USMNT: Benji Joya, The Central Midfielder Michael Bradley Needs

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By: Colin Reese


Benji Joya’s loan to the Chicago Fire of Major League Soccer makes the prospect of Joya playing for the United States in the World Cup within the realm of possibility, and World Soccer Source thinks that Joya should start for the United States in the World Cup.


Given the need for Geoff Cameron to play as one of the starting United States Men’s National Team center backs and given the poor partnership between Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley, starting Benji Joya as a central midfielder of the box-to-box variety with Michael Bradley playing a slightly more defensive role could really improve the quality of the American central midfield behind the attacking midfielders.


There’s a belief among many American soccer observers that Benji Joya is just a promising and raw player that isn’t ready for the World Cup stage, but the United States Men’s National Team can ill-afford to allow complete central midfielders of Joya’s caliber to watch the U.S. World Cup games on TV, even if they are young and inexperienced.


Joya’s usefulness is that he is a central midfielder who can improve the ability of Bradley to link up with the more attack-minded players, and Joya is an attack-minded player himself who also provides a lot defense and contributes non-stop running and off the ball movement.


Starting Bradley in a deeper role than Joya doesn’t limit Bradley’s ability to be one of the key components of the possession and passing of the United States, and a central midfielder of Bradley’s quality is needed deep in the midfield to cover for the attacking midfielders, to be a passing outlet for the defense, and to be one of the key actors in the passing of the United States.


Bradley has developed into more of a box-to-box midfielder, but Bradley is at his core a defensive midfielder, while Joya is either a box-to-box midfielder or an attacking midfielder, which is why the term central midfielder is more appropriate for Joya.


While Joya hasn’t played an MLS game for the Chicago Fire yet, the overwhelming consensus of the coaches involved in the USMNT’s youth squads is that Joya is a special player who brings with him loads of skill, inspired play, leadership qualities, and a burning desire to win.


The United States has players like Landon Donovan, Benny Feilhaber, and Clint Dempsey who provide their own different qualities as attacking players that can play well together, but the United States hasn’t had someone who is a cross between those types of players and Bradley.


Joya is that player, and what Joya means for the United States is that the United States can field a balanced Front Six where Bradley and Joya line up behind Donovan, Feilhaber, and Dempsey with Altidore up top at striker.


This Front Six and combination of players allows for the United States to have defensive coverage, ball possession, and attacking prowess, and this will be sorely needed in the 2014 World Cup.


There’s clearly a problem with the American Back Four, but a Front Six made up of Bradley, Joya, Donovan, Feilhaber, Dempsey, and Altidore is a sound set-up.


Even though Geoff Cameron is an excellent player to deploy as a midfield destroyer or defensive midfielder, this is Bradley’s natural position, and the center of the American defense needs Cameron more, since Bradley excels at the defensive midfielder role.


Benji Joya’s loan to the Chicago Fire created the possibility for one of the very best American soccer talents at just 20 years old to get loads of playing time in MLS and build his case to be on the 2014 World Cup roster.


Thinking that Joya needs time before being ready to play for the United States with the A Team overlooks the skill, playing style, and mentality that he has demonstrated in the past year as a U.S. youth international and a then teenager who was on the first team for Santos Laguna, but simply not getting playing time because of his age.


Not playing for a famous and quality Mexican club at 19 years old doesn’t disqualify Joya from being a useful and valuable player for the United States Men’s National Team at 20 years old, especially since he will be seeing heavy minutes for the Chicago Fire in MLS.


Rather than playing strikers as outside attacking midfielders or continuing to watch Jones and Bradley fail to really partner well together, using a Front Six where Bradley and Joya play behind Donovan, Feilhaber, and Dempsey as a line of three attacking midfielders with Altidore up top makes a lot more sense from a tactical and skill standpoint.


As was stated above, the USMNT’s Back Four is a mess that can be improved, and letting Joya partner with Bradley while Donovan, Feilhaber, Dempsey, and Altidore play their natural positions is a great first step for the improvement of the U.S. national team with whose technical ability Klinsmann is growing more and more frustrated.


Team USA would be wise to play Bradley as a defensive midfielder where he can display all of the excellent qualities that make him the best American player at that position, which is a vital position for the United States, and the USA would be wise to turn the keys over to Joya to play as the central midfielder that plays the box-to-box role because Joya will gladly take those keys without hesitation.


Joya is willing and able to play as a central midfielder for the United States at the international level, and Klinsmann needs to let him play because Joya has the qualities and mentality that Klinsmann is looking for.


What would a USA Front Six look like with Benji Joya starting?

It would look like this:







Benji Joya in his own words speaking to


“As a player, I learned how to be patient [with Santos],” Joya said. “I learned how to know when to take action and when to go to play, when to be calm, when to be offensive or defensive. I feel very comfortable in the center-mid role because I love to have the ball at my feet. I love being a playmaker or a playmaker with a very defensive role making runs up and down the field. I like playing up and down the field. On the wing, I feel comfortable, I like juking a lot. I love having the ball.”


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