Why Clint Dempsey is the Undisputed Best U.S. Soccer Player Ever

Clint Dempsey only needs one goal to beat Landon Donovan’s all-time U.S. goal record, but oddly, Dempsey is still underrated even by Americans.

Dempsey and not Landon Donovan is the best U.S. soccer player ever because Donovan played his club football in MLS and not in what the rest of the world considers a real league.

Clint Dempsey is the most successful U.S. player in a top league.

Dempsey played in the English Premier League for seven years, and he was a consistent goalscorer all of those seasons, even as a midfielder. Brian McBride was another long-time Fulham player, but there was a night and day difference between Dempsey’s skill-level and McBride’s. Dempsey’s flair and creativity showed much more talent than McBride’s play, which was based on hold up play and headers.

Clint Dempsey’s technical ability is better than any other U.S. player including Christian Pulisic, who is merely faster.

Dempsey’s technical ability was and is shockingly good for an American player. That should be the thing that he is remembered for. Even right now, Dempsey’s skill on the ball and comfort with it is way beyond all of his teammates save Pulisic. Pulisic hasn’t shown all of his skills yet, but it will be hard for his technical ability to truly be above Dempsey’s. The thing about Pulisic’s play is that he plays with much more speed than Dempsey, which changes everything. With the extra speed, Pulisic is able to be so much more direct and devastating to defenders than Dempsey ever was without the same gift of speed and quickness. Dempsey uses both feet interchangeably as Pulisic does, and Dempsey has shown a full arsenal of dribbling, passing, and shooting skills. In recent years, he has also displayed excellent free kick ability.

Clint Dempsey performed better than any other U.S. player against elite competition and in big games.

Landon Donovan did nothing in the 2006 World Cup, and you can’t say the same thing about any World Cup that Dempsey played in. The U.S. national team was never in the spotlight much more than when they faced Spain the the semifinal of the 2009 Confederations Cup. During that tournament Dempsey was the U.S. player that shined above everyone else. After losing in the final to Brazil, the Wall Street Journal ran a headline about Dempsey that read “American loses a final but gains a leader.” That was an incredible headline at the time. On many occasions Donovan looked intimidated and played small against elite opponents. Not so for Dempsey.

Clint Dempsey played against better competition than Landon Donovan.

Whereas Donovan played essentially his entire career in MLS, Dempsey spent seven years in the EPL. No matter how much MLS has improve since its inception, the skill level and competition in the league is nothing compared to the EPL. From Dempsey’s very first game in the EPL, he showed that he belonged and could perform well at that level. It’s a shame that he never got to play in La Liga, Serie A, or the Bundesliga because he would have played excellently there. His game was all about skill and technical ability, and those leagues are based on that more than the EPL. If you want the real proof that Dempsey has a more impressive resume than Donovan, it’s his consistently high level in the EPL for seven years while Donovan played in MLS.

Clint Dempsey is tied with Landon Donovan on all-time U.S. goals with much fewer penalty kick goals.

It’s important to remember than Donovan played with the national team since he was 18, whereas Dempsey didn’t start until he was 21 or 22. That’s some four more years of national team appearance to score goals. Even with such a huge head start, Dempsey is now tied with Donovan at 57 U.S. goals. And Donovan had lots of goals off penalties. Donovan has openly acknowledged as much, and he’s said Dempsey’s goal-rate was more impressive. To be fair, Donovan was being generous and complimentary to Dempsey when he made those comments, but they still seemed sincere.

Clint Dempsey played consistently well as a pro from his time in MLS to the English Premier League to back in MLS.

It’s hard to recall any real low points or bad games for Dempsey in his career. His detractors sometimes accused him of some overdribbling or forcing things, but Dempsey never really played poorly. Dempsey wasn’t highly rated before the MLS Combine, and he proved just how bad scouting within American soccer really was. He went from being essentially a nobody to head and shoulders above all of his American contemporaries except for Donovan. That elite level for a U.S. player began as a rookie in MLS up until still right now at 34. You can’t say that Dempsey’s fitness or skill level has dropped at any point since he became a professional

, and it’s worth remembering why. Here are some of the reasons that Dempsey is the best U.S. player of all-time:

Clint Dempsey is the most successful U.S. player in a top league.

Dempsey played in the English Premier League for seven years, and he was a consistent goalscorer all of those seasons, even as a midfielder. Brian McBride was another long-time Fulham player, but there was a night and day difference between Dempsey’s skill-level and McBride’s. Dempsey’s flair and creativity showed much more talent than McBride’s play, which was based on hold up play and headers.

Clint Dempsey’s technical ability is better than any other U.S. player including Christian Pulisic, who is merely faster.

Dempsey’s technical ability was and is shockingly good for an American player. That should be the thing that he is remembered for. Even right now, Dempsey’s skill on the ball and comfort with it is way beyond all of his teammates save Pulisic. Pulisic hasn’t shown all of his skills yet, but it will be hard for his technical ability to truly be above Dempsey’s. The thing about Pulisic’s play is that he plays with much more speed than Dempsey, which changes everything. With the extra speed, Pulisic is able to be so much more direct and devastating to defenders than Dempsey ever was without the same gift of speed and quickness. Dempsey uses both feet interchangeably as Pulisic does, and Dempsey has shown a full arsenal of dribbling, passing, and shooting skills. In recent years, he has also displayed excellent free kick ability.

Clint Dempsey performed better than any other U.S. player against elite competition and in big games.

Landon Donovan did almost nothing in the 2006 World Cup, and you can’t say the same thing about any World Cup that Dempsey played in. The U.S. national team was never in the spotlight much more than when they faced Spain in the semifinal of the 2009 Confederations Cup. During that tournament Dempsey was the U.S. player that shined above everyone else. After losing in the final to Brazil, the Wall Street Journal ran a headline about Dempsey that read “American loses a final but gains a leader.” That was an incredible headline at the time. On many occasions Donovan looked intimidated and played small against elite opponents. Not so for Dempsey.

Clint Dempsey played against better competition than Landon Donovan.

Whereas Donovan played essentially his entire career in MLS, Dempsey spent seven years in the EPL. No matter how much MLS has improve since its inception, the skill level and competition in the league is nothing compared to the EPL. From Dempsey’s very first game in the EPL, he showed that he belonged and could perform well at that level. It’s a shame that he never got to play in La Liga, Serie A, or the Bundesliga because he would have played excellently there. His game was all about skill and technical ability, and those leagues are based on that more than the EPL. If you want the real proof that Dempsey has a more impressive resume than Donovan, it’s his consistently high level in the EPL for seven years while Donovan played in MLS.

Clint Dempsey is tied with Landon Donovan on all-time U.S. goals with much fewer penalty kick goals.

It’s important to remember than Donovan played with the national team since he was 18, whereas Dempsey didn’t start until he was 21 or 22. That’s some four more years of national team appearance to score goals. Even with such a huge head start, Dempsey is now tied with Donovan at 57 U.S. goals. And Donovan had lots of goals off penalties. Donovan has openly acknowledged as much, and he’s said Dempsey’s goal-rate was more impressive. To be fair, Donovan was being generous and complimentary to Dempsey when he made those comments, but they still seemed sincere. Here are 50 of Dempsey’s 57 U.S. goals:

Clint Dempsey played consistently well as a pro from his time in MLS to the English Premier League to back in MLS.

It’s hard to recall any real low points or bad games for Dempsey in his career. His detractors sometimes accused him of some overdribbling or forcing things, but Dempsey never really played poorly. Dempsey wasn’t highly rated before the MLS Combine, and he proved just how bad scouting within American soccer really was. He went from being essentially a nobody to head and shoulders above all of his American contemporaries except for Donovan. That elite level for a U.S. player began as a rookie in MLS up until still right now at 34. You can’t say that Dempsey’s fitness or skill level has dropped at any point since he became a professional. Dempsey was out for a period while an irregular heart beat was treated with several medical procedures, but once healthy he played at the same level.

 

Observations from the U.S. National Team not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup

The U.S. talent was high enough to easily qualify for the World Cup.

Ever since 2002 when the U.S. National Team reached the quarterfinals of the World Cup, the overall talent of American players has been improving. Many of the former players insist that the talent hasn’t improved, but there appears to be a clear bias there. This bias can be shown quite briefly. First of all, Clint Dempsey, the best U.S. National Team player of all-time, didn’t start playing for the U.S. until 2005. Second, Michael Bradley who played in the Bundesliga and Serie A started playing for the U.S. in 2007. The current crop of U.S. players display better overall touch and technical skill than American players in the past.

Christian Pulisic is already the best player the U.S. has ever produced.

While Dempsey is the actual best U.S. player ever, Pulisic is a more talented player, or at least he’s much faster than Dempsey. Dempsey is very creative, aggressive, and technical, but Pulisic has an extra gear of speed that makes him more dangerous. Pulisic has been starting for Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga and the Champions League, and no other American before him was playing an attacking role for a team of that level. Even watching Pulisic briefly, an observer can see a player capable of beating top defenders 1v1 off the dribble, and he can score and provide assists. Neither Dempsey nor Donovan could blow past defenders of an elite level almost at will.

The major changes needed to the USSF had nothing to do with the U.S. not qualifying.

No matter what the problems are with American soccer at a systemic level, the players and team were more than capable of easily qualifying for the World Cup out of a weak region like CONCACAF. The U.S. lost to a B Team from Trinidad and Tobago with a fourth string goalkeeper. Given this reality, it’s hard to argue that the deep-seated problems with U.S. soccer stopped the most talented group of U.S. players ever from qualifying. The serious problems within American soccer have stopped the U.S. from regularly going far in the World Cup, but they didn’t stop the country from qualifying for the tournament.

Bruce Arena made tactical mistakes, and the players didn’t play with enough urgency.

The coach of the U.S. got his tactics right in the final two games of qualifying, save starting Omar Gonzalez, but in the two previous games he didn’t start a central playmaker. In the final two games, Arena used a 4-1-3-2 formation with just Michael Bradley as the defensive midfielder, and he wisely started Pulisic at playmaker again. Nevertheless, the rest of the team’s effort let Arena down. The passing was lazy and appalling. Arena did make the mistake of favoring his former club player Omar Gonzalez at center back in recent games, and Gonzalez wasn’t agile enough on multiple occasions. On two occasions, Gonzalez tripped players in the penalty box, but only one of them was whistled. Nevertheless, Gonzalez didn’t cost the U.S. the World Cup. The U.S. should have pounded the weak CONCACAF competition.

Current long-term problems within American soccer don’t mean there hasn’t been plenty of progress in the overall quality of American soccer.

Even arguing that American soccer hasn’t improved over time is a ridiculous argument. American players display more technical ability against better competition than in years past, and the U.S. has multiple teenagers starting in the Bundesliga and Liga MX. Just because the U.S. dogged it against Trinidad and Tobago doesn’t mean that American soccer is spiraling into a nose dive.

 

Who Should the U.S. National Team Start against Panama in World Cup Qualifying?

The U.S. national team needs to beat Panama in the upcoming World Cup qualifier.

They should beat Panama easily. Panama is not very good.

Bruce Arena has the option of starting an attack-minded lineup or a more balanced lineup against Panama. The attack minded lineup would be using only one defensive midfielder in a 4-1-3-2 formation. The more balanced lineup would be a 4-2-3-1 formation with two defensive midfielders.

The other option is the 4-3-3 which would feature a fluid and interchangeable attack, including Clint Dempsey and Christian Pulisic as wings on paper.

There has also been some discussion of the U.S. possibly using the 3-5-2 formation.

The obvious dilemma for Arena will be whether he wants a strong attack to be the team’s real defense or whether he wants so more defensive coverage in the midfield. Below World Soccer Source will back starting both Darlington Nagbe and Benny Feilhaber, and both of these players do provide plenty of defending and running. Both also know how to tackle and win back possession. Therefore, starting both of these players in a 4-1-3-2 formation isn’t skimping on defense.

The U.S. fielded a very effective lineup against Honduras back in March, and that lineup, which was in a 4-1-3-2 formation, should be the default lineup for the U.S. Sebastian Lletget, who played right wing in that game, is injured now, but the lineup can essentially be the same. John Brooks the team’s starting left center back is also injured, but the U.S. can start Matt Besler in his place.

The United States has a deeper player pool than it’s ever had, and Arena has more talent than he had the first time he coached the United States. It’s simply not true that the U.S. doesn’t have the players to dominate a team like Panama. Mexico and maybe Costa Rica is a different story, but these opponents are not elite.

You can look at other lineup predictions and proposals here.

Let’s look at who World Soccer Source thinks the U.S. should start at each position:

Goalkeeper & Defense

Tim Howard and Brad Guzan are both excellent goalkeepers. Howard did make a mistake against Costa Rica, but he’s also made several impressive saves recently. He still plays like a goalkeeper who makes the saves he should make and some of the saves that he’s not expected to make.

DeAndre Yedlin is back to play right back, and on the other side you have Jorge Villafaña who still has some detractors. Villafaña always looks dangerous and active going forward down the left sideline, and he can also be seen covering for the team’s center backs when they are beat. The U.S. simply doesn’t have a better left back than him.

In the center of the defense, Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler are quality starting options, and they both are technical, fast, and strong defensively. Besler is a level below Cameron, but he or Ream is the best choice to partner Cameron with Brooks out injured.

The Midfield

The best option for the U.S. is to start Michael Bradley as the one defensive midfielder with Darlington Nagbe, Benny Feilhaber, and Christian Pulisic in front of him. Nagbe and Feilhaber can be counted on to provide defensive coverage and cover plenty of territory. Anyone who watches them closely sees them dropping deep into the midfield to recover possession or to get the team’s passing started. Both also know how to win the ball back, and they don’t mind getting down and dirty. Christian Pulsic can also be counted on to play defense and press the opponent. Although the formation would be a 4-1-3-2, Bradley isn’t the only midfielder playing defense and winning back possession.

Forwards

Bobby Wood and Clint Dempsey are the team’s best two forwards. Dempsey is creative and clinical, and Wood provides those qualities plus plenty of movement to get into scoring positions. His speed allows him to be ever more direct than Dempsey. Wood is a better option than Jozy Altidore because Wood threatens the goal more, and he’s harder to defend. If you want the defense on its heels and more shots on goal, then Wood provides more of this. Wood’s directness and speed is more valuable than Altidore’s improved passing.

Here’s the U.S. National Team lineup described above:

Goalkeeper- Tim Howard

Right Back- DeAndre Yedlin

Center Back- Geoff Cameron

Center Back- Matt Besler

Left Back- Jorge Villafaña

Defensive Midfielder- Michael Bradley

Right Wing- Christian Pulisic

Attacking Midfielder- Benny Feilhaber

Left Wing- Darlington Nagbe

Forward- Bobby Wood

Forward- Clint Dempsey

 

The United States Should Start Benny Feilhaber against Panama in World Cup Qualifying

Bruce Arena selected his United States National Team roster for the October World Cup qualifiers against Panama and Trinidad and Tobago. The roster had its share of bad picks, but Arena did select Benny Feilhaber, a needed playmaker.

When the United States lines up against Panama, Arena will need to start Feilhaber as the team’s playmaker. In recent years, Feilhaber has become a two-way player who provides plenty of running and ball-winning. This should help Michael Bradley with defensive coverage in the midfield.

World Soccer Source previously wrote about the importance of calling up Feilhaber and Lee Nguyen, but only Feilhaber was selected. That’s better than nothing. In addition to calling up Feilhaber, Arena needs to start him. Starting him instantly improves the team’s possession and passing, and it improves the quality and quantity of final balls for attackers.

Starting Benny Feilhaber Makes Christian Pulisic More Effective

With Feilhaber as the playmaker, Christian Pulisic is a bigger scoring threat. His runs will more likely be rewarded with a quality pass, and he has another technical player to combine with. Clint Dempsey, Bobby Wood, and Pulisic are more than enough attacking firepower for the United States against Panama and Trinidad and Tobago. Feilhaber has all the tools and experience to orchestrate the attack with those players.

Despite being a playmaker himself, Pulisic has more 1v1 ability than Feilhaber, and he frequently gets into the penalty box. Playing Feilhaber allows Pulisic to make more runs into the penalty box, which will be rewarded with a final ball. The more technical players that the United States starts, the better it is for Pulisic’s skill-set. Without skilled players with quick feet and quick minds, he can’t play the way that he likes to play. Feilhaber is one of these players.

Feilhaber is a different type of American midfielder

In the last two games, the U.S. passed poorly, and there was no link between the midfield and the attack. Starting Feilhaber corrects these problems. At 32 years old, Feilhaber isn’t nearly old enough to be written off or declared over the hill. With the World Cup next summer, the attacking midfielder should become a fixture of the squad if the U.S. wants to qualify and perform well in the actual tournament.

Time and time again, he has shown how he plays the type of defense-splitting passes that other Americans don’t play. For a team with more passing and build up play, a true playmaker who can create goals is a must. There’s a noticeable difference in the quality of the U.S.’s play when Feilhaber is on the field, and his skill-set is needed again in a crucial World Cup qualifier.

Feilhaber has several good years of high quality football left, and perhaps this is another opportunity for the playmaker’s talents not to go to waste at the international level. Playing him certainly cuts down on Pulisic having to play 1v1 or dribble through crowds as the only method of advancing the ball. Pulisic’s 1v1 abilities are a great boost to the United States, but having a playmaker playing with him would be even better.

 

Why the U.S. National Team Should Recall Benny Feilhaber and Lee Nguyen

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The United States National Team still lags behind soccer’s giants in terms of its technical ability and passing. Starting a qualified playmaker would improve those problems. Both Benny Feilhaber and Lee Nguyen fit the bill to pull the strings for the United States, and don’t forget how well Christian Pulisic has done as a playmaker.

If Bruce Arena wants to use the Dortmund forward more as a Number 7 or Number 11, then one of those other two playmakers are strong options. Among the two, Feilhaber is the more proven playmaker at the international level.

Poor passing was easily the biggest problem in the last two World Cup qualifiers, but the U.S. passed much better earlier in the year when Pulisic was in a central role.

Benny Feilhaber Has Been a Proven Playmaker for Years

It’s a wonder that the Sporting Kansas City attacking midfielder hasn’t been a starter for the U.S. National Team for a decade. 2007 was when he scored his famous volley to beat Mexico in the Gold Cup Final, and he’s been the U.S.’s best Number 10 since then.

For years now, Feilhaber has displayed the ability to split the defense and play final balls that other American players couldn’t or wouldn’t play. He has reaffirmed this ability in his last appearances for the United States. Whether they be soft chips over the defense or a pass that slices through the defense, Feilhaber has shown that he has a full arsenal of passes to find openings in the backline. The weight and accuracy of his final passes is unique among Americans, and his are still a notch above Nguyen and Kljestan’s.

When Feilhaber plays, his movement and passing dictate that the team play through him. The attacking midfielder is particularly adept at turning the U.S.’s passing into one-to-two touch passing, which makes the United States more dangerous. Since 2013, Feilhaber has been more of a two-way player than he used to be, and he puts in loads of running. The U.S. doesn’t have a good excuse not to play him.

Lee Nguyen Has Also Been a Proven Playmaker for Several Years

On the other hand, you have Nguyen, who’s younger and probably quicker than Feilhaber. Whether he’s a starter or Feilhaber’s back-up, the New England Revolution midfielder deserves a roster spot. Nguyen like Feilhaber has 1v1 ability and scoring ability. He has 10 goals already this season as a midfielder. His quickness makes him a bigger 1v1 threat than Feilhaber.

Having a quick midfielder like Nguyen as a back-up to Feilhaber can help facilitate quick combination play with Pulisic and Dempsey. Compared to Sacha Kljestan, Nguyen’s skill-set and quickness makes him more effective at the international level. Like Feilhaber, Nguyen should have been a national team fixture for years now, at least the last three or four years.

Bruce Arena Must Rethink Not Using a Playmaker

Arena hasn’t put the United States in the best position to succeed in the last two games. When he started Pulisic out wide with no attacking midfielder, he didn’t start someone who was capable of orchestrating the attack from a central position,.

The United States needs the maximum six points in the next two World Cup qualifiers to put themselves in a position to automatically qualify. Starting Feilhaber or Nguyen and putting them both on the roster would be an active attempt to improve the U.S.’s play.

Using one of these two playmakers would allow the U.S. to get the ball to Pulisic, Clint Dempsey, and Bobby Wood in scoring positions. Without a playmaker with the vision and ability to play final balls to these players their movement and skill is pointless. Arena like many American coaches appears to have a real aversion to starting a true playmaker, even if he promised to do so when he was hired.

Who Should the U.S. National Team Select for the October World Cup Qualifiers?

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The U.S. National Team needs to win the next two World Cup qualifiers to qualify automatically for the World Cup. The U.S. faces off against Panama and Trinidad and Tobago in games the team should win. Nevertheless, the squad has been underperforming as of late.

Coach Bruce Arena must correct the team’s poor passing and play by altering the lineup or formation or both. Arena has started lineups the last two games without an attacking midfielder or playmaker, and it has shown.

There has been a big gap in between the central midfielders and the forwards, which has led to the creation of very few scoring chances. Arena has the personnel available to fix this problem, which is a bigger problem than the defense.

The coach can start Christian Pulisic as the playmaker beneath the strikers. He can also start Benny Feilhaber or Lee Nguyen. Both are proven playmakers at the international level: Feilhaber more so.

Arena will also have to address the problems with the center of the defense. The coach will be without at least one of the team’s two starting center backs, John Brooks, but he has a capable replacement in Matt Besler.

The U.S. has the players needed to get the job done at the other positions: goalkeeper, the outside backs, the midfielders, and the forwards. Brian Sciaretta of American Soccer Now has done a preliminary predicted roster for the U.S. National Team.

Matt Doyle of MLS has also put out a roster prediction.

So who should Arena select for this U.S. National Team roster? Here are the players World Soccer Source would select:

Goalkeepers: Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Brad Guzan (Atlanta United), Ethan Horvath (Brugge)

Center Backs: Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Matt Besler (Sporting KC), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas), Tim Ream (Fulham)

Without John Brooks, Arena will have to go with a second-choice option, and Matt Besler has performed well enough at left center back. On the other hand, Omar Gonzalez has looked a step too slow for international play. The U.S. will need to roll the dice on either Walker Zimmerman or Steve Birnbaum, but is it really rolling the dice if they’ve performed well for the U.S. before?

Outside Backs: DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), Justin Morrow (Toronto FC)

DeAndre Yedlin is back from injury, so that gives the U.S. a starting right back. Jorge Villafaña has always performed well for the U.S. at left back. He is always really involved in the attack and build up play, and he does his job defensively. He even made an important recovery and clearance in his own penalty box in one of the last qualifiers. Villafaña also has developed a nice relationship with Nagbe down the left. For his backup at left back, Justin Morrow has demonstrated that he can provide some of the same attacking qualities along the left sideline.

Midfielders: Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Benny Feilhaber (Sporting KC), Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund), Paul Arriola (DC United)

The insertion of Benny Feilhaber and Lee Nguyen will be key for the United States with Sebastian Lletget injured. Nguyen can also play on either wing, and he has 10 goals this season as a midfielder. Arena must fix the U.S.’ poor passing and lack of creativity besides Christian Pulisic and Clint Dempsey. There needs to be a link between the midfield and the attack.

Several young American center midfielders have been performing well, but there isn’t room for them right now. These midfielders are Weston McKinney who is starting in the Bundesliga for Schalke, and Jonathan Gonzalez who is starting for Monterrey in Mexico. Tyler Adams of the New York Red Bulls has also impressed with his skill and smooth athleticism. He also has a lot of fighting spirit like the other two.

Kellyn Acosta is too good at this point to exclude, and even his free kick ability is a testament to his technical ability. Michael Bradley also needs his support deeper in the midfield. It feels a little wrong to leave Fabian Johnson out, but it’s important to get both Feilhaber and Nguyen on the roster. As started above, Nguyen can also play on both wings.

Forwards: Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders), Bobby Wood (Hamburg), Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution)

The United States is strong at forward. Jordan Morris is injured, and the U.S. will miss his direct play, speed, and scoring ability. Nevertheless, he is still likely a sub for Bobby Wood who has the same qualities, plus he starts in the Bundesliga. Not starting Clint Dempsey is a mistake, but we will see if Arena makes it again. Having him on the bench is borderline reckless for Arena.

With this U.S. National Team roster, who would World Soccer Source start?

USA XI (4-1-2-1-2): Howard; Yedlin, Cameron, Besler, Villafaña; Bradley; Acosta, Feilhaber; Pulisic;  Dempsey, Wood.

 

 

Max Bretos & Herculez Gomez’s Opinion of the Alexi Lalas Rant

After Alexi Lalas’ rant at halftime of the Seattle Sounders and L.A. Galaxy game, Max Bretos and Herculez Gomez had a field day with the former player’s comment on the Max & Herc podcast for ESPN.

In the podcast, Gomez also shared his thoughts on Craig Burley of ESPN’s view of the U.S. team. Gomez described the Lalas rant as ‘over the top.’ For his part, Bretos didn’t seem to have a problem in general with the comments or their targets. Bretos did point out that Lalas’ comments were very pointed.

 

 

Speaking about Burley, Gomez had this to say:

“Our ESPN colleague Craig Burley and I had a discussion on (ESPN)FC, and you have to understand. These guys are showman. Craig doesn’t want to talk about CONCACAF. He doesn’t want to talk about the league…so he changes the narrative to what he wants to talk about.”

He went on further to say:

“Craig couldn’t name the squad. He couldn’t name the players. He doesn’t care. He plays his persona, and that’s why he’s successful at what he does” Speaking about Lalas, Gomez had this to say: “To me this feels like a cop out. It feels like a cheap plagiarism. A little over the top.”

Gomez separated himself from other American soccer analysts by not being afraid to question the actual knowledge of a non-American pundit. Part of Burley’s worldview is that there is no real soccer played in CONCACAF, and Gomez essentially called him willfully ignorant. Instead of actually talking about the team and the players, Burley will just talk in sweeping generalizations about the U.S. team while forcing whomever he is speaking to to answer “yes or no” questions without allowing the person to give a nuanced answer.

Already we see Gomez as an analyst and pundit who isn’t intimidated or bullied around by pundits from Europe or the British Isles. He knows his soccer, and he’s not shy about calling a colleague out for not knowing enough on a certain topic. Gomez was pointing out how Burley’s opinion shouldn’t matter if he doesn’t know the team or the players and doesn’t want to know.

Now looking at Gomez’s comments about Lalas, it certainly wasn’t plagiarism by Lalas. Lalas sounded off on various players for specific reasons, whereas Burley just talked about the same topic of the U.S. national team.

Gomez gave specific retorts to all of Lalas’ player attacks. He argued that goalkeeper wasn’t a position where the U.S. was weak. The former player contended that Lalas wasn’t specific about how Bradley could play better. He also shared his opinion that Altidore’s scoring record speaks for itself.

Gomez went on to say this about Lalas:

“It’s over the top from Alexi. He’s pandering. He’s playing to the crowd when he says it’s dark days indeed. He didn’t say it when the U.S. beat Honduras in… what was it? 6-0 in San Jose? Then they went to Panama and they tied, and the U.S. did not play well. And he didn’t say that. He says it now because of the Costa Rica game. The U.S. whenever they go on the road they don’t play well. Nobody plays well on the road. They all just get results. They all just try to get results.”

And the most personal aspect of his response to Lalas was, “Alexi Lalas was known more for his look than his play.”

Gomez laced into Lalas a little more when he said, “There’s a sentiment with the players that that whole 94’ class is still in a way bitter that they didn’t get their due.”

Unlike Gomez, Bretos found Lalas’s comments more entertaining than controversial. Bretos knows much more about world soccer and American soccer than most in the United States, and his opinions and thoughts were insightful and accurate as usual. He was right to point out that Lalas’ comments were nothing compared to what people say in other countries about their clubs and national teams where he said pundits ‘empty the chamber’ when criticizing.

Despite all of Gomez’s various critiques of both Lalas and Burley’s comments about the U.S. team, Gomez declared the result of Lalas’ rant good.

Why Alexi Lalas’ U.S. National Team Rant Was Great for American Soccer

Alexi Lalas’ rant about the U.S. National Team poor play against Costa Rica and Honduras was just what the doctor ordered for U.S. soccer because the remarks were entertaining and funny without being overly personal or insulting. They were a little personal and insulting, but not overly so.

The delivery of his takes tended toward the mean, but they weren’t off base or wrong.

His comments should inspire some more specific discussion of the play of the various U.S. players instead of U.S. Soccer trying to tell the media and fans that they aren’t allowed to have an opinion. Even Max Bretos, who is discussed below, pointed out how there’s a fear that any criticism of U.S. Soccer would create a toxic relationship with the federation.

Lalas’ rant was funny, and if you didn’t think so, then you might be too uptight. It was after all a staged performance with the desired effect of getting more discussion of the U.S.’s play.

Tim Howard was criticized for not making a save. Geoff Cameron was criticized for a sloppy pass. Clint Dempsey was criticized for not leading. Michael Bradley was criticized for not playing well enough. Jozy Altidore was criticized for not playing up to his potential.

The comments were insulting, but they didn’t feel too insulting.

There is a definite feeling that Lalas in a way made it acceptable for the American press to be more critical of the U.S.’s play. Despite this, Lalas’ comments were not well received by Greg Vanney, the coach of Toronto FC.

It was telling how Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore’s coach for Toronto FC complained about Lalas’ right to criticize his players in public. Criticizing soccer players’ play during a soccer broadcast is ubiquitous around the world, but some felt Lalas, a soccer analyst and commentator, didn’t have the right to share his soccer opinions. To be fair, Lalas’ comments were delivered in a Piers Morgan-esque meanness.

 

Maybe the Lalas rant will inspire some more specific and advance discussion of the United States’ play in the future instead of so many people throwing up resistence to anyone’s right to critique the U.S.’s play.

Until now, it has felt like U.S. Soccer (The United States Soccer Federation) and the players have tried to tell everyone that nobody else in the U.S. knows anything about soccer. Bradley in particular under both Jürgen Klinsmann and Bruce Arena has tried very hard to dismiss any observations that the media or fans have made about the team’s play.

 

Recent United States Passing Problems Fixable with Formation Change

The United States Men’s National Team played poorly against Costa Rica and Honduras, but the problems are fixable with a formation change. Bruce Arena used the 4-4-2 formation for both games, and there was little creativity or team passing.

Christian Pulisic was left to carry most of the creative load from a wide position in both games, and his individual dribbling was impressive. Without Clint Dempsey starting against Costa Rica, the United States had very few ideas or combination play in the final third.

Passing was the real problem against both opponents, despite the defense understandably getting much of the blame.

The United States Finally Faced Appropriate Domestic Criticism for their style of play and performance

Plenty of pundits, journalists, and fans laced into the United States for their poor performances, and none more so than Alexi Lalas. Lalas was clearly looking for his rant to go viral and rile people up. Nevertheless, nothing in the rant was really off base. Tim Howard, Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Clint Dempsey were taken to task for various reasons.

Howard was criticized for not saving the first goal against Costa Rica, and Cameron for a bad pass, which led to a goal. Bradley’s zen mentality was questioned, presumably because he always tries to appear calm and level-headed. Dempsey’s leadership was oddly questioned as he only started the second game.

Bruce Arena’s Tactics Have Been Bad Recently

Despite the Lalas rant, Arena got his tactics wrong in both games. By using the 4-4-2, the United States had no playmaking in the center of the midfield against Costa Rica. A 4-2-3-1 formation against Honduras would have given the United States more midfield defending in the second game. But Arena went with the 4-4-2 again resulting in the same problem.

Perhaps the problem was that Arena didn’t go with just one striker against Honduras when he added Kellyn Acosta as another center midfielder with Bradley. The same hole between the midfield and attack existed in both games, and Pulisic tried his best to make up for this.

Looking Toward the next World Cup Qualifiers

In the next World Cup qualifier, Arena should go with the 4-1-3-2 or the 4-2-3-1 formation in order to fix the creativity and passing weaknesses. Pulisic is certainly versatile enough to play wide in a fluid attacking three allowing he and Dempsey to move around.

Arena does have the option of calling up Lee Nguyen of the New England Revolution. With Sebastian Lletget and Kelyn Rowe injured, Nguyen along with Benny Feilhaber is the only playmaker with the skill set and pace to play at the international level. Both playmakers are proven at the international level.

Amidst all of the criticism of the U.S. team, the talent is still there to possess the ball well and score goals. Arena has reverted to the prehistoric 4-4-2 formation, but maybe he has come to his senses.

The United States should be able to put in a much better performance against Panama, and they will have to. To be on more solid World Cup qualifying ground, the U.S. needs all three points, and three more points against Trinidad and Tobago.

In a formation where Bradley and Acosta sit behind Nagbe, Dempsey, and Pulisic with Wood up top, the United States have no excuse for not keeping possession and scoring more easily.

The United States Must Start a Playmaker

The shambolic performances against Costa Rica and Honduras proved that the United States still needs a playmaker. At the very least, Bruce Arena needs to always actually play Christian Pulisic as a playmaker.

To be clear, Arena definitely fielded players that should have been able to keep possession and slice up Costa Rica and Honduras. The players definitely deserve the bulk of the blame.

Arena and the United States had a formula that worked. That formula was Michael Bradley as the lone defensive midfielder behind three attacking midfielders and two forwards. The U.S. players should have been able to adapt to the 4-4-2 formation and still possess the ball well, but they didn’t.

Against Costa Rica and Honduras, U.S. coach Arena went with the empty bucket formation, and the team’s passing suffered. In both games, Pulisic was playing wide without Mario Götze there to be the playmaker like at Borussia Dortmund.

Christian Pulisic Has Impressed as a Playmaker

Pulisic has been impressive in the past as a playmaker for the U.S. It’s hard to remember another American player besides Benny Feilhaber who showed real artistry and boldness in his final balls.

Probably the biggest evidence of Pulisic’s playmaking abilities for the U.S. was how in the past he knew exactly how to feed Clint Dempsey and executed it. Pulisic saw and executed passes to Dempsey a second or so faster than other American players were able to do. Pulisic has quickly chipped the defense to find Dempsey, and he has hit him on the break in stride.

Darlington Nagbe at Playmaker Hasn’t Worked

Arena has tried to force Darlington Nagbe into something of a playmaker role, but it doesn’t work. Nagbe doesn’t have many playmaking qualities. That’s not to say that Nagbe can’t pass. It’s simply saying that Nagbe doesn’t play the balls that Benny Feilhaber, Lee Nguyen, Sebastian Lletget, or Kelyn Rowe play.

Nagbe doesn’t dictate that the team play through him by presenting himself as a return passing option once he releases the ball. The Portland Timbers midfielder also doesn’t play the type of incisive passes needed to slice up an opponent.

Nagbe mostly makes dribbling forays, and he’s good for a spectacular goal every once in a while. Nevertheless, looking to orchestrate the team’s passing more is likely in his wheelhouse.

The United States Has Other Playmaker Options like Lee Nguyen

After seeing the United States’ inability to pass against both Costa Rica and Honduras, Arena would be wise to recall Lee Nguyen, who is a gifted playmaker who also has quickness and 1v1 skills. Nguyen also knows how to score. Nguyen can’t be accused of not having the pace or intensity needed for international play.

Even when Pulisic plays wing he will have plenty of freedom to cut inside and play centrally. Calling up Nguyen gives the United States both a backup playmaker and a playmaker to start if Pulisic plays wide.