Sigi Schmid Discusses the United States’ Need for a Playmaker

Sigi Schmid Discusses the United States Men’s National Team’s Need for a Playmaker

In a long interview with Alexi Lalas for the Mutant Gene Podcast, Sigi Schmid discussed a wide variety of soccer topics including his belief that Jürgen Klinsmann should be starting a playmaker on the United States Men’s National Team.

This discussion included a detailed discussion of positions, formations, and playing styles. Schmid also articulated his belief that Michael Bradley isn’t a playmaker or a defensive midfielder, and that Klinsmann often had Jermaine Jones and Bradley playing the same position without a playmaker included. He also expressed his belief that Klinsmann has used wings, but he has neglected to use a central midfielder who can playmake.

Below is one of Schmid’s comments about the need for a playmaker, and how Schmid identified Benny Feilhaber, Sacha Kljestan, and Lee Nguyen as playmakers over 10 years ago in 2005. You can listen to the episode of the Mutant Gene Podcast here.

“But those three playmakers (Feilhaber, Kljestan, Nguyen) that I just mentioned you know if you add those three players together, caps under Jürgen (Klinsmann) are under 20… You can play a DeAndre Yedlin on one wing and a Julian Green on the other wing and those guys are gonna have speed and they’re gonna try and attack people, but you’re not gonna get any playmaking out of that position. Pulisic now is a little different. He can playmake a little bit.”

This writer has criticized Klinsmann’s reluctance to use a playmaker going back to 2011, and Bob Bradley has also been guilty of not starting a playmaker either, although Bradley was starting Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan at the same time, which gave the team much more playmaking that it has seen under Klinsmann.

Recently, Klinsmann has in fact been starting Kljestan as a playmaker, but Schmid’s comments might carry more weight with Klinsmann who values a fellow German’s opinion on his tactics.

World Soccer Source has written about Sebastian Lletget on numerous occasions, and Schmid named Lletget as a player with playmaking abilities who he liked as a wing player. Based on Schmid’s comments, you could almost infer that he wanted to see Lletget on the national team as a winger, but he still wanted to see either Feilhaber, Kljestan, or Nguyen as the central attacking midfielder or playmaker.

Whenever a respected coach has constructive criticism for the United States Men’s National Team, the American fan base benefits. The United States is still seeking to be a technical and better national team, and any commentary that helps the national team go from a hustle team to a skill team is needed.


Andrew Farrell Is Ready to Be DeAndre Yedlin’s Backup for the United States

Andrew Farrell’s Ready to Be DeAndre Yedlin’s Backup for the United States

The United States Men’s National Team’s defense is better than it has been in years, but the outside back positions still aren’t two players deep. Andrew Farrell of the New England Revolution can help with the depth at the right back position, plus Farrell’s best position is actually center back. One of the criticisms of DeAndre Yedlin, the starting right back for the national team, is that his actual defending is still developing, but that’s never been said of Farrell.

Farrell is difficult to get past as a defender, and that’s not only due to his ball-winning and marking, but also due to his speed. Something that both Yedlin and Farrell have in common is that both are fast even for professional soccer standards. Recently, Jürgen Klinsmann has been having Geoff Cameron play right back, which is not his best position. Calling up Farrell allows Klinsmann to start Cameron at center back or even at his very best position: defensive midfielder.

You could make a strong argument that Farrell is a better right back than Yedlin because he provides Yedlin’s speed and technical ability with better defending and more of an intimidation factor.

Even though Farrell is a top defender in MLS, it would be an exaggeration to say that he’s a world-beater at the international level. He’s only been a pro for several seasons, but he does solidify and improve the right side of the United States’ defense.

Is Farrell or Yedlin better? That’s in the eye of the beholder, but Klinsmann would be wise to at least let Farrell be Yedlin’s back up. It also wouldn’t hurt to also give the national team another center back who brings an impressive combination of defending, technical ability, and athleticism.

Who Should the United States Start against Cuba?

Who Should the United States Start against Cuba?

Jürgen Klinsmann and the United States Men’s National Team should use their best lineup in the friendly against Cuba, rather than doing too much experimentation.

Klinsmann has found a strong defensive unit, and he should stick with that Back Four. That also means starting Michael Bradley and Sacha Kljestan again in the center of the midfield with Christian Pulisic out wide. Jozy Altidore and Bobby Wood have formed an effective striker partnership, and doubling up on strikers is an excellent idea for a national team like the United States that has struggled to score enough against top competition.

Using Altidore and Wood not only allows Altidore to have a strike partner, which allows him to be more involved, but it also makes it harder for the defense to mark Wood.

Maybe the only change to the lineup would be starting Paul Arriola on the right wing. If Pulisic is going to be on the left wing, then Arriola is the obvious choice to man the right wing, and Arriola has already performed well for the United States. Like Pulisic, Arriola brings speed and skill to the wing, and Arriola can also create like a Number 10. The Tijuana midfielder and forward also knows how to score.

Possible Starting Lineup (4-4-2  Formation)

Goalkeeper- Ethan Horvath

Right Back- DeAndre Yedlin

Center Back- Geoff Cameron

Center Back- John Brooks

Left Back- Fabian Johnson

Right Wing- Paul Arriola

Center Defensive Midfielder- Michael Bradley

Center Attacking Midfielder- Sacha Kljestan

Left Wing- Christian Pulisic

First Striker- Jozy Altidore

Second Striker- Bobby Wood



Klinsmann Has Improved as United States Coach

Jürgen Klinsmann Has Improved as the United States Men’s National Team Coach

Jürgen Klinsmann is improving as a coach in his tactics and player selection. His rosters still have a tendency to feature two or three of his favorite players who don’t deserve a call-up, but all coaches have their favorites. With a few exceptions, the rosters contain the right amount of players for every position. No longer is there a sense that the rosters and lineups don’t have the players needed to perform well.

Chris Wondolowski stood out as a poor selection to this recent roster because the roster already had four other talented center forwards, and his spot could have gone to Sebastian Lletget of the LA Galaxy who is needed to play with Christian Pulisic in the midfield or attack. Even with Sasha Kljestan on the roster to play the playmaker role, Lletget is too creative and effective to omit. His technical ability and impact on games stand out every game for the LA Galaxy regardless of the opponent.

The defense that Klinsmann is set to use in the upcoming friendlies is once again a strong defense, but the outside back selection was once again poor. You could argue that the United States doesn’t have many good outside backs, but that would be inaccurate. Eric Lichaj is a talented and experienced right back who defends well and can go forward. Andrew Farrell of the New England Revolution is as good or better than Lichaj, and Farrell plays center back or right back equally well. At left back, Robbie Rogers and Chris Tierney are strong options, and their play in MLS over several years has been impressive enough to make the argument that they aren’t ready for international play weak. Both players are also fast enough to perform well against competition like Mexico that is often better than MLS.

Klinsmann called Paul Arriola up again, and despite limited playing time with Tijuana, Arriola is an excellent attacking player who can play wide or centrally just like Pulisic. For this writer, Lletget is impressive enough that making an argument for him again is justified. With Pulisic, Arriola, and Lletget playing, the United States would be evolving into a more technical and fluid team that was playing skill soccer and not hustle soccer.

The United States under Klinsmann is now fielding lineups where the pieces fit together, and the only major criticism is of certain player selected. There is still a sense that Klinsmann thinks the national team is all about him, and he continues to think that nobody else in the United States really knows much about soccer except for him. The players produced by the United States are so much better now that it will be hard to continue insisting that he doesn’t have the players he needs.

While Klinsmann has drastically improved his tactics and roster selection, there are still too many quality MLS players who appear to be almost ignored by Klinsmann and the U.S. Soccer Federation.


The Best 23 Players for the USMNT Roster (September 2016)

The Best 23 Players for the USMNT Roster (September 2016)

Who Jürgen Klinsmann will select for the United States roster and who he should select are two different questions. The American player pool is experiencing a real depth at striker with some five strikers on form: Jozy Altidore, Juan Agudelo, Bobby Wood, Rubio Rubin, and Jordan Morris.

The defenses that have been used recently have been solid and cohesive, but Klinsmann has shown a tendency once again to shuffle around the players in his defense too much.

The midfield is the real area that needs improving, and better two-way central midfielders as well as better creative midfielders are included in the midfield section below.

Here is World Soccer Source’s list for the best 23-man United States roster right now:

Goalkeepers- Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Ethan Horvath

There’s no reason not to have both Tim Howard and Brad Guzan on the national team, and only which third goalkeeper to include is very debatable. The United States has many excellent goalkeepers, and Ethan Horvath is currently the favored third goalkeeper with the coaches, fans, and media.

Defenders- Geoff Cameron, John Brooks, Steve Birnbaum, Matt Besler, DeAndre Yedlin, Andrew Farrell, Fabian Johnson, Jorge Villafaña

The four center backs listed above are all proven defenders who enjoy widespread support with the fan base and media, and the same can be said of the four fullbacks selected. Andrew Farrell is back to playing right back this season, but he is as good or better at center back. Dominic Kinnear’s selection of Farrell for the MLS All-Star team is a strong indication of his abilities, and the national team needs any defender like him than it can get. Farrell is fast, technical, and difficult to get past. He also is an attacking threat whose speed up and down the sideline is a big weapon like DeAndre Yedlin’s is.

Midfielders- Michael Bradley, Kellyn Acosta, Fatai Alashe, Dillon Powers, Darlington Nagbe, Sebastian Lletget, Kelyn Rowe, Christian Pulisic

This group of midfielders is more or less four defensive midfielders and four attacking midfielders. Michael Bradley is a given for a starting spot for the United States, and including Kellyn Acosta, Fatai Alashe, and Dillon Powers improves the overall two-way ability of the U.S.’ midfielders. Darlington Nagbe excels in this category as well, but Klinsmann hasn’t given him many minutes for some reason. Nagbe can be used as a playmaker or central midfielder, and the same applies for Dillon Powers. Christian Pulisic has proven to be a combination of speed and skill with no problem performing well in the Bundesliga or on the international level, and he can play in a wide or central attacking role for the team. Sebastian Lletget and Kelyn Rowe are included for their skill and creativity because the United States is weak in these categories. Like Pulisic, they can play on either wing or behind the forwards, and both can also play as central midfielders. It’s surprising that neither one of these players has ever been selected for national team duty, but they should be.

Forwards- Bobby Wood, Juan Agudelo, Rubio Rubin, Landon Donovan

Wood, Rubin, and Agudelo are all more active on and off the ball than Altidore, and this makes them more dangerous than Altidore. Even with Altidore in great form, these three are more talented and technical players, which means the United States has better forwards than it used to have. One gets the impression that these three cause the opposing defense more problems. With Landon Donovan back playing for the LA Galaxy, even at 34 years old, he’s too talented and savvy to omit, but Klinsmann will omit him. Donovan was a very fast and quick player in his prime, and his overall quickness hasn’t diminished enough to consider him over the hill. The inclusion of Donovan means that there isn’t room for Paul Arriola of Tijuana FC, who has consistently performed well whenever Klinsmann has given him the chance to play. The likely inclusion is Arriola or a scenario where Altidore is one of four center forwards on the roster as Wood and Rubin can play first or second striker.

*Clint Dempsey not medically cleared yet, but he is a must inclusion when cleared.

Depth and Quality at Striker New for the United States

Depth and Quality at Striker New for the United States

Striker traditionally just denoted the center forward or Number 9 position, and of course there was always the second striker or withdrawn forward to support and feed the first striker.

Nowadays, the term striker is sometimes used for any forward, but for the United States Men’s National Team, true strikers had been in short supply. With the emergence of Bobby Wood and Rubin Rubin, the United States has two talented center forwards who aren’t just target men for headers. Wood and Rubin are refined strikers with a full arsenal of attacking skills. The United States also has its long time striker, Jozy Altidore, who continues to improve and expand his skills and qualities.

Juan Agudelo is also back in good form, and Agudelo is something of the American striker par excellence. So far, Agudelo is the most explosive and talented of the American strikers, but Wood has proven to be a clinical and smooth striker with lots of speed and skill.

This kind of striker depth is a new phenomenon for the United States, and there are other strikers like Jordan Morris who haven’t been discussed yet. Putting the ball in the back of the net against elite competition has been a weakness for the United States, but Wood has shown a greater ability to get behind and past defenders than other strikers the U.S. has had. The Hawaiian center forward can take defenders off the dribble or slip behind them to receive passes, but he also knows how to suck defenders toward himself in order to set up a teammate to score.

The United States would be wise to capitalize on their striker talent, but again and again we see a reluctance from coaches of the U.S. to start an attacking midfielder or playmaker to feed the center forward.

Allotting at least three roster spots to center forwards is the wise choice for Jürgen Klinsmann. The United States has had a problem with losing its center forward in big tournaments, but losing two is possible as well. As goals are so crucial to success, reserving at least three roster spots to center forwards is not excessive on a 23-man roster. Since there is striker depth, why not start two forwards together with one as the first striker or Number 9 and the others as the second striker or Number 11.

Clint Dempsey used to be the only real scoring threat for the United States against top competition, but as a second striker, attacking midfielder, or wing, he was farther from the goal. Now with several strikers with the skill and athleticism to really threaten better international competition, the United States is moving towards being a tougher opponent.

Three MLS Midfielders the United States Needs Now

Three MLS Midfielders the United States Needs

Since Jürgen Klinsmann’s defenses and forwards are better now than any time during his tenure, the midfield needs better personnel. The United States has more talented midfielders than recent rosters have shown, and these three midfielders are well-known names for anyone who watches MLS.

Sebastian Lletget- Attacking Midfielder/Wing

Sebastian Lletget has showcased a much higher level of technical skill and creativity than most American soccer players have showcased. Playing for the LA Galaxy is the biggest media stage in MLS as the Galaxy are more popular and widely watched than either New York MLS team. Lletget’s skillset are bolstered by not only his speed and quickness but also his shielding ability and physicality. Quality attacking play and creativity are in short supply for the U.S. national team, and Lletget would complement the likes of Christian Pulisic. With these players playing behind of alongside a center forward, Clint Dempsey’s void can be filled with worthy replacements. Lletget is a triple threat in his ability to dribble, pass, and score, and he doesn’t need to be coached to aggressively attack. His recent play with the LA Galaxy has shown his endurance and ability to cover lots of territory.

Dillon Powers- Attacking Midfielder/Central Midfielder

Dillon Powers won MLS Rookie of the Year several years ago for a good reason, and the Colorado Rapids midfielder combines the skill of an attacking midfielder with the endurance and athleticism of a box-to-box midfielder. Whether he plays as an attacking midfielder or more of a Number 8, Powers can help the United States right now with his passing ability and ball winning ability. With Michael Bradley, Darlington Nagbe, and Powers, the United States would have three central midfielders who can recover possession and keep it. Powers’ technical ability as an attacking midfielder also makes him a player that the U.S. needs because the team has almost no playmaking.

Kelyn Rowe- Attacking Midfielder/Wing

Kelyn Rowe is an attacking midfielder as well, but he also excels as a wing or a second striker. Rowe is less of a box-to-box midfielder than Powers, but Rowe plays that position well. Rowe is needed more for his attacking ability, vision, and quickness than for his two-way abilities, so he and Powers are similar in some ways and different in other ways. The U.S. has several center forwards who know how to score, but Rowe would be helpful for his playmaking and attacking support, as the strikers will likely not have enough scoring opportunities without real playmakers.


The United States Should Start Rubio Rubin over Jozy Altidore

The United States Should Start Rubio Rubin over Jozy Altidore

It’s not about Jozy Altidore. It’s about making the United States’ attack more dangerous.

Bobby Wood is a lock as a starting forward for the United States, but starting Rubio Rubin over Jozy Altidore as the other forward would be a bold and inspired choice for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers.

Rubin like Wood is a dynamic forward who plays with more energy and creativity than Altidore, and letting Rubin and Wood start together would be a valiant attempt to make up for the absence of Clint Dempsey.

While Altidore is a technical, athletic, and powerful forward, there is no denying that both Wood and Rubin display much more on and off the ball movement. These two American strikers stretch the defense more than Altidore, and they also attack the goal with more reckless abandon.

Wood won over American fans by scoring important goals in meaningless friendlies for the United States, but in the Copa America Centenario, he proved to be a striker that could get behind the defense, beat defenders in 1v1 situations, and score with both feet. For American fans used to seeing Altidore not involved in games due to lack of service, seeing Wood rampaging toward the goal definitely stood out. The forward wasn’t just active, but he was technically-skilled as well.

When Rubin has played for the United States, there has been a similar style of attacking play. Starting two forwards like Rubin and Wood isn’t too much firepower, but rather it is the type of change the United States needs to continue becoming a more dangerous opponent.

Altidore is a quality goal-scorer and center forward, but Rubin and Wood are bigger scoring threats. Altidore has proven to be a striker that plays more actively off the ball when other technical and creative players start with him, but going with Rubin over Altidore is something worth trying.

The United States has never been known for its technical skill or scoring ability, but playing Wood with Rubin would help the U.S. to improve in these areas.

With Jordan Morris, the United States would have four quality center forwards on the roster, and now is the perfect time to start making the attacking play of the national team more electric.


Pogba Early Leader for PFA Player of the Year

Paul Pogba is the early leader for the Professional Footballers’ Association’s Player of the Year Award 

Paul Pogba has an early lead for the Professional Footballers Association’s award for Player of the Season in the English Premier League. In his first two games back with Manchester United after the same club hilariously let him go to Juventus for free, Pogba has looked like a professional playing an exhibition game against amateurs. A British pundit commented that Pogba looked like the best kid on the school playground dominating all of the other kids.

If Pogba weren’t so effective, he could almost be accused of playing too selfishly, but he’s involving his teammates too much to accuse him of this. His ability to dribble through crowds and embarrass opponents with the ball at his feet gives him free license to play the way that he’s playing. His individual play has been very effective because when he has the ball Manchester United is constantly getting in scoring positions. He has played so well that his teammates have all adapted to just letting him run the show. Even Ibrahimovic has been playing in his trademark style without getting in Pogba’s way.

The only minor critique that could be made of Pogba is that he’s not utilizing his left foot enough, but his technique and ability with his left foot have already been on display plenty of times. Pogba should use his left foot more since greats like Zinedine Zidane, Brazilian Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, and so many others used both feet to dominate opponents and win titles and awards.

Although Pogba’s ability as a two-way midfielder is so impressive, it’s difficult to not focus on his dribbling brilliance. Only Neymar, Lionel Messi, and few others are better 1v1 dribblers than Pogba, and Pogba also shields the ball so well that opponents frequently can’t even get close to the ball when Pogba is static with the ball.

Pogba was always expected to be outstanding in the EPL, but he has been embarrassing opponents so far. Once Manchester United face off against better opponents, Pogba will likely have to dribble less and pass sooner, but that’s not a problem for him.


The Luxury Player Fallacy

The Luxury Player Fallacy

The attacking midfielder or Number 10 shirt is often the most decisive and important player on any soccer team. Having a true Number 10 gives a team a player who can decide the game with one inspired or magical play. In major tournaments, having a gifted playmaker gives a team an edge over a team without one.

Often this type of playmaker is labeled a “luxury player” by many people. The accusation being that this type of player is surplus to requirements for not being a player who contributes much defensively or one who puts the ball in the back of the net. The problem with this mentality is that this supposedly luxury player is vital to linking the midfield to the attack and creating goals. Goals are the most important thing in soccer, and having a playmaker puts the primary goalscorer in the position to have more scoring opportunities.

Players like Lionel Messi, Andrés Iniesta, Zinedine Zidane, Diego Maradona, and Pelé have always separated their team from the others. At the highest levels of soccer, every team has technical and athletic players at every position, and only the magicians and grandmasters can break the deadlock. Besides the Number 10 players, a prolific center forward like Brazil’s Ronaldo is the other most valuable player. Of course, every position is vital and valuable, but finding a Number 10 and a Number 9 is the hardest thing for a coach.

In the last two World Cup Finals in 2010 and 2014, we saw two Number 10s decide the game with goals themselves. Andrés Iniesta, an absolutely legendary Number 10, scored the winning goal in 2010 for Spain. In 2014, Mario Götze, another Number 10 who is often left on the bench by coaches for being a luxury player, scored the winning goal for Germany. It was a goal that only an absolute master could have scored. There was no time to think before he struck the ball and no angle to beat the goalkeeper, but he scored anyway. So the last two World Cups were decided by Number 10s, and we still hear these players called “luxury players.”

With eleven players on a side and normally almost seven players designated as defensive players, it makes little sense for one of the remaining four players to not be an attacking midfielder or playmaker. How else will a team unlock the defense, connect the midfield to the attack, and score goals? You can’t really expect the ball to make its way to the striker or strikers with a midfield stuffed with defensive midfielders.

Too many coaches and teams continue to push this mentality of the “luxury player” and the game of soccer suffers as a result of it. There is a direct connection between technical skill and winning.