Depth Chart: USMNT Defensive Midfielders
1.) Michael Bradley (Roma)
Michael Bradley has been the best American defensive midfielder and one of the very best American players since he started playing for the national team in 2007. Even a few years ago, Michael Bradley had already totally eclipsed Claudio Reyna in terms of skill, athleticism, club form, and international performances, despite Reyna’s inclusion in the 2002 FIFA World Cup Best XI list.
Even with the United States’ total lack of a defensive midfielder of his level at the time that he started playing for the national team, Bradley still had critics who claimed that he was only a starter because his father, Bob Bradley, was the coach of the national team.
Bradley’s play beginning in 2007 with the U-20 World Cup and before really disproved these criticisms. The American has seen consistent success in the Eredivisie, the Bundesliga, and Serie A, and playing for such a famous club side like AS Roma, which is noted for its attacking and technical play, is a true testament to the player’s abilities.
Recently, there has been a growing belief in the American soccer media and in the American fan base that Bradley is some sort of attacking midfielder, but this belief is inaccurate. Bradley is a defensive midfielder whose technical ability and capacity to cover so much territory make people think that the term, “defensive midfielder,” some how implies that Bradley merely provides defensive coverage in front of the defense back four.
Bradley is a defensive midfielder who can play as a midfield destroyer or as a box-to-box midfielder, but Bradley is needed to marshall and control the American midfield from the back where he can go forward and involve himself wherever he sees fit.
If the United States Men’s National Team were to use one defensive midfielder, Michael Bradley could play that role or he could play either type of defensive midfield role if the United States were to play two defensive midfielders, as it usually does.
2.) Geoff Cameron (Stoke City)
Geoff Cameron doesn’t venture as far up field as Jermaine Jones when he is playing as a midfield destroyer for the United States, and Cameron seems to be better at maintaining possession and completing more of his passes compared to Jermaine Jones at the international level. Cameron is also a cleaner tackler than Jones, and Cameron’s tackles and defense result in fewer cards than Jones.
It’s possible that Jones plays less disciplined for the United States than he does for Schalke because he feels the need to contribute more to the attack than he does for Schalke, and this desire to attack and storm downfield frequently leaves the American defense exposed.
Cameron partners better with Michael Bradley than Jones does, but Cameron, unlike Bradley and Jones, is more suited to just play as a destroyer, as opposed to playing as a box-to-box midfielder as well.
Nevertheless, Cameron has shown a real ability to break up the passing off the opposition, protect the defensive back four, serve as a passing outlet for the defenders, and start the attack from the back. The technical ability, size, athleticism, and versatile skill-set of Cameron should continue to serve the United States well.
3.) Jermaine Jones (Schalke)
Jermaine Jones is a proven Champions League and Bundesliga defensive midfielder who plays less disciplined for the United States Men’s National Team when he isn’t playing with players like Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Michael Bradley, and Geoff Cameron who he respects as talented footballers.
Jones’ technical ability, physique, and athleticism are there for all to see, but he likely doesn’t show the same high-level of form for the national team as he shows for Schalke due to a desire to involve himself more in the attack when he plays for the United States.
There can be no denying Jones’ technical ability and endurance, and any misplaced passes or losses of possession are probably due to being overly eager to force things and stamp his attacking imprint on the game.
Unlike Cameron and Bradley, Jones is a more ruthless tackler who often is reckless and dangerous in the ferocity with which he tackles opposing players. For this reason and his tendency to force his way into the attack with the national team, Jones is ranked below Cameron, but Jones’ technical ability is equal to or higher than Cameron’s.
4.) Perry Kitchen (DC United)
Perry Kitchen is rather inexperienced at the international level for the United States, but he has played for the United States Men’s National Team and done well. Kitchen is a young, talented defensive midfielder with good size and strength, and he is a more athletic and smoother version of Kyle Beckerman whose speed and athleticism hold him back against better opponents.
Surveying the player pool, Kitchen is an obvious name to be on the short list for defensive midfielders on the national team, and it is still yet to be seen how Kitchen compares to Maurice Edu and Ricardo Clark on the international level.
Edu and Clark are certainly more athletic than Kitchen (who is much faster and more athletic than Beckerman), but more international games are needed to evaluate whether or not Kitchen is better skill-wise than both Edu and Clark.
Other Defensive Midfielders to Watch: Jared Jeffrey and Will Trapp