base camp at the Sao Paulo FC training grounds.
They have an off day Wednesday to spend time with family and friends, and resume training Thursday.
“Our whole focus is on Portugal right now,” Klinsmann said. “Ghana is far away from us right now.”