Player Profile: Mario Balotelli

Mario Balotelli was widely hailed as a prodigy from when he first began playing for Inter Milan at age 17, and since then he has played for Manchester City, AC Milan, Liverpool, and now Nice. Say what you want about Balotelli, but that list of clubs shows that time and time again top clubs rated the Italian very highly.

Balotelli’s career statistics and exploits haven’t matched his talent and athletic ability yet, but he has been on a good run of form for over a year now with Nice in Ligue 1. This season the Italian has eight goals in 12 games.

Here is a look at Balotelli’s qualities and weaknesses:

Mario Balotelli is world-class technically.

Technically, Mario Balotelli is an amazing footballer, and without a doubt world-class. Whether you look at his individual dribbling ability or his ability to use both feet or his passing or his finishing or his ball-striking ability, the Italian’s technique is textbook. Not only is his technique textbook, but it’s also graceful and effortless. His ability is so impressive compared to his career statistics that it infuriates people who expected so much more by now. Nevertheless, Balotelli boasts a velvet soft first touch that makes him like Velcro with his ball control. The Italian is also able to easily executes advanced dribbling tricks that few professionals would even dare to attempt in matches. As a center forward, Balotelli is a clinical finisher with ice-cold nerves in front of goal. Despite being a striker, the Italian is an elite passer who can dissect any defense.

Mario Balotelli is a world-class athlete.

No one in world football can compete with Mario Balotelli physically in terms of speed and power. Kylian Mbappe is possibly slightly faster, but if he is, it’s not by much. The Italian is a human rubber band in terms of flexibility, and this has allowed him to pull off some very impressive controls, volleys, and half volleys. Balotelli is impossible to push off the ball or outmuscle, and this makes his shielding second to none. All of this athleticism would mean nothing without good technique and skill, but Balotelli has world-class technique as well.

Mario Balotelli plays big in big games.

Balotelli has a reputation as a big game player. His two goals in the semifinal against Germany in the 2012 Euro Cup come to mind. In that game, Balotelli destroyed Mats Hummels and Manuel Neuer on an unstoppable solo goal where he took Hummels of f the dribble and blasted an outside of the foot shot past the German goalkeeper. Balotelli also scored in Italy’s opening game of the 2014 World Cup in Manaus in extreme heat and humidity.  The Italian became an easy scapegoat for Italian fans and their football federation after failing to go deep into the tournament.

Mario Balotelli easily loses focus during games and starts walking around the field.

The one real flaw with Mario Balotelli’s play is that he easily loses focus during games when he begins complaining to the referees about missed calls. His playing ability and athleticism are so world-class that he should be instantly refocusing on the game after making a comment to a referee. Time and time again, the Italian striker will simply stop making runs and stop being involved in the game after getting annoyed with a referee. He must learn to refocus on the game and keep playing. This one thing has stopped him from being consistently world-class every season since his debut with Inter Milan at 17. Anyone who saw Balotelli fill in for the injured Zlatan Ibrahimovic that season can attest to the fact that Balotelli was an elite striker from almost his first Inter game. Balotelli must be active and direct for all 90 minutes instead of checking out of games and walking around the pitch doing nothing.


Neymar: A Football Grandmaster at 25

At 25 years old, Neymar is already a footballing grandmaster, and he’s not even at the height of his powers. Here is a look at several of the magisterial qualities of the Brazil and Paris Saint-Germain Number 10.

Neymar is the most technically-skilled player in world football.

Neymar’s dribbling, passing, and shooting are all world-class with both feet. Lionel Messi basically doesn’t use his right foot, and Cristiano Ronaldo’s dribbling and passing is nowhere near as good as Neymar’s. The Brazilian’s technique is perfect with his dribbling tricks, passing, and ball-striking techniques. Even more so than Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, the Paris Saint-Germain Number 10 displays more skill on the ball. It might be controversial to say that Neymar has better technical ability than Messi, but Neymar’s totally mastery of the ball with both feet gives him the edge over the Argentine, who is widely regarded as the best footballer of all time.

Neymar performs equally well for club and country.

Not all players play equally well for club and country, but Neymar does. This itself is impressive because it means Neymar isn’t dependent on certain players to perform. Neymar is a team player, and he thrives whether he is playing with club teammates or Brazilian teammates on the Seleção. The Brazil Number 10 already has a track record of performing well in the World Cup, in the Champions League, and two top European club leagues.

Neymar is a showman who plays with magic.

Like Ronaldinho and Ronaldo before him, Neymar is a Brazilian attacker who plays with magic and is worth the price of admission. Neymar is a player who is always deserving of watching. No matter who the Brazilian is playing against, Neymar is a joy to watch. When you watch Neymar, you are guaranteed magically dribbling, passing, and attacking play. Plus, the Brazilian is always highly-likely to score.

Neymar has world-class statistics

In both goals and assists, Neymar puts up huge numbers. Recently, Neymar was the top assist provider in all of Europe. For all the talk of Neymar’s dribbling and individual play, Neymar is a world-class passer and assist provider. If you play with Neymar, he will pass you the ball and set you up to score. Neymar’s scoring is well-known and well-documented. The Brazilian basically scores a goal per game, and the goals come in the big games as well.

Despite popular opinion, Neymar takes a beating from defenders and is tough.

Neymar has long been portrayed as a diver who fakes contact and rolls around on the ground. The reality is much different. Neymar knows how to avoid horror tackles and hackers by lifting up his knees and throwing his legs up to avoid awkward twists to his ankles and knees. Anyone who watches Neymar play sees the constant body checks, kicks to the shins, and stepping on the toes that he endures. Neymar would be stupid to not avoid these fouls and just let himself get injured.

Oscar Pareja Should be the Next Coach of the U.S. Men’s National Team

Sometimes former players make for bad coaches, but former players who are good coaches is the best of both worlds. Thus is the case with Oscar Pareja.

The U.S. Men’s National Team is always looking for coaches with international experience in better soccer environments than the U.S., and that definitely describes Oscar Pareja.

Pareja knows there is plenty of talent in the United States, and he has a great eye for talent. Say what you want about American soccer, but it’s definitely not as good as Colombian soccer. Colombia has better players and a better national team.

Others have backed Pareja to coach the U.S. before, but his name isn’t mentioned as often as the likes of Peter Vermes, who wouldn’t make the changes needed. Here are the reasons that Pareja should be the next U.S. Men’s National Team coach:

Oscar Pareja is a former Colombia international and a proven coach in MLS

Pareja not only played for Colombia, but he knows the American talent pool very well from his time in MLS. This makes Pareja an excellent combination of international experience and knowledge of the U.S. soccer landscape. In fact, Pareja is considered one of the very best coaches in MLS, if not the very best. Hiring Pareja would avoid the problem of an international coach who doesn’t know the player pool or the lay of the land. The United States Soccer Federation has always wanted an international coach with a better soccer background than an American coach, and that’s why they hired Jürgen Klinsmann. Unfortunately, Klinsmann was a poor tactician, and he didn’t do well selection rosters or lineups. Nevertheless, Pareja has a better track record than Klinsmann with knowing the U.S. talent pool.

Oscar Pareja fields quality lineups and uses good tactics

Pareja is known for his quality lineups and sound tactics in MLS, which makes him a proven MLS coach. He has frequently used the 4-2-3-1 formation, which shows that he knows to provide enough defensive coverage in the midfield without fielding an overly defensive lineup. Compared to other candidates like Peter Vermes, Pareja is more disposed to using the more technical players. Under Bob Bradley, Jürgen Klinsmann, and Bruce Arena, the U.S. did not have the right balance of defending and attacking play. None of these coaches would use a playmaker, and the U.S.’ passing was poor under all three. Pareja doesn’t have a history of starting players out of position or fielding lineups that don’t have the players needed to keep possession and create scoring chances.

Oscar Pareja has a great eye for talent.

As a former Colombian international, Pareja is a coach who knows how to spot technical and talented players, and he has shown this already.

As the coach of the Colorado Rapids and FC Dallas, Pareja fielded the right players. An excellent example of this was Pareja starting Chris Klute at left back, where he looked like the best outside back in MLS. Pareja started Klute when only Eric Wynalda knew who he was. Klute was essentially a nobody who Pareja proved to much better than others realized. After Pareja left, coaches stopped playing Klute even after all he had proven under Pareja.

Don’t forget that Pareja is the coach that really let Kellyn Acosta play his best position: center midfielder. Others made Acosta play outside back, but under Pareja, Acosta has been bossing the midfield in games and netting impressive free kicks. Pareja knew Acosta was better as a central midfielder where he saw more of the ball and was more influential in games.

Oscar Pareja values technical players over hustle players and purely athletic players.

Pablo Mastroeni coached the Colorado Rapids after Pareja, and Mastroeni was not an advocate of skill soccer. He favored hustle players and emphasized physicality and running. Mastroeni himself was essentially a hacker known for dirty fouls, but Pareja as a coach is all about technique and footballing talent. Pareja better utilized Dillon Powers as a central midfielder, whereas Mastroeni pushed him too close to goal, which didn’t maximize his skill set. Anyone who watches Pareja’s teams knows that he fields lineups who display technical skill and quality passing. Pareja as coach of the U.S. will know how to have the team playing quality football.

Oscar Pareja plays young players who are ready.

The U.S. has been producing better and better players, but MLS coaches and U.S. national team coaches are not letting these players play. Pareja has shown at two different MLS clubs that he plays his best players no matter their age. Youth is not held against talented players if the team can use their technical skills. Probably the most important thing for the next U.S. coach will be fielding the younger and better players. Not all of the coaching options will have the courage and intelligence to let the best players play even if they are young and inexperienced. It’s a cliché, but you can’t get experience without somebody giving your experience. How long will U.S. coaches think small and play small?


Problems the U.S. National Team Must Fix Now

Even the U.S. National Team failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, the United States needs to start fixing problems with the team right now. The U.S. doesn’t actually have a competitive game for a year, but any upcoming fixtures can help the team incorporate new players and get the squad back on track.

Here are five problems with the U.S. National Team that should be fixed sooner rather than later:

Poor movement off the ball

When the U.S. failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, the team looked listless and disinterested. Besides Christian Pulisic being aggressive and direct, the rest of the team didn’t show for the ball or make runs into space. The U.S. had the players to keep possession and score goals, but nobody except Pulisic looked like they wanted the ball played through them. No matter who is playing for the U.S., the players will need to show a lot more movement off the ball if the team is going to be more dynamic.

Lack of fluid passing

Like the poor movement off the ball discussed above, the U.S. hasn’t displayed fluid passing basically ever. For years players like Benny Feilhaber and Lee Nguyen have been mostly left off the national team for no good reason. Pulisic has shown that he can open up the defense with his passing and dribbling, but the other players need to be more involved in the team’s passing. The U.S. will never play like Brazil, Spain, France, Italy, or Argentina until everyone on the national team looks to play one to two touch passing with plenty of movement of the ball. It has been 15 years since the U.S. reached the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup, so the lack of fluid and crisp passing by the U.S. is pretty embarrassing but apparently not enough so for changes to be made.

Constantly changing U.S. National Team lineups

Elite footballing nationals have a familiar cast of players that are trotted out all the time. Sometimes regulars are swapped for more deserving replacements, but enormous wholesale charges aren’t normally made. Elite national teams incorporate new and/or better players, but their players are accustomed to playing together and know how to play together. For many years, it has felt like almost every U.S. lineups is a type of soccer musical chairs where all sorts of different players start. The U.S. hasn’t shown much teamwork or impressive combination play for some time. Christian Pulisic and Clint Dempsey have no problem playing together, but most of the other players don’t play like they know how to play with their teammates.

The U.S. isn’t starting enough skill players to play well

For whatever reason, whoever coaches the U.S. doesn’t field enough technical and dynamic players for the team to truly play well. Under Bruce Arena, Bob Bradley, Jürgen Klinsmann, and Bruce Arena again, the U.S. simply refuses to field the type of technical players needed to improve the level of the U.S.’ play. It’s hard to argue that the U.S. doesn’t have the needed players to at least pass the ball well. There aren’t many elite soccer players in the U.S., but there are skilled players who have the technical ability and soccer brain to play the right way. For the U.S. to play better, it needs to field the players who play a more advanced brand of soccer.

Poor coaching

The last two coaches of the U.S. have let the U.S. down. Klinsmann overlooked too many of the best American players, and he started too many players out of position. After him, Arena wouldn’t commit to fielding a playmaker like he promised, and he always went with his former club center back Omar Gonzalez over EPL veteran Geoff Cameron who was much better and much faster. Tab Ramos was supposed to be the interim coach of the U.S., so perhaps the poor coaching could have been fixed. Ramos was a Number 10, and he has proven to be a coach with a good eye for talent who fields quality lineups. Time will tell how different the U.S.’ lineups and games look with a new coach.


Why Clint Dempsey is the Undisputed Best U.S. Soccer Player Ever

Clint Dempsey only needs one goal to beat Landon Donovan’s all-time U.S. goal record, but oddly, Dempsey is still underrated even by Americans.

Dempsey and not Landon Donovan is the best U.S. soccer player ever because Donovan played his club football in MLS and not in what the rest of the world considers a real league.

Here are some of the reasons that Dempsey is the best U.S. player of all-time:

Clint Dempsey is the most successful U.S. player in a top league.

Dempsey played in the English Premier League for seven years, and he was a consistent goalscorer all of those seasons, even as a midfielder. Brian McBride was another long-time Fulham player, but there was a night and day difference between Dempsey’s skill-level and McBride’s. Dempsey’s flair and creativity showed much more talent than McBride’s play, which was based on hold up play and headers.

Clint Dempsey’s technical ability is better than any other U.S. player including Christian Pulisic, who is merely faster.

Dempsey’s technical ability was and is shockingly good for an American player. That should be the thing that he is remembered for. Even right now, Dempsey’s skill on the ball and comfort with it is way beyond all of his teammates save Pulisic. Pulisic hasn’t shown all of his skills yet, but it will be hard for his technical ability to truly be above Dempsey’s. The thing about Pulisic’s play is that he plays with much more speed than Dempsey, which changes everything. With the extra speed, Pulisic is able to be so much more direct and devastating to defenders than Dempsey ever was without the same gift of speed and quickness. Dempsey uses both feet interchangeably as Pulisic does, and Dempsey has shown a full arsenal of dribbling, passing, and shooting skills. In recent years, he has also displayed excellent free kick ability.

Clint Dempsey performed better than any other U.S. player against elite competition and in big games.

Landon Donovan did nothing in the 2006 World Cup, and you can’t say the same thing about any World Cup that Dempsey played in. The U.S. national team was never in the spotlight much more than when they faced Spain the the semifinal of the 2009 Confederations Cup. During that tournament Dempsey was the U.S. player that shined above everyone else. After losing in the final to Brazil, the Wall Street Journal ran a headline about Dempsey that read “American loses a final but gains a leader.” That was an incredible headline at the time. On many occasions Donovan looked intimidated and played small against elite opponents. Not so for Dempsey.

Clint Dempsey played against better competition than Landon Donovan.

Whereas Donovan played essentially his entire career in MLS, Dempsey spent seven years in the EPL. No matter how much MLS has improve since its inception, the skill level and competition in the league is nothing compared to the EPL. From Dempsey’s very first game in the EPL, he showed that he belonged and could perform well at that level. It’s a shame that he never got to play in La Liga, Serie A, or the Bundesliga because he would have played excellently there. His game was all about skill and technical ability, and those leagues are based on that more than the EPL. If you want the real proof that Dempsey has a more impressive resume than Donovan, it’s his consistently high level in the EPL for seven years while Donovan played in MLS.

Clint Dempsey is tied with Landon Donovan on all-time U.S. goals with much fewer penalty kick goals.

It’s important to remember than Donovan played with the national team since he was 18, whereas Dempsey didn’t start until he was 21 or 22. That’s some four more years of national team appearance to score goals. Even with such a huge head start, Dempsey is now tied with Donovan at 57 U.S. goals. And Donovan had lots of goals off penalties. Donovan has openly acknowledged as much, and he’s said Dempsey’s goal-rate was more impressive. To be fair, Donovan was being generous and complimentary to Dempsey when he made those comments, but they still seemed sincere. Here are 50 of Dempsey’s 57 U.S. goals:

Clint Dempsey played consistently well as a pro from his time in MLS to the English Premier League to back in MLS.

It’s hard to recall any real low points or bad games for Dempsey in his career. His detractors sometimes accused him of some overdribbling or forcing things, but Dempsey never really played poorly. Dempsey wasn’t highly rated before the MLS Combine, and he proved just how bad scouting within American soccer really was. He went from being essentially a nobody to head and shoulders above all of his American contemporaries except for Donovan. That elite level for a U.S. player began as a rookie in MLS up until still right now at 34. You can’t say that Dempsey’s fitness or skill level has dropped at any point since he became a professional.


Observations from the U.S. National Team not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup

The U.S. talent was high enough to easily qualify for the World Cup.

Ever since 2002 when the U.S. National Team reached the quarterfinals of the World Cup, the overall talent of American players has been improving. Many of the former players insist that the talent hasn’t improved, but there appears to be a clear bias there. This bias can be shown quite briefly. First of all, Clint Dempsey, the best U.S. National Team player of all-time, didn’t start playing for the U.S. until 2005. Second, Michael Bradley who played in the Bundesliga and Serie A started playing for the U.S. in 2007. The current crop of U.S. players display better overall touch and technical skill than American players in the past.

Christian Pulisic is already the best player the U.S. has ever produced.

While Dempsey is the actual best U.S. player ever, Pulisic is a more talented player, or at least he’s much faster than Dempsey. Dempsey is very creative, aggressive, and technical, but Pulisic has an extra gear of speed that makes him more dangerous. Pulisic has been starting for Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga and the Champions League, and no other American before him was playing an attacking role for a team of that level. Even watching Pulisic briefly, an observer can see a player capable of beating top defenders 1v1 off the dribble, and he can score and provide assists. Neither Dempsey nor Donovan could blow past defenders of an elite level almost at will.

The major changes needed to the USSF had nothing to do with the U.S. not qualifying.

No matter what the problems are with American soccer at a systemic level, the players and team were more than capable of easily qualifying for the World Cup out of a weak region like CONCACAF. The U.S. lost to a B Team from Trinidad and Tobago with a fourth string goalkeeper. Given this reality, it’s hard to argue that the deep-seated problems with U.S. soccer stopped the most talented group of U.S. players ever from qualifying. The serious problems within American soccer have stopped the U.S. from regularly going far in the World Cup, but they didn’t stop the country from qualifying for the tournament.

Bruce Arena made tactical mistakes, and the players didn’t play with enough urgency.

The coach of the U.S. got his tactics right in the final two games of qualifying, save starting Omar Gonzalez, but in the two previous games he didn’t start a central playmaker. In the final two games, Arena used a 4-1-3-2 formation with just Michael Bradley as the defensive midfielder, and he wisely started Pulisic at playmaker again. Nevertheless, the rest of the team’s effort let Arena down. The passing was lazy and appalling. Arena did make the mistake of favoring his former club player Omar Gonzalez at center back in recent games, and Gonzalez wasn’t agile enough on multiple occasions. On two occasions, Gonzalez tripped players in the penalty box, but only one of them was whistled. Nevertheless, Gonzalez didn’t cost the U.S. the World Cup. The U.S. should have pounded the weak CONCACAF competition.

Current long-term problems within American soccer don’t mean there hasn’t been plenty of progress in the overall quality of American soccer.

Even arguing that American soccer hasn’t improved over time is a ridiculous argument. American players display more technical ability against better competition than in years past, and the U.S. has multiple teenagers starting in the Bundesliga and Liga MX. Just because the U.S. dogged it against Trinidad and Tobago doesn’t mean that American soccer is spiraling into a nose dive.


Who Should the U.S. National Team Start against Panama in World Cup Qualifying?

The U.S. national team needs to beat Panama in the upcoming World Cup qualifier.

They should beat Panama easily. Panama is not very good.

Bruce Arena has the option of starting an attack-minded lineup or a more balanced lineup against Panama. The attack minded lineup would be using only one defensive midfielder in a 4-1-3-2 formation. The more balanced lineup would be a 4-2-3-1 formation with two defensive midfielders.

The other option is the 4-3-3 which would feature a fluid and interchangeable attack, including Clint Dempsey and Christian Pulisic as wings on paper.

There has also been some discussion of the U.S. possibly using the 3-5-2 formation.

The obvious dilemma for Arena will be whether he wants a strong attack to be the team’s real defense or whether he wants so more defensive coverage in the midfield. Below World Soccer Source will back starting both Darlington Nagbe and Benny Feilhaber, and both of these players do provide plenty of defending and running. Both also know how to tackle and win back possession. Therefore, starting both of these players in a 4-1-3-2 formation isn’t skimping on defense.

The U.S. fielded a very effective lineup against Honduras back in March, and that lineup, which was in a 4-1-3-2 formation, should be the default lineup for the U.S. Sebastian Lletget, who played right wing in that game, is injured now, but the lineup can essentially be the same. John Brooks the team’s starting left center back is also injured, but the U.S. can start Matt Besler in his place.

The United States has a deeper player pool than it’s ever had, and Arena has more talent than he had the first time he coached the United States. It’s simply not true that the U.S. doesn’t have the players to dominate a team like Panama. Mexico and maybe Costa Rica is a different story, but these opponents are not elite.

You can look at other lineup predictions and proposals here.

Let’s look at who World Soccer Source thinks the U.S. should start at each position:

Goalkeeper & Defense

Tim Howard and Brad Guzan are both excellent goalkeepers. Howard did make a mistake against Costa Rica, but he’s also made several impressive saves recently. He still plays like a goalkeeper who makes the saves he should make and some of the saves that he’s not expected to make.

DeAndre Yedlin is back to play right back, and on the other side you have Jorge Villafaña who still has some detractors. Villafaña always looks dangerous and active going forward down the left sideline, and he can also be seen covering for the team’s center backs when they are beat. The U.S. simply doesn’t have a better left back than him.

In the center of the defense, Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler are quality starting options, and they both are technical, fast, and strong defensively. Besler is a level below Cameron, but he or Ream is the best choice to partner Cameron with Brooks out injured.

The Midfield

The best option for the U.S. is to start Michael Bradley as the one defensive midfielder with Darlington Nagbe, Benny Feilhaber, and Christian Pulisic in front of him. Nagbe and Feilhaber can be counted on to provide defensive coverage and cover plenty of territory. Anyone who watches them closely sees them dropping deep into the midfield to recover possession or to get the team’s passing started. Both also know how to win the ball back, and they don’t mind getting down and dirty. Christian Pulsic can also be counted on to play defense and press the opponent. Although the formation would be a 4-1-3-2, Bradley isn’t the only midfielder playing defense and winning back possession.


Bobby Wood and Clint Dempsey are the team’s best two forwards. Dempsey is creative and clinical, and Wood provides those qualities plus plenty of movement to get into scoring positions. His speed allows him to be ever more direct than Dempsey. Wood is a better option than Jozy Altidore because Wood threatens the goal more, and he’s harder to defend. If you want the defense on its heels and more shots on goal, then Wood provides more of this. Wood’s directness and speed is more valuable than Altidore’s improved passing.

Here’s the U.S. National Team lineup described above:

Goalkeeper- Tim Howard

Right Back- DeAndre Yedlin

Center Back- Geoff Cameron

Center Back- Matt Besler

Left Back- Jorge Villafaña

Defensive Midfielder- Michael Bradley

Right Wing- Christian Pulisic

Attacking Midfielder- Benny Feilhaber

Left Wing- Darlington Nagbe

Forward- Bobby Wood

Forward- Clint Dempsey


The United States Should Start Benny Feilhaber against Panama in World Cup Qualifying

Bruce Arena selected his United States National Team roster for the October World Cup qualifiers against Panama and Trinidad and Tobago. The roster had its share of bad picks, but Arena did select Benny Feilhaber, a needed playmaker.

When the United States lines up against Panama, Arena will need to start Feilhaber as the team’s playmaker. In recent years, Feilhaber has become a two-way player who provides plenty of running and ball-winning. This should help Michael Bradley with defensive coverage in the midfield.

World Soccer Source previously wrote about the importance of calling up Feilhaber and Lee Nguyen, but only Feilhaber was selected. That’s better than nothing. In addition to calling up Feilhaber, Arena needs to start him. Starting him instantly improves the team’s possession and passing, and it improves the quality and quantity of final balls for attackers.

Starting Benny Feilhaber Makes Christian Pulisic More Effective

With Feilhaber as the playmaker, Christian Pulisic is a bigger scoring threat. His runs will more likely be rewarded with a quality pass, and he has another technical player to combine with. Clint Dempsey, Bobby Wood, and Pulisic are more than enough attacking firepower for the United States against Panama and Trinidad and Tobago. Feilhaber has all the tools and experience to orchestrate the attack with those players.

Despite being a playmaker himself, Pulisic has more 1v1 ability than Feilhaber, and he frequently gets into the penalty box. Playing Feilhaber allows Pulisic to make more runs into the penalty box, which will be rewarded with a final ball. The more technical players that the United States starts, the better it is for Pulisic’s skill-set. Without skilled players with quick feet and quick minds, he can’t play the way that he likes to play. Feilhaber is one of these players.

Feilhaber is a different type of American midfielder

In the last two games, the U.S. passed poorly, and there was no link between the midfield and the attack. Starting Feilhaber corrects these problems. At 32 years old, Feilhaber isn’t nearly old enough to be written off or declared over the hill. With the World Cup next summer, the attacking midfielder should become a fixture of the squad if the U.S. wants to qualify and perform well in the actual tournament.

Time and time again, he has shown how he plays the type of defense-splitting passes that other Americans don’t play. For a team with more passing and build up play, a true playmaker who can create goals is a must. There’s a noticeable difference in the quality of the U.S.’s play when Feilhaber is on the field, and his skill-set is needed again in a crucial World Cup qualifier.

Feilhaber has several good years of high quality football left, and perhaps this is another opportunity for the playmaker’s talents not to go to waste at the international level. Playing him certainly cuts down on Pulisic having to play 1v1 or dribble through crowds as the only method of advancing the ball. Pulisic’s 1v1 abilities are a great boost to the United States, but having a playmaker playing with him would be even better.


Neymar Is Still a Level Above Kylian Mbappe in Quality

After Paris Saint-Germain crushed Bayern Munich 3-0 in the Champions League, all the praise fell on Kylian Mbappe. Several prominent pundits at ESPN even said that the Frenchman was better than Neymar, an absolute master.

Obviously, such praise is way overblown. For starters, Neymar is technically perfect with both feet, and his completeness ranges from free kick ability to world-class passing to clinical finishing. That’s not to say that Mbappe doesn’t have tons of quality, but his game can’t be said to be equal to Neymar yet. When several ESPN pundits made their comments, Steve Nicol, also of ESPN, was quick to say that Neymar was way too good to say such things.

Craig Burley was the main pundit rating Mbappe over Neymar, which is a continuation of the little slights and jabs that Burley has been taking at Neymar.

Mbappe’s speed and directness really stands out to people. It’s quite striking to see him just blaze past people like he’s gliding on ice. Mbappe is extremely skilled and smooth, but he’s not on Neymar’s level. Many people say that the Brazilian is even more skilled than Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. To compare Mbappe to Neymar already is disrespectful to the PSG Number 10, who is clearly the team’s best player and key figure.

As fast as Neymar is, Mbappe is much faster. Based on the eye test, nobody in world football is as fast as Mbappe. There might be a few players close, but it looks as if Mbappe is the fastest. The ability to be technical and smooth at that speed makes the Frechman so hard to defend.

Against Bayern, Mbappe’s skill was on display. Several occasions really stand out. The first of course was how he totally bamboozled David Alaba by slowing rolling the ball to the left rather than shooting or accelerating. Alaba was left for dead in a display of true mastery of the ball. It was this play that likely caused so much praise around the world. The slow role with the bottom of his foot was uncommon and surprising, and who knows how he rolled it so gently off a full sprint? A player who was all speed could have never pulled off such a glorious fake.

In addition to this fake, there were several nicely weighted chipped passes, and there were lots of times the Frechman blew past his defender. Even some in the Brazilian press highlighted Mbappe’s play that game over Neymar’s.

Nevertheless, at this point it’s unlikely that Mbappe will beat Neymar to the Ballon d’Or. The Frenchman will continue to get better, but so will Neymar. The Brazilian has lightning pace, but the Frenchman’s pace is unrivaled. Mbappe will have to display more of his skill, passing, and scoring ability to be on Neymar’s level, but he will definitely push Neymar to get even better.

People used to take shots at the original Ronaldo and Ronaldinho, and it seems Neymar is also subject to criticism from various sources, which isn’t new for him. Many people seemed eager to diminish Neymar’s talent and body of work once again.


Why the U.S. National Team Should Recall Benny Feilhaber and Lee Nguyen

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The United States National Team still lags behind soccer’s giants in terms of its technical ability and passing. Starting a qualified playmaker would improve those problems. Both Benny Feilhaber and Lee Nguyen fit the bill to pull the strings for the United States, and don’t forget how well Christian Pulisic has done as a playmaker.

If Bruce Arena wants to use the Dortmund forward more as a Number 7 or Number 11, then one of those other two playmakers are strong options. Among the two, Feilhaber is the more proven playmaker at the international level.

Poor passing was easily the biggest problem in the last two World Cup qualifiers, but the U.S. passed much better earlier in the year when Pulisic was in a central role.

Benny Feilhaber Has Been a Proven Playmaker for Years

It’s a wonder that the Sporting Kansas City attacking midfielder hasn’t been a starter for the U.S. National Team for a decade. 2007 was when he scored his famous volley to beat Mexico in the Gold Cup Final, and he’s been the U.S.’s best Number 10 since then.

For years now, Feilhaber has displayed the ability to split the defense and play final balls that other American players couldn’t or wouldn’t play. He has reaffirmed this ability in his last appearances for the United States. Whether they be soft chips over the defense or a pass that slices through the defense, Feilhaber has shown that he has a full arsenal of passes to find openings in the backline. The weight and accuracy of his final passes is unique among Americans, and his are still a notch above Nguyen and Kljestan’s.

When Feilhaber plays, his movement and passing dictate that the team play through him. The attacking midfielder is particularly adept at turning the U.S.’s passing into one-to-two touch passing, which makes the United States more dangerous. Since 2013, Feilhaber has been more of a two-way player than he used to be, and he puts in loads of running. The U.S. doesn’t have a good excuse not to play him.

Lee Nguyen Has Also Been a Proven Playmaker for Several Years

On the other hand, you have Nguyen, who’s younger and probably quicker than Feilhaber. Whether he’s a starter or Feilhaber’s back-up, the New England Revolution midfielder deserves a roster spot. Nguyen like Feilhaber has 1v1 ability and scoring ability. He has 10 goals already this season as a midfielder. His quickness makes him a bigger 1v1 threat than Feilhaber.

Having a quick midfielder like Nguyen as a back-up to Feilhaber can help facilitate quick combination play with Pulisic and Dempsey. Compared to Sacha Kljestan, Nguyen’s skill-set and quickness makes him more effective at the international level. Like Feilhaber, Nguyen should have been a national team fixture for years now, at least the last three or four years.

Bruce Arena Must Rethink Not Using a Playmaker

Arena hasn’t put the United States in the best position to succeed in the last two games. When he started Pulisic out wide with no attacking midfielder, he didn’t start someone who was capable of orchestrating the attack from a central position,.

The United States needs the maximum six points in the next two World Cup qualifiers to put themselves in a position to automatically qualify. Starting Feilhaber or Nguyen and putting them both on the roster would be an active attempt to improve the U.S.’s play.

Using one of these two playmakers would allow the U.S. to get the ball to Pulisic, Clint Dempsey, and Bobby Wood in scoring positions. Without a playmaker with the vision and ability to play final balls to these players their movement and skill is pointless. Arena like many American coaches appears to have a real aversion to starting a true playmaker, even if he promised to do so when he was hired.