By: Colin Reese
The American soccer media and American soccer fans should learn to embrace risk more than they currently do. For American soccer to improve and for the United States Men’s National Team to improve, coaches like Jürgen Klinsmann will have to field more players with the tools and physical gifts to excel at high-level soccer, even if these players aren’t too experienced.
Only a small number of the USMNT regulars have enough experience against top competition to refer to them as truly experienced anyway, so even many regular starters under Jürgen Klinsmann aren’t truly experienced at the international level against top national teams.
Each month, World Soccer Source proposes a 23-man United States Men’s National Team roster for the 2014 World Cup, and all sorts of developments like Benji Joya’s loan to MLS or Joe Corona’s return to full fitness after limited minutes while his ankle fully-healed constantly affect the hypothetical player options for the World Cup.
Recently, World Soccer Source published a “USMNT: 23 For Brazil” article, but this roster below differs slightly from that roster in a few respects, in addition to offering more of an explanation of tactics and the rationale by the player selections.
The basic premise behind this roster is that there is a first-choice and second-choice option for each of the 11 spots in the 4-2-3-1 Starting XI formation, and given the limited number of months before the World Cup, this seems like the best manner to voice one’s opinion on the 23 American footballers who deserve roster spots.
By way of a disclaimer, there are only three first strikers included instead of four because Jürgen Klinsmann’s system employs one striker, and Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan also excel as second strikers, also known as support strikers or shadow strikers.
Let the most well-known American soccer writers simply parrot Jürgen Klinsmann’s preferred selections. World Soccer Source’s 23-man roster is an opinion piece, and thus not a prediction of the future.
Below is World Soccer Source’s 23-man USMNT roster proposal broken down by position with an explanation of the picks after the roster:
GOALKEEPERS (3): Tim HOWARD (Everton), Brad GUZAN (Aston Villa), Nick RIMANDO (Real Salt Lake).
CENTER BACKS (4): Michael OROZCO (Puebla), John Anthony BROOKS (Hertha Berlin), Shane O’NEILL (Colorado Rapids), Andrew FARRELL (New England Revolution).
OUTSIDE BACKS (4): Fabian JOHNSON (Hoffenheim), Eric LICHAJ (Nottingham Forest), DeAndre YEDLIN (Seattle Sounders), Chris KLUTE (Colorado Rapids).
CENTRAL MIDFIELDERS (3): Michael BRADLEY (Toronto FC), Geoff CAMERON (Stoke City), Maurice EDU (Philadelphia Union).
ATTACKING MIDFIELDERS (5): Clint DEMPSEY (Seattle Sounders), Landon DONOVAN (LA Galaxy), Benny FEILHABER (Sporting KC), Joe CORONA (Tijuana), Mix DISKERUD (Rosenborg).
STRIKERS (3): Jozy ALTIDORE (Sunderland), Juan AGUDELO (Utrecht), Aron JÓHANNSSON (AZ Alkmaar).
THE 23rd PLAYER: Benji JOYA (Chicago Fire).
Roster Rationale and Game Tactics:
-Tim Howard is the first-choice goalkeeper with Brad Guzan as the backup. For lack of a better option, Nick Rimando is the third goalkeeper, and any rational World Cup roster should include three goalkeepers.
– Eric Lichaj is the starting right back and Fabian Johnson is the starting left back by virtue of their club resumes and form, international experience and performances, and their skill level and athleticism. DeAndre Yedlin and Chris Klute are the backup right back and left back respectively by virtue of their excellent 2013 MLS seasons and their qualities as modern two-way outside backs.
-Michael Orozco and John Anthony Brooks are the first-choice center backs, and both players are better than Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler in all relevant criteria ranging from marking, tackling, technique, first touch, quickness, and passing ability. Both center backs also play for better club teams and in better leagues that Gonzalez and Besler play in.
-Shane O’Neill and Andrew Farrell are two talented and up-and-comers, and of the two, O’Neill has been starting and playing basically every minute at center back in MLS, while Farrell was needed by his club at right back. Farrell’s speed, marking, tackling, and attacking prowess make him a skilled outside back, but center back is his natural position.
-Both Geoff Cameron and Maurice Edu who will be discussed below as defensive midfielders are also center backs who can start over Brooks or Orozco or replace them, so center back is a deep position on this roster.
-Michael Bradley and Geoff Cameron should be the starting defensive midfielders in this writer’s opinion, and Cameron should play the midfield destroyer role with Bradley playing the box-to-box or Number 8 role.
-Maurice Edu is the back up for Geoff Cameron or the starting midfield destroyer if Cameron is playing center back.
-As the 23rd player on the roster, Benji Joya is a complete midfielder that can play as the backup for Michael Bradley, but he could also start at the Number 8 role with Bradley playing as the defensive midfielder.
-Joya’s midfield position is hard to box up into a simple category, but he is a complete midfielder with the technical-skill of an attacking midfielder that can play wide or as a central attacking midfielder. Joya has the engine and defensive skills to excel as the Number 8 where he played with the U-20 national team. Joya told the Chicago Fire’s official site and MLSsoccer.com that he’d like to play the Number 8 role with the Chicago Fire and in general, but he has also said that he’d like to be the substitute for Clint Dempsey – and possibly start over him at some point.
– Benny Feilhaber is the player that deserves to start as the central attacking midfielder for the United States no matter what Jürgen Klinsmann thinks, and flanking Feilhaber with Landon Donovan out right and Clint Dempsey out left is the wisest course of action for the line of three attacking midfielders.
– Joe Corona can play as a substitute or replacement for Landon Donovan or Clint Dempsey, and Corona is also a central attacking midfielder. With Corona, the United States has one player who can play in three different attacking midfielder positions and serve as a substitute or replacement for three different players. Corona’s skill, creativity, and one-to-two touch skills are undeniable, and they have been on display against Corinthians on two occasions when Paulinho and Ralf were playing.
– Mix Diskerud is a player who has proven that he can perform as a playmaker for the United States against quality competition outside of CONCACAF. After selecting Michael Bradley, Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, and Benny Feilhaber for the roster, both Diskerud and Corona are the next logical selections, even more so than Jermaine Jones who is a card machine who insists on not cooperating with Bradley as the defensive midfield duo.
– Jozy Altidore has earned his starting role as the American striker, and after him Aron Jóhannsson and Juan Agudelo are easy picks. The United States should have enough firepower with three first strikers, especially with Donovan, Dempsey, and not to mention Corona on the roster.
– Jürgen Klinsmann’s roster selections do not seem to be based on having a first and second choice player for each of the 11 spots in his Starting XIs in the 4-2-3-1 system, but the roster above does just that.
– If Howard, Spector, Orozco, Brooks, Lichaj, Cameron, Bradley, Donovan, Feilhaber, Dempsey, and Altidore are the Starting XI, then Guzan, Yedlin, Farrell, O’Neill, Klute, Edu, Joya, Diskerud, Corona, Agudelo, and Jóhannsson are the second XI. Then, Nick Rimando is the third-choice goalkeeper, which rounds at the roster at 23 players.
The Most Brazen USMNT XI:
HOWARD; YEDLIN, FARRELL, CAMERON, KLUTE; BRADLEY; CORONA, JOYA, DEMPSEY; ALTIDORE, AGUDELO.
* There’s only one defensive midfielder because Benj Joya is deployed as a central attacking midfielder, and Joya is known for his two-way skill as a complete midfielder. Joya as a playmaker gives the United States defensive support for Bradley while allowing Starting XI space for two center forwards: Altidore and Agudelo.
Freddy ADU is too talented and too proven against strong national teams to not merit a mention in this article and roster proposal.