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.

Salute to Clint Dempsey

Salute to Clint Dempsey

Clint Dempsey is the best American soccer player ever, even better than Landon Donovan, but Dempsey’s skill and career remain underrated.

The Texan has displayed a level of advanced technical ability and creativity that no other American soccer player has ever displayed. American soccer still hasn’t produced many players who can smoothly execute individual skill against elite opponents in a game setting.

Even at 33 years old, Dempsey’s skill level, speed, and fitness suggest that he might still be in his prime.

Many observers still view Dempsey as inferior to Landon Donovan in skill and accomplishments on the field, and that’s unfair. Dempsey is often praised for his toughness and will to win, and while these are indeed great qualities of his, they neglect to mention his skill, creativity, consistency, and effectiveness. At his core, Dempsey is a player whose play is based on technical skill with the ball and the ability to display above average technical qualities against top competition.

While many of the American soccer players are essentially just hustle players and mentally strong players, Dempsey has always displayed a comfort and mastery with the ball that American players have normally lacked compared to players in Europe and Latin America. He has also showed more hustle and more mental toughness than his American counterparts.

The real gap between American soccer players and their better counterparts in Europe and Latin America is the absence of the first touch and overall ball skills to play smoother and faster.

With these real gaps between American soccer and the better varieties in mind, it puts Dempsey’s accomplishments and abilities in the right perspective. Consistently displaying refined and advanced technical ability along with a real talent at avoiding injuries is a real achievement.

There have been multiple interviews about Dempsey’s childhood and hard road to becoming a professional soccer player in the United States and in the United Kingdom, but a strong argument can be made that Dempsey really is underrated and underappreciated by American fans and journalists. Fans and journalists outside of the United States sometimes scoff at Dempsey for being good by not quite elite, but their standard is essentially a logical fallacy where unless Dempsey is a top player for one of only a few elite European clubs, then he is just mediocre in those critics’ eyes.

By any standard, Dempsey is a creative and technically-skilled attacking player who can dribble, pass, and score against top competition, and he’s displayed a facility at playing with both feet and scoring with his head. Elite club teams and national teams were never able to intimidate and psych out Dempsey as he routinely showed them zero respect.

Returning to the Donovan comparison, even the biggest Donovan homer must admit that Dempsey has a better club playing resume where he played in a better league (the EPL) against better competition. He also has an almost identical goal-scoring rate and tally as Donovan at the international level, and Dempsey can’t be accused of ever playing small or being bullied by opposing players and teams.

When Dempsey retires in several years, he deserves to be recognized as not only the most accomplished American soccer player ever but also the most talented and technical player. American soccer has seen Donovan or Tab Ramos, but neither of them displayed the level of technical skill and creativity that Dempsey not only showcased but showcased consistently for over a decade.

What really made Dempsey a pioneer for American soccer was how everyone could see that this player represented a new level of skill with the ball for American players. Dempsey proved that American players could be creative, technical, and effective even against world-class competition. That’s what Dempsey gave American soccer fans and players: the proof that Americans could be players that people in other countries recognized as truly skilled.

In the video included with this post is an interview that Clint Dempsey did with Colin Cowherd, and it’s perhaps the most illuminating Dempsey interview as Dempsey normally doesn’t say too much in his interviews.

Sebastian Lletget, The New USMNT Number 10

Sebastian Lletget Should Be the New U.S. Men’s National Team Attacking Midfielder

Sebastian Lletget is a viable Number 10 type attacking midfielder that can start for the United States Men’s National Team. Under coach Jürgen Klinsmann, any attacking midfielder has been a persona non grata, and this was also the case under Bob Bradley and Bruce Area.

This isn’t a Klinsmann problem as much as it is an overvaluing of non-stop full-speed running and defending to the detriment of skill and smooth passing. Despite being a striker as a player, Klinsmann’s refusal to deploy attacking midfielders might be his German mentality taking precedence over his attacking mindset as a former Number 9. Although Lletget is a young player and one who hasn’t represented the United States before, Lee Nguyen and Darlington Nagbe have played well for the national team on multiple occasions, and even this didn’t convince Klinsmann to start a Number 10.

Lletget is arguable better player than Nguyen and Nagbe, and he has a higher ceiling. There’s no evidence that he has trouble with the spotlight or playing in big games, and he appears to be fully ready right now. He would be a big boost for the national team’s poor passing, creativity, and creative play.

With center forward Bobby Wood putting in great performances for the United States in the Copa America Centenario, Lletget would be even more useful. Now that the United States has a more dangerous, aggressive, and active center forward in Wood, a true playmaker would make Wood even more of a threat.

Compared to Nagbe and Nguyen, Lletget is more creative and technical, and he’s more dynamic in his constant probing and searching for openings in the defense. Lletget is a versatile attacking player who can play wide or centrally as well as in the midfield as an attacking midfielder or as a second striker up top. He can also play as a wing in the midfield or in a forward line.

The LA Galaxy forward and midfielder not only has the trickery and technical skill to help his team keep possession and attack, but he also has a low center of gravity and a strong ability to shield the ball and not get muscled off the ball by defenders. These shielding and physicality qualities make him more resistant to overly physical defending or just very physical defending. Some coaches dismiss Number 10 like players as luxury players because these players supposedly don’t hustle or defend, but that’s not true of Lletget. The LA Galaxy man works for his team non-stop with or without the ball, and he covers lots of ground either defending or presenting himself as a passing option for his teammates.

Anyone who watches Lletget notices a player who plays with more skill and creativity than is average in MLS where there is still too much out of control passing and movement plus a scary dose of dirty, nasty defending which borders on criminal. Skill players are still heavily criticized in MLS unless they just wipe the floor with the opposition as Sebastian Giovinco does as he is really a Serie A fantasista playing with people well below his skill level. Giovinco himself suffered from being labelled a luxury player by many coaches who also viewed his tiny size as major deficiency.

But, the problem for Lletget might be that his advanced skill level isn’t at the level where he simply embarrasses and destroys opponents like Giovinco does.

Lletget has been a standout talent since he started in MLS at the beginning of the 2015 MLS season, and the United States would be wise to bring him into the fold for the national team even if he were just to substitute into the game for the final 20 to 30 minutes. The United States needs more skill players, and they need playmakers to link the midfield to the attack and improve the creativity of the team. None of those claims are controversial, but there remains not only a reluctance for players like Lletget to be used but also for more fans and media members to call for their inclusion on the national team.

Lletget should have already been on the national team, but it’s unlikely that playing for the LA Galaxy that he will continue to be underrated much longer. He doesn’t always start for the Galaxy, but that is simply a reality of player rotation in a deep squad.

 

The Emergence of Bobby Wood

The Emergence of Bobby Wood

It’s no secret that the United States needs more skill and more goals, and now there is another dangerous attacking player other than Clint Dempsey: his name is Bobby Wood.

A dangerous center forward that combines skill with athleticism is what the United States really needed, and Wood has shown well for the United States on too many occasions to not consider him legit.

Wood’s play in competitive matches in the Copa America Centenario reaffirmed the skill he showed in international friendlies against Germany and The Netherlands. He has proven that he is a dangerous striker that the United States can count on for goals and assists.

Compared to all of the other strikers the United States has used since 1990, Wood displays much more movement and fluidity than the United States normally uses at center forward. It would be fair to say that the United States used to mostly just hit crosses or long balls to center forwards who were good in the air, but now the national team has a striker whose movement demands service and balls played to feet.

Jozy Altidore is a technical striker in his own right that wants the ball played to him on the ground, but Wood has displayed much better movement with and without the ball than Altidore has shown in the past. Maybe that’s unfair to Altidore who suffered from a lack of service due to multiple national team coaches who placed essentially zero value on playmakers or Number 10 players.

Expect to see Wood starting for the United States for the foreseeable future, and this should make the American attack more of a scoring threat. With Wood starting, the USA can look to start playing more final balls through and behind the defense because the Hawaiian makes excellent runs and runs the entire game.

Wood would benefit from a playmaker, but his style of play is one where he involves himself in the match and demands service.

Wood’s Playing Style

Wood is a technical center forward and a smooth athlete who plays with a high work rate on and off the ball.

Wood displays a huge increase in movement and activity compared to Altidore, the United States’ regular starting center forward when healthy.

It must be said that Wood is simply better and more aggressive than Altidore.

The Hawaiian center forward who will play in the Bundesliga beginning later this summer is a complete striker who can score with either foot or his head. Wood likes the ball played to his feet, but he is a strong striker who can shield the ball and outmuscle defenders.

Much of what has been lacking from the United States’ attack is technical skill, creativity, and quick combination play, and Wood can take defenders off the dribble, link up with his teammates, and score.

After the Copa America Centenario, Wood must be considered the USA’s best option at center forward in the Number 9 role. The use of Wood marks an evolution of sorts for the United States because previously the Stars and Stripes had normally preferred big, powerful strikers over skillful and fast ones, but Wood is powerful and tall while being skillful and quick.

The Hawaiian can stretch defenses and make them work, and these are not only fantastic in and of themselves, but they also suck defenders away from Clint Dempsey or whomever else the United States is using in the attack.

Wood is the type of technical, dynamic, and quick center forward that the United States has been waiting for.

How the USMNT Can Improve its Attack

How the USMNT Can Improve its Attack

By bringing Bobby Wood into the U.S. National Team, Jürgen Klinsmann has already improved the American attack. Wood is an excellent strike partner for Clint Dempsey, and both players are technical and creative players. With Wood starting, the attack is more dynamic. Wood plays with more skill and movement that Jozy Altidore, and this gives Dempsey more support in the attack.

Adding a true Number 10 like Sebastian Lletget would make the American attack even better because Lletget can be a playmaker for both forwards, and he can also score himself. With Lletget, Wood, and Dempsey in the attack, the United States would have a more dangerous and talented group of attackers.

The United States has been lacking enough talent in the attack to really threaten top national teams, and these three – or Rubio Rubin in place of Dempsey- have the qualities to improve the attack. This attack won’t magically make the United States as good as the likes of Chile, Argentina, or Germany, but it will signal a major improvement to the overall skill of the United States. This would be an attack that displayed skill soccer over just toughness and a high work rate.

Dempsey still has several years in the tank, but Rubin is also ready to start for the United States now. Rubin has already played well for the United States, and nothing about him or his play indicates that he needs more development before playing a major role.

Without Dempsey, an attack comprised of Lletget, Wood, and Rubin would also be a skillful and dynamic attack that plays proactively against top opponents rather than waiting to score off a set piece or benefit from a defensive mistake.

Klinsmann has already figured out that Wood and Dempsey are an effective strike partnership, and he has already brought Rubin into the national team and seen him perform well. Adding Lletget to the squad or even just using Darlington Nagbe as an attacking midfielder would improve the American attack even more.

The United States looks close to having an attack that can do real damage against elite opponents. Klinsmann doesn’t need to change his Wood-Dempsey combination, but he would be wise to better link up the midfield to the attack with Lletget and/or Nagbe.