A strong argument can be made that the best Starting XI for the United States Men’s National Team would look nothing like the ones that Jürgen Klinsmann has been using with the exception of Tim Howard, Geoff Cameron, Fabian Johnson, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, and Jozy Altidore.
Those players along with Brad Guzan leave Jürgen Klinsmann and the USMNT 15 open roster spots to improve the U.S. national team.
There has been a fantastic youth movement over the last two years in the United States, and Juan Agudelo burst onto the scene a little before that time when he was only 17 years old.
The influx of new and better American players into Major League Soccer and other leagues is what the American soccer community has been waiting for. Making these new players wait to play for the national team is a poor long-term strategy and a poor strategy for the performance of the United States Men’s National Team now.
After the United States plays Mexico on Tuesday, Jürgen Klinsmann either needs to call in Jonathan Spector, Eric Lichaj, and Benny Feilhaber to play in the next World Cup qualifiers to give the United States experienced and proven players or he needs to start filling the roster with the better younger players. To be fair, Feilhaber, Spector, and Lichaj aren’t old players themselves.
The United States needs to shore up its national team all over the field, and the players to do this are currently in the American player pool. Players like Benji Joya, Chris Klute, DeAndre Yedlin, Andrew Farrell, John Anthony Brooks, and Shane O’Neill are the most pressing.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that Juan Agudelo, Joe Benny Corona, and Mix Diskerud are young players who have been included on some of the rosters, but they haven’t played as big of a role as they deserved.
There are also players like José Villarreal who are definitely national team material, but they aren’t as needed with both Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan on the national team.
Gyasi Zardes should be ready for national team play in several months, but he too isn’t as needed with strikers like Jozy Altidore, Juan Agudelo, Aron Jóhannsson, and Eddie Johnson on the roster. Zardes’ time will come, and the more refined his attacking skills become, the harder it will be to keep him off the national team
Nevertheless, there is a growing list of players who look more than capable of playing international soccer, and some of them are more ready than others.
Of all the players discussed, several fill urgent needs.
Chris Klute, DeAndre Yedlin, and Andrew Farrell are very talented and athletic outside backs, and the United States needs outside backs with the tools to play international soccer.
Farrell is naturally a center back, and athletic and skilled center backs like Farrell who have strong tackling instincts and skills would be beneficial to the national team.
Despite the growing popularity of Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler among the American fan base, there are two younger center backs who are better in almost every area: John Anthony Brooks and Shane O’Neill.
O’Neill can play as a defensive midfielder, as an outside back, and as a center back, and nothing about Gonzalez’s and Besler’s physical gifts or skill-sets suggests that either player is anywhere close to Shane O’Neill in terms of defensive ability, overall skill on the ball, and athleticism.
Not only is O’Neill a superior 1v1 defender and ball-winner, O’Neill does Cruyffs in his own defensive third and can dribble out of the back and play passes on the ground through crowds of people, and Gonzalez and Besler simply can’t do that.
It’s not clear where many people in the American soccer media insist that a 20-year-old Bundesliga center back is somehow less qualified than Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler who have both never played abroad nor have they put in strong performances against elite attackers, but Gonzalez and Besler are certainly skilled defenders who are far better than defenders like Carlos Bocanegra, Clarence Goodson, or Oguchi Onyewu ever were.
Brooks is only 20 years old, but selection to the national team should be based on merit. Brooks is better than both Gonzalez and Besler who will both likely never play club soccer outside of the United States.
While MLS is producing very good players who are international-caliber players, there is no way to argue that Gonzalez’s and Besler’s experience in MLS make them anywhere close to as good as a 20-year-old center back like Brooks who starts for Hertha Berlin.
Brooks proved his abilities against Bosnia and Herzegovina where he was only guilty of losing sight of the ball on Bosnia and Herzegovina’s third goal when Geoff Cameron jumped up to try to get high enough to clear the cross, but the jump obstructed Brooks’ view of the ball.
Therefore, Brooks is a 20-year-old and skilled Bundesliga center back and Shane O’Neill is a 20 year old MLS center back who is more athletic and more skilled than both Gonzalez and Besler. Additionally, both Brooks and O’Neill are tall enough to not be liabilities on crosses or balls played in the air.
World Soccer Source has covered Chris Klute, DeAndre Yedlin, Andrew Farrell, and Benji Joya extensively, and all four of those players fulfill pressing needs for the United States Men’s National Team.
Joya is a technically-skilled central midfielder who can play out wide, and he offers outstanding technical-ability and passing vision with better defense than Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan provide. Joya offers the complete package of technical-ability, defensive skill, athleticism, and a big-game mentality.
While not a true playmaker, Joya brings skills that are different but compatible with Michael Bradley’s, Clint Dempsey’s, and Landon Donovan’s.
Klute, Yedlin, and Farrell are quite simply modern outside backs (and also center backs in Farrell’s case), and they represent an improvement in skill, athleticism, and international-caliber play. Klute and Yedlin pose an attacking threat up the sidelines that the USMNT has never seen before, and Klute has an equally strong defensive-skill set, which is above Yedlin’s steadily improving defensive skills.
When comparing Farrell to Yedlin at right back, Farrell is definitely the better defender without a drop-off in speed or athleticism compared to Yedlin. Farrell’s technical-ability is close to Yedlin’s.
Of all three outside backs, Klute appears to be the fastest, but the important thing is that all three players give the United States more speed and skill at the outside back positions; all three players can play as right backs or as left backs, which is another reason that they should be on the national team.
With the arrival of the three outside backs discussed above, Kofi Sarkodie has been flying under the radar, but Sarkodie continues to be more of an attacking threat, and he too is a legitimate option for the national team; Sarkodie deserves to be included in the national team set-up more, and he should be evaluated closely and monitored.
There are numerous other young American players who are international-caliber players such as strikers like Mario Rodriguez and Alonso Hernandez, and there are defensive midfielders such as Perry Kitchen, Jared Jeffrey, and Will Trapp who are players to monitor closely.
The key to improving the United States Men’s National Team is continuing to use better players, as opposed to using makeshift line-ups that can’t do real damage to better national teams.
It’s time to start incorporating and seasoning Agudelo, Corona, Diskerud, Joya, Klute, O’Neill, Brooks, Yedlin, Farrell, Villarreal, Sarkodie, Rodriguez, Hernandez, Kitchen, Trapp, Jeffrey, and Zardes.