Where Should Darlington Nagbe Play for the USMNT?

What’s Darlington Nagbe’s best position for the United States Men’s National Team? Is there really only one?

Darlington Nagbe thrived this past season in Major League Soccer as a central midfielder, but his skill-set and qualities allow him to be a game-changer in multiple positions. Nagbe played his best when he was able to get lots of touches on the ball with lots of freedom to move. Whether he plays as a box-to-box midfielder or as some sort of forward, Nagbe just needs freedom to play the game as he sees fit. Even as an outside forward or wing in a 4-3-3, he could drop into the midfield to recover possession and collect the ball. Starting Nagbe either as a midfielder or forward is more important that ensuring that he is started in the Number 8 role.

Michael Bradley is certainly a more defensive player than Nagbe, so having Bradley in the lineup frees Nagbe up to be more offensive while still being able to contribute defensively.

A 4-3-3 formation would suit the United States well, and Nagbe’s qualities make him suited to play in the midfield or in the attack. If Clint Dempsey and Fabian Johnson are playing in the Front Three with Jozy Altidore or some other striker, then this makes the midfield the best spot for Nagbe. If Mix Diskerud (or some other attacking midfielder) and a defensive midfielder are lining up with Bradley in the midfield then one of the outside forward spots is best for Nagbe. These outside forward spots are positions that afford plenty of freedom of movement, and of course Lionel Messi and Neymar play these positions for Barcelona where they drop into the midfield all the time.

Nagbe is most influential when he is heavily involved in the game, and Jürgen Klinsmann would be wise to make him a starter for the United States. Formations and tactics are certainly important, but special attacking players have always been given plenty of freedom.

All Nagbe needs is plenty of touches, and the United States needs him involved in the attack whether as a midfielder or a forward. Nagbe is also the logical choice to play Dempsey’s role when Dempsey isn’t playing, so Nagbe will have to work on his finishing to score as much as Dempsey.

For right now, a Front Six with  Diskerud, Bradley, and Nagbe, behind Johnson, Altidore,  and Dempsey seems as good as any, so it’s not hard to see Nagbe fitting into the lineup of a full-strength United States.

Although Nagbe did play as a Number 8 for the Portland Timbers, it’s easy to see how Nagbe is more of an offensive midfielder when compared to Michael Bradley or even the young Kellyn Acosta. Nagbe is much more of a complete player than just someone that needs to play the same role for the national team as his club team to succeed.

Whether he is more of a central midfielder or a forward, Nagbe can be a reference point and game-changing player for the United States.

Player Profile: M’Baye Niang

Breaking Down M’Baye Niang’s Qualities and Skill-Set

M’Baye Niang. Dazzling technical ability and creativity inside an NBA physique with Olympic sprinter athleticism.

Niang really is just like that. A center forward by trade, the French attacker has so much skill and natural talent that he’s been able to play out of position as a wing or second striker for AC Milan without any problems.

In addition to all of the speed and trickery, Niang is also an elite passer and dead ball specialist. When Mario Balotelli first game to Milan several years ago after being at Inter Milan and Manchester City, Niang showed the ability to harmonize with Balotelli and attack opposing defenses like bandits. This ability to associate and combine with Balotelli shows a mind that understands football and knows how to help and be helped by talented teammates.

The one area where Niang needs to improve is converting more of his individual creativity into goals. Niang can certainly score and be a threat for the entire 90 minutes, but there is lots of room for capitalizing on all of that skill and audacity.

The French forward is borderline unplayable as his speed and skill are too much to expect any defender to really contain. Since Niang hasn’t harnessed all of his powers yet, his scoring and assist stats haven’t been noteworthy. The lack of numerous goals and assists is attributable to simply not being clinical enough in the final third. When Niang sharpens up his finishing, he’s the only one stopping him.

Unlike Balotelli, Niang has no issues with discipline or emotional control. Like Balotelli, Niang can do everything with both feet, and he can smoothly execute difficult tricks that most footballers cannot pull off against other professionals in a game setting. Niang also excels at shielding the ball and bodying off defenders without fouling. Niang has a slender built, but there is a lot of muscle and power in his tall frame.

No one in world football runs with the speed and effortless grace of Niang, and this is coupled with a expert level of mastery of the ball. The Frenchman is just a speed merchant; he is an elite attacking talent that is only 21 years old.

A refined Niang will be a rival or partner for Karim Benzema in the French attack. Earning a spot on France’s UEFA Euro 2016 roster should be a goal for Niang.

M’Baye Niang checks all the boxes for a forward: skill, creativity, activity, speed, size, passing. and scoring ability. His time should be soon.

Better Days Ahead for AC Milan

Milan are poised to leave their mediocre play behind after a victory over Fiorentina and the return of Kevin-Prince Boateng and Mario Balotelli.

AC Milan’s victory over Fiorentina could be a turning point for the club. Historically, the Rossoneri are soccer giants, and even a few years ago, the club had close Champions League games against the likes of Barcelona and Arsenal in the knockout rounds.

Milan are much more talented and complete than they get credit for. The club isn’t as crumbling as much as observers claim. Milan had enough money and appeal to sign a striker of Carlos Bacca’s quality over the summer, and youngsters like Davide Calabria and Gianluigi Donnarumma are cause for hope. Giacomo Bonaventura’s play as a fantasista is alone cause for hope. Looking at Milan’s roster, a very strong starting lineup can be easily put together, and there is even room for variation and player rotation.

If Milan use a 4-3-3 formation, then Kevin-Prince Boateng, Riccardo Montolivo, and Giacomo Bonaventura can start in the midfield, and that midfield is no joke even by the highest standards. Sinisa Mihajlovic has the option of starting an attacking trident of M’Baye Niang, Carlos Bacca, and Mario Balotelli, and those three would be a handful for the most elite of the world-class center backs.

Hypothetically, a Front Six like the one outlined above would cause problems for any squad, so already any talk of Milan being doomed to failure until more players can be signed is just not accurate.

Milan are 12 points back from Serie A leaders Napoli, but there is half of a season left to earn a Champions League spot. Surpassing Fiorentina and Roma can be the short term goal for Milan, and these two clubs are already within reach at 6 points and 3 point ahead respectively.

A stereotype about Serie A is that the league is all about defending and tactics, and Milan have the pieces for a strong defense. Along with Donnarumma in goal, Milan have four quality center backs in Alex, Cristian Zapata, Alessio Romagnoli, and Philippe Mexes. Mexes is a walking yellow card, but he’s a talented and experienced central defender. Alex and Romagnoli starting in the center of defense is likely Milan’s best option, and those two offer Milan a respectably central defense. Even though Alex is past his prime, Romagnoli is one of the best young central defenders in the world. Both Juventus and Inter Milan do have better defenses, but Milan is good enough to win a Champions League spot. With starting fullbacks Ignazio Abate and Mattia De Sciglio, Milan has quality in the center of the defense and on the flanks.

Writing off Milan for this season is a mistake, but Mihajlovic has plenty of work to do in improving Milan’s chemistry and organization. As soon as Boateng reaches 90-minute fitness, the Rossoneri will be a more formidable side, and Balotelli’s return to the Milan attack creates the exciting scenario of seeing Niang, Bacca, and Balotelli terrorizing opposition defenses together.

What’s Real Madrid’s Best XI Under Zidane?

What’s Real Madrid’s Best XI Under Zidane?

Casemiro is rumored to be the odd man out in Real Madrid’s starting lineup under Zinedine Zidane, and not because of any lack of quality or form. Zidane wants to play attacking football, and there reportedly is only room for Toni Kroos and Luka Modrić because James Rodríguez needs to start as well. The French coach said that he will always use the BBC (Bale, Benzema, Cristiano), so this makes Casemiro and James vying for one spot.

To play Devil’s advocate, Casemiro is a true defensive midfielder, and Zidane knows the great benefit that Claude Makelele brought to the teams that he played on. Perhaps Zidane will want to start Casemiro because of the similar role that Casemiro plays. There is also the fact that Casemiro has been playing some of the best football for Real Madrid this season. Casemiro allows Kroos and Modrić to display more of their creativity and attacking qualities.

Everyone knows that Zidane brought Raphaël Varane to Real Madrid, and the French center back is arguably among the best two or three center backs in the world. Varane is a phenomenon that brings lightning speed, the technical skill of an elite attacking player, and outstanding defensive qualities. There’s no debate whether Pepe or Varane is better. No contest. Varane wins.

So under Zidane, Real Madrid will likely start Keylor Navas in goal with Danilo or Dani Carvajal at right back and Varane and Sergio Ramos at center back. Marcelo will play left back, but the real toss ups are in the midfield. There are too many players for the available spots. Isco and James are in direct competition with one another to play as the attacking midfielder or out wide, and both affect Casemiro.

If Real Madrid uses a three-man midfield, then starting Modrić, Casemiro, and Kroos pushes James or Isco out of the starting XI.

There is also Mateo Kovačić to consider. He brings smooth passing and creativity, and he fills the same role that James or Isco bring. Positional battles like this are normal at a club like Real Madrid, and Zidane will have his hands full.

It will be interesting to see if Zidane proves to be an elite ex-player that coaches well or that coaches poorly. The reality could also be less black and white. Maybe Zidane will improve over time as a coach.

Possible Real Madrid XI under Zidane:

Goalkeeper- Keylor Navas

Right Back- Danilo

Center Back- Raphaël Varane

Center Back- Sergio Ramos

Left Back- Marcelo

Defensive Midfielder- Toni Kroos/Casemiro

Center Midfielder- Luka Modric/Toni Kroos

Right Wing- Gareth Bale

Attacking Midfielder- James Rodríguez

Left Wing- Cristiano Ronaldo

Striker- Karim Benzema

 

Ten USMNT Players to Watch in 2016

10 USMNT Players to Watch in 2016

  1. Juan Agudelo (Striker)

Will Juan Agudelo be the United States’ starting center forward in 2016? Jürgen Klinsmann has stuck with Jozy Altidore for a long time, and to be fair to Altidore, he hasn’t seen quality service or balls played to feet. Agudelo offers an x-factor of creativity and technical skill that is a level above that of Altidore, and Agudelo is a more active and direct striker that goes straight to goal.

2. Clint Dempsey (Forward/Attacking Midfielder)

This writer hasn’t seen any real evidence that Clint Dempsey has lost a step or seen his overall cardiovascular endurance drop. His skill and creativity are at the same high level, and he’s the only American player that has proven that he can score against anyone. Dempsey should still be a starter for one to two more years, and he should still have a free role no matter what tactical formation is used.

3. Michael Bradley (Center Midfielder)

Anchoring the American midfield with Michael Bradley would really shore up the United States’ passing and ball winning in the midfield. Bradley could definitely use a partner in crime in the other holding midfielder role, and this writer backs Kellyn Acosta to play that role. The Bradley as attacking midfielder experiment was always bizarre. Leave that in 2015.

4. Geoff Cameron (Center Back/Defensive Midfielder)

Geoff Cameron should have been a lock at one of the two center back spots for the last three or four years. Doing this would have allowed him to grow and improve in the role. Now with several high level years left in his legs, the National Team would be smart to make him one of the first names on the team sheet with Dempsey and Bradley.

5. Darlington Nagbe (Midfielder/Forward)

Darlington Nagbe is known for his skill on the ball and speed, but his growth into a ball winner and non-stop running make him even more of a must have in the American midfield or attack. Attackers should high press and win back possession too, so Nagbe’s skillset should influence the team either as a forward or midfielder. Plenty of elite attacking players drop back into the midfield to win the ball back and start the attack. Nagbe should start in 2016.

 

6. Fabian Johnson (Winger/Outside Back)

Letting Fabian Johnson start at right wing with Clint Dempsey at left wing would certainly improve the attacking skill of the United States. Johnson is a proven goalscorer and player that can beat defenders with speed, skill, or both. Maybe Johnson can help the USMNT to score more goals in 2016. Johnson should also be able to draw defenders away from the center forward and Dempsey who should also draw defenders away from Johnson.

7. Rubio Rubin (Striker)

Rubio Rubin has featured for the United States before, and there’s no reason to not make him a consistent inclusion on the roster. Rubin is considered by many to be the best American player in his age bracket along with Bradford Jamieson IV, and Rubin is also very direct like Agudelo. Rubin can create and score, and he can go wide or attack centrally. It’s time to start giving Rubin experience because he’s good enough to play international soccer right now. Jordan Morris has taken much of the spotlight from Rubin, which is understandably, but Rubin needs to be more of a protagonist.

 

8. John Brooks (Center Back)

John Brooks is something of a scapegoat for U.S. Men’s National Team fans. The lack of possession in the midfield leads to the American defense getting torched, but Brooks has shown himself to be strong defensively and comfortable on the ball. One of the defensive questions for 2016 is whether Matt Besler or Brooks should start with Cameron.

9. DeAndre Yedlin (Right Back)

DeAndre Yedlin needs to be allowed to grow into the starting right back spot. Yedlin can keep up with elite and fast attackers, and he can quickly recover the ball and go on the offensive. Yedlin’s skillset are ideal for an outside back, and his type wide attacking play is normally seen from outside backs at the high levels of soccer. It’s a misuse of Yedlin as a wing in the midfield or attack because other American wingers have more skill and creativity than he has. His skillset is needed at right back.

 

10. Sebastian Lletget (Attacking Midfielder/Forward),  Ethan Finlay (Winger/Forward), Kellyn Acosta (Center Midfielder/Outside Back)

World Soccer Source listed these three players as one because all three are players that haven’t featured for the United States Men’s National Team yet. Kellyn Acosta is a two-way central midfielder that brings technique, athleticism, endurance, and vision. The Untied States could use Acosta’s defensive and attacking qualities. Any team would be improved by starting an active center midfielder that can push, push forward, and hunt people down. Acosta would add a certain degree of dynamism to the midfield. Sebastian Lletget and Ethan Finlay are attacking players that are too good to leave off the roster. Finlay offers more speed than Lletget, but Lletget brings more passing possession. Both are creative, and both can score. Lletget is arguably better from a skill and vision standpoint. Finlay had better goal and assist numbers in 2015 than Lletget, but both add needed dimensions to the National Team.

The Top 25 American Soccer Players (December 2015)

The Top 25 American Soccer Players (December 2015)

1. Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders)

2. Michael Bradley (Toronto FC)

3. Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City)

4. Fabian Johnson (Borussia Monchengladbach)

5. Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers)

6. Geoff Cameron (Stoke City)

7. Tim Howard (Everton)

8. Brad Guzan (Aston Villa)

9. Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution)

10. Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC)

11. Mix Diskerud (NYC FC)

12. DeAndre Yedlin (Sunderland)

13.  Charlie Davies (New England Revolution)

14. Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution)

15. John Brooks (Hertha Berlin)

16. Kelyn Rowe (New England Revolution)

17. Rubio Rubin (Utrecht)

18. Bobby Wood (FC Union Berlin)

19. Sebastian Lletget (Los Angeles Galaxy)

20. Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas)

21. Ethan Finlay (Columbus Crew)

22. Dillon Powers (Colorado Rapids)

23. Dax McCarty (New York Red Bulls)

24. Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna)

25. Will Trapp (Columbus Crew)

 

USMNT Positional Battles in the American Player Pool

Despite being a national team that is criticized for lacking technical quality and game-changing creativity or skill, the United States Men’s National Team has enough depth in the player pool to have real positional battles.

Consider the center of the American defense, an area where the United States has been destroyed by quality opposition. It’s unclear what the best center back pairing is for the U.S. Is it Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler, or is Maurice Edu paired with Cameron a stronger partnership?

Edu and Cameron have really only been partnered on one occasion, but with these two players an argument can be made that they have all the club and international experience and skills needed to perform well when the better national teams play the United States. Omar Gonzalez and Besler don’t have any notable performances against elite attackers, but Edu and Cameron have much stronger club and international playing resumes. Edu has played all over Europe and in the Champions League, and Cameron is an EPL veteran. Edu is still under 30, so it remains a mystery why Edu and Cameron haven’t been allowed to show what they can do, especially since Cameron can play left center back well due to his skill with both feet.

There are other center backs in the player pool that warrant a serious look, and these center backs include Matt Hedges, Steve Birnbaum, Matt Miazga, and Andrew Farrell amongst others. Birnbaum and Hedges are left-footed and thus naturally-suited to play left center back, whereas Miazga and Farrell are more suited to play right center back – although these right and left center back labels are slightly small-minded and limiting in the center of the defense where both players are by definition aligned centrally.

There are of course battles at the fullback positions as well. Jorge Villafaña has emerged as a quality left back this season in MLS, so much so that he now plays for Liga MX side Santos Laguna. Brek Shea, Chris Tierney, Robbie Rogers, and Chris Klute must also be considered for one of the two left back spots on the roster. As for the other side of the defense, DeAndre Yedlin and Eric Lichaj have a silent battle for the starting right back spot. Lichaj as been one of the bizarre omissions by Jürgen Klinsmann.

The midfield is where the biggest positional battles should be. Michael Bradley is best when used as a defensive midfielder, and the United States needs to see if Benny Feilhaber and Darlington Nagbe can partner well with Bradley as a three-man midfield. Both are underrated in their ball-recovery and work rate.

Kellyn Acosta is another technically-skilled and athletic central midfielder with a complete skill set and huge work rate. Acosta also has many game-changing elements in his game, which range from bursting runs through the midfield to two-footed goal-scoring ability from distance. Acosta would bring a level of skill and athleticism to the midfield that the U.S. has never really had. The FC Dallas midfielder is even several levels above MLS-standout Dax McCarty as far as skill and athleticism go. Starting both Nagbe and Feilhaber over Acosta might make the American midfield too easy to penetrate and boss around.

There hasn’t been any movement in the media or fan base to start Acosta for the national team or even call him up, and this is a mystery. Perhaps too many people cling to experience as if it’s a guarantee for greater success.

What about some of the wingers in the pool? How will they fit in, and where should they play? Sebastian Lletget, Ethan Finlay, Fabian Johnson, and Kelyn Rowe are all international-caliber players, and they need to be incorporated into the roster and tested. The U.S. National Team needs to find out which wingers can help the team the most. If the team uses a 4-3-3 formation, then there are spots on the right and left wing in the attack, but Clint Dempsey should occupy one of those spots for a few more years.

Another battle is the battle for the center forward or Number 9 spot. Who should be the striker? Jozy Altidore has never been given enough service or enough quality service. It’s not good enough to just hit passes up in Altidore’s general vicinity. There is a real question of whether or not Altidore is better than Juan Agudelo and Rubio Rubin. Agudelo is likely the best striker in the pool because he has an arsenal of skills, creativity, and trickery that other American strikers don’t have. Agudelo can beat defenders off the dribble or score bicycle kicks or towering headers. Agudelo causes more problems for defenses, and he requires closer marking.

The best way to answer all of these positional questions is to systematically test out the best players vying for theses various starting spots without changing the whole lineup at the same time, and Jürgen Klinsmann is simply unwilling or incapable of doing this. If the United States wants to find its best players and its best chemistry, then the best and most proven players need to be played together while new players are tested out.

Right now, the main questions are the following:

Can Feilhaber, Bradley, and Nagbe form a viable three-man midfield?

Are Cameron and Besler a capable center back pairing, or should Edu and Cameron be tried for a while?

Who should be the starting fullbacks: Yedlin and Villafaña?

Is Agudelo a better center forward than Altidore, and does Agudelo play better with Dempsey ?

Is Fabian Johnson, Agudelo, and Dempsey the best attacking trident if the 4-3-3 formation is used or should Finlay and Lletget start somewhere in the Front Three?

Those are the main questions, but these are the main positional battles:

Wingers- Sebastian Lletget vs. Ethan Finlay vs. Kelyn Rowe vs. José Villarreal

Attacking Midfielder- Benny Feilhaber vs. Darlington Nagbe vs. Lee Nguyen vs. Sebastian Lletget vs. Luis Gil

Central Midfielders- Benny Feilhaber vs. Darlington Nagbe vs. Dillon Powers vs. Kellyn Acosta vs. Dax McCarty

Defensive Midfielders- Michael Bradley vs. Maurice Edu vs. Kellyn Acosta vs. Dax McCarty vs. Perry Kitchen vs. Victor Ulloa

Left Backs- Jorge Villafaña vs. Chris Klute vs. Brek Shea vs. Robbie Rogers vs. Chris Tierney

Left Center Backs- John Brooks vs. Matt Besler vs. Matt Hedges vs. Steve Birnbaum

Right Center Backs- Maurice Edu vs. Omar Gonzalez vs. Andrew Farrell vs. Matt Miazga vs. Zach Loyd

Right Backs- Eric Lichaj vs. DeAndre Yedlin vs. Kofi Sarkodie vs. London Woodberry

Goalkeepers- Clint Irwin vs. Bill Hamid vs. Luís Robles vs. Tally Hall

Who Should the USMNT Call Up in 2016?

There may or may not be a U.S. Men’s National Team camp in January, but plenty of American players have made a case to be on the national team in 2016. For the first time in a long time, you can say that there are more deserving American players for a national team call-up than there are spots, and this isn’t going as far as to say that the player pool is full of world-class players.

Sebastian Lletget, Kellyn Acosta, Ethan Finlay, and Andrew Farrell lead the ranks of American players that deserve a call-up. Other players like Darlington Nagbe, Charlie Davies, Chris Klute, Rubio Rubin, and Juan Agudelo have already been invited to camps or given caps.

Leading the team as usual will be Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, and Tim Howard. Veterans like Geoff Cameron and Brad Guzan will also be among the first names on the list, and it’s time to recall Maurice Edu who plays as a defensive midfielder or center back. The National Team could really use another experienced central defender and central midfielder. In fact, a strong argument could be made that Edu-Cameron is the best American center back pairing at the moment, but where should Edu be listed on the roster: as a defender or as a midfielder?

This writer and this site has harped on the absence of a logical call-up system by Jürgen Klinsmann where the 23-man roster is selected by picking a first team and then the substitutes for each starter. This obvious system ensures that the roster isn’t too heavy or too light at certain positions, which has been a trademark of Klinsmann. If you read Toni Kroos’s recent comments about Klinsmann’s coaching and development abilities, then you can add his name to the list which includes Philipp Lahm and Thomas Müller. The fact that the three most respected and complete current German footballers have major problems with Klinsmann’s coaching acumen speaks volumes.

Make no mistake about it. There is a problem with Klinsmann’s rosters and lineups, and pointing out better player options isn’t the same as saying that the American player pool is full of world-class talents. The talent out there is certainly capable of improving the overall play of the United States, and this doesn’t include tossing in some of the really inexperienced but undeniable talents such as Bradford Jamieson IV. If you wanted to really  take a chance on a player that might need some more club games before deserving a call-up, then that would be the American player to choose.

So, who should the U.S. Men’s National Team call up in 2016?

-Goalkeepers

Goalkeepers is the easiest position for the U.S. to fill. Tim Howard and Brad Guzan makes two goalkeepers, and only the third goalkeeper is needed. This writer backs Clint Irwin of the Colorado Rapids, but there are many other worthy options such as Zach Steffen, Luís Robles, and Bill Hamid amongst others. Irwin is arguably more fundamentally-sound while also being capable of making quick reflex saves with his hands and feet. Steffen is the real deal though.

-Defenders

Klinsmann has a history of not calling up two players for every position in the Back Four, and it’s not clear why this is the case. Four center backs, two right backs, and two left backs is absolutely required here with the exception that Edu plays center back and defensive midfielder just like Cameron.

Looking at center backs, Maurice Edu and Geoff Cameron should be on the list with John Brooks on there as well as a left center back. Although Matt Miazga has received more praise this season than Andrew Farrell, I would argue that Farrell is more vital to the team. Farrell is very hard to beat in a foot race, and his skill on the ball and 1v1 defending are well-documented. Miazga is a good defender already, but Farrell is harder to beat with speed or skill.  Farrell gives the team skill on the ball, speed, strength, positional sense, and lockdown 1v1 defending. Miazga is a taller and less quick player.

You could also say that Matt Besler or John Brooks is a toss up. There are no clear answers yet until the defenders are systematically tested as opposed to just switching up the partnerships all the time. Is Edu and Cameron better than Cameron-Besler or Farrell-Cameron? I have no idea.

As far as outside backs go, DeAndre Yedlin and Eric Lichaj have to be the right backs on the roster. There’s not enough evidence yet to suggest that anyone also should be here except for Fabian Johnson who plays better as a wing.

Left back continues to be a problem spot for the U.S. National Team. Jorge Villafaña stood out this year in MLS, and now he plays for the well-known Liga MX side Santos Laguna.

For the other left back, Chris Klute deserves a real chance. The U.S. cannot continue to have left backs that get beaten for pace and brutalized by good opposition, and Klute has world-class speed along with two-footed technical ability and strong defending. Klute has proven to be a true outside back in the sense that he is a fast, two-way player that attacks well and defends well. It’s worth noting that Klute is truly fast by any standard, rather than just being faster than other professional players.

Here is the list of defenders supported above listed in an organized fashion:

Maurice Edu (Philadelphia Union), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Andrew Farrell (New England Revolution, John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), DeAndre Yedlin (Tottenham Hotspur), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), Chris Klute (Portland Timbers)

-Midfielders

Who should be the eight midfielders? I like Michael Bradley as a defensive midfielder, and for the second defensive midfielder I would choose Kellyn Acosta who also plays as a box-to-box midfielder. Both Bradley and Acosta play both holding or defensive midfielder positions.

Next I would select center midfielders. Dillon Powers and Darlington Nagbe are the other two center midfielders besides Bradley and Acosta that are the most complete and capable of international play. Nagbe’s transition to a central midfielder from an attacking midfielder or wing or second striker allow him to have the ball at his feet more and his speed is useful in recovering the ball in the midfield.

Powers is similar to Nagbe in that he can play either as a central midfielder or attacking midfielder, but Nagbe has an extra gear in the speed and creativity department. Powers is the type of skilled central midfielder that the National Team has been missing, and omitting him would be a mistake for a National Team with a weak and unskilled midfield.

As for attacking midfielders and wings, Benny Feilhaber, Sebastian Lletget, Ethan Finlay, and Fabian Johnson stand out, and Finlay and Johnson are keeping out Kelyn Rowe who plays as a wing or attacking midfielder (and who deserves to be on the National Team).

Feilhaber’s creativity and passing ability are well-known, and his work rate and engine have drastically increased over the past three seasons. His dead ball ability and chance creation are big pluses as well.

Lletget is a more technically-skilled and creative player than Finlay, but Finlay is a real talent that brings speed and the ability to score goals and set up goals. Finlay would also help the team as a second striker or outside forward. Lletget and Finlay would improve the attacking skill of the United States without a doubt.

-Forwards

Clint Dempsey has shown no real signs of slowing down or dropping in skill or form. Along with Dempsey, it seems wise to select Juan Agudelo and Rubio Rubin before Jozy Altidore. Whether Altidore has been given enough service or not, Agudelo and Rubin deserve enough games to show what they can do.

The fourth forward on the list should be Charlie Davies who brings so much athleticism and activity to the final third, and Davies is a proven goalscorer who scores with his feet and head. Altidore shouldn’t be written off or forgotten about, but Agudelo and Rubin are more skillful and more aggressive.

The idea that the center forward has to be super strong and super physical is really a prehistoric soccer mentality, especially when Agudelo and Rubin are pretty physical anyway.

Who World Soccer Source thinks should be on the U.S. Men’s National Team’s 23-man roster in 2016 (at least for now):

Goalkeepers: Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Clint Irwin

Defenders: Maurice Edu, Geoff Cameron, Andrew Farrell, John Brooks, DeAndre Yedlin, Eric Lichaj, Jorge Villafaña, Chris Klute

Midfielders: Michael Bradley, Kellyn Acosta, Dillon Powers, Darlington Nagbe, Benny Feilhaber, Sebastian Lletget, Ethan Finlay, Fabian Johnson

Forwards: Clint Dempsey, Juan Agudelo, Rubio Rubin, Charlie Davies

Salute to Don Andrés Iniesta

You won’t find a better footballer than Andrés Iniesta. Lionel Messi certainly has more goals, highlights, and individual awards, but you can’t really say that anyone is better than Iniesta.

Unfortunately, El Ilusionista will never win the Ballon d’Or, but Iniesta deserves to have won three or four. Ronaldinho, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Messi have kept Iniesta from winning the Ballon d’Or or FIFA World Player of the Year, and now Neymar will keep Iniesta from ever winning.

As a player, Iniesta has everything. His dribbling, passing, shooting, touch, and vision are world-class, and his work rate and ball-winning ability are that of an elite defensive midfielder. Iniesta is thought of as an attacking midfielder because he is a playmaker, but it is right to call Iniesta a center midfielder. Iniesta wears Number 8 for Barcelona and Number 6 for Spain, and these numbers are reflective of the vital central role he plays in those midfields, even if he is arguably the world’s best Number 10.

Don Andrés is universally recognized as a prodigy and grandmaster of a midfielder and footballer, but it’s important to remember that Iniesta played as big as Shaq in big games. The Barcelona and Spain midfielder is what’s known as a gamer in the United States, and without a doubt Iniesta has ice water flowing through his veins when the pressure is highest.

The Spanish midfielder has a knack for keeping possession of the ball when he is hounded by multiple defenders at once, and his ability to orchestrate the constant and quick passing of his teammates has even made some people describe Barcelona and Spain’s passing as boring because of its perfection. One characteristic of Iniesta’s game is the way that he always receives passes in just a way as to shake defenders or put himself in possession to make the next pass or go on a dribbling foray to help his team keep possession or attack.

It is Iniesta’s textbook fundamentals as an individual and team player that make him a grandmaster.  When all the skills of the game are displayed with such ease and grace plus the ability to burn defenders or finish the opposition with a golazo then one can be said to be special indeed.  Although Iniesta supplies so much running and defending, he isn’t really the unsung hardman doing the dirty work, rather he is the genius behind the team play of Barcelona and Spain.

Although Messi is capable of destroying opposing teams on his own, the argument has to be made that Iniesta (and Xavi) made Messi’s incredible scoring stats possible. Messi would have scored a ton of goals, but would he have had the ball at his feet in that key final third of the field as much if it weren’t for Iniesta?

Iniesta is only 31 years old and nowhere close to done. People forget that he’s still in his prime, and football fans everywhere hope that he plays for several more years to come.

With the 2015 Ballon d’Or about to be awarded to Messi, Iniesta deserved a special salute from this writer and World Soccer Source for his amazing play for Barcelona and Spain.

Paulo Dybala, The Juventus Goalscoring Trequartista

Paulo Dybala is frequently described as a striker, but this term is misleading. Dybala is an attacker or forward for Juventus, but the Argentine international is really a trequartista or second striker.

The term “striker” gives the image of a center forward or Number 9, and this term doesn’t accurately describe the qualities and playing style of the Argentine playmaker. Like his fellow countryman Lionel Messi, Dybala is a left-footed attacker who brings both goalscoring and playmaking to the game.

In this 2015-2016 Serie A and Champions League season so far, Dybala has six goals and three assists in 13 appearances. The Argentina man has proved to be more and more involved and influential in every game that he plays. Even with Paul Pogba orchestrating so much of Juventus’ passing and attacking play, Dybala is still a standout player for the Italian side, and it would be accurate to say that Pogba and Dybala are the focal points of Juventus.

Dybala’s play is characterized by quick combination play and outstanding dribbling, and the Argentine has a real talent for dissecting defenses with through balls and chips. The fact that Dybala even has a spot on the roster for Argentina with all of its other world-class attacking players is a testament to his skill and brilliance.

The play of Dybala should heavily affect the playing time of Hernanes and Roberto Pereyra. Both Hernanes and Pereyra play best as trequartisti, but with Dybala bringing such a combination of playmaking and scoring, it will be hard for either Hernanes or Pereyra to see much time with Juan Cuadrado also being one of the first names on the lineup.

Juventus was underperforming early in the Serie A season, but now with Juventus playing better and better, Dybala’s influence and numbers should continue to increase.

Will Dybala challenge Ángel Di María for a starting spot for Argentina?