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

Embed from Getty Images

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?

Embed from Getty Images

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.



Who Should Start for the United States against Costa Rica in World Cup Qualifying?


The United States takes on Costa Rica in World Cup qualifying on Friday, and the biggest decisions for Bruce Arena will be in the defense with two of the four normal starters injured. The injuries are to right back DeAndre Yedlin and center back John Brooks.

Goal and Defense

Tim Howard should start in goal, but the right back selection is a tougher one. Arena has favored Graham Zusi at right back, even though this is Zusi’s first season playing his new position, but Eric Lichaj is the more experienced right back with years of playing professionally in England.

Geoff Cameron will be one of the two starting center backs, and Arena has to decide whether he’s going to start Omar Gonzalez with Cameron or whether Matt Besler or Tim Ream will start. Whoever will or should start with Cameron at center back is anyone’s guess, but Jorge Villafaña is the first-choice left back.


In the midfield, Michael Bradley will start as the lone defensive midfielder, and the United States appears set to start a line of three attacking midfielders again. Christian Pulisic will start as the center attacking midfielder, and Darlington Nagbe will start as the left wing. The right wing position is more of a toss up. On the one hand, Paul Arriola has been playing well for the U.S. recently at this position, but Fabian Johnson is widely regarded as one of the very best players in the pool. There’s a chance Alejandro Bedoya could start at right wing, but maybe Arriola has the inside track, based on his recent performances for the U.S. and D.C. United.


World Soccer Source favors Bobby Wood and Clint Dempsey starting as the two forwards. Nothing against Jozy Altidore, but Wood and Dempsey are the more fluid, active, and clinical players. Wood always looks more dangerous and direct than Altidore, and Dempsey is too good not to start.

Here’s who World Soccer Source thinks should start:

Goalkeeper- Tim Howard

Right Back- Eric Lichaj

Center Back- Geoff Cameron

Center Back- Tim Ream

Left Back- Jorge Villafaña

Defensive Midfielder- Michael Bradley

Right Wing- Paul Arriola

Center Attacking Midfielder

Left Wing- Darlington Nagbe

Forward- Bobby Wood

Forward- Clint Dempsey


Breaking Down the United States’ September World Cup Qualifying Roster against Costa Rica and Honduras


Bruce Arena selected 26 United States players (three extra players) for his 23-man roster for September’s World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica and Honduras. The only real surprise on the roster was Chris Wondolowski, who was selected despite the roster having three other center forwards and Clint Dempsey.


The roster appears set up to use a 4-1-3-2 formation with Michael Bradley playing as the lone defensive midfielder and Christian Pulisic playing as the center attacking midfielder behind two forwards.


Tim Howard and Brad Guzan were the first and second choice goalkeepers respectively on this U.S. roster, and Howard will probably start both games.

The Defense

With starting right back DeAndre Yedlin and starting center back John Brooks injured, Arena has two hard lineup choices to make. At right back, Arena seems to favor starting Graham Zusi, but, since it’s a World Cup qualifier, Eric Lichaj is the more experienced right back who has played the position longer.

For John Brooks spot, look for Omar Gonzalez or either Tim Ream or Matt Besler to start. Geoff Cameron as the team’s best defender will be starting at one of the two center back spots, and Besler might be the likely starting left center back because Cameron has been playing right center back for the United States.

At left back, Jorge Villafaña is the first-choice starter, and he has provided the U.S. with constant attacking play down the left sideline and plenty of balls played into the box or into dangerous positions at the top of the penalty box. Villafaña has a good understanding with Nagbe at left wing, and Nagbe frequently cuts inside where he can be more dangerous and Villafaña overlaps him down the left sideline.

Look for Lichaj, Cameron, Besler, and Villafaña to start as the U.S. Back Four.


The U.S. midfield is pretty set as of right now. Bradley will play as the defensive midfielder behind a line of Paul Arriola, Christian Pulisic, and Darlington Nagbe from right to left as the line of three attacking midfielders.

There’s a chance that Fabian Johnson could start at right wing over Arriola, but Arriola has built up some momentum and credit with Arena at right wing. Johnson’s recent U.S. performances haven’t stood out enough to make him a lock as a starter.

Arena was smart enough to also include Kellyn Acosta, Dax McCarty, and Cristian Roldan on the roster. There’s a possibility of Acosta starting with Bradley, but that would change the formation to a 4-2-3-1, which would force either Dempsey or Pulisic to play wide. Alejandro Bedoya is also on the roster with Kelyn Rowe injured.


Up top, World Soccer Source predicts Clint Dempsey and Bobby Wood starting as the two forwards. Dempsey is simply too good and too in form to not start, and Wood is a more dangerous, more talented, and faster forward than Jozy Altidore. Wood provides more movement than Altidore, and he’s more direct and clinical than Altidore.

It’s possible Wood and Altidore could start up top with Dempsey on the bench, but that’s risky considering how much the U.S. needs to get six points from these two games to get closer to first place in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.


Complete USA Roster

GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Atlanta United FC; 14/0), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids; 36/0), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake; 0/0)

DEFENDERS (9): DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo; 34/6), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City; 11/1), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City/ENG; 22/2), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca/MEX; 15/0), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas; 0/0), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest/ENG; 0/0), Tim Ream (Fulham/ENG; 5/0), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna/MEX; 3/0), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City; 18/3)

MIDFIELDERS (9): Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas; 4/0), Paul Arriola (D.C. United; 3/1), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union; 9/0), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC/CAN; 35/7), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach/GER; 16/1), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire; 0/0), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers; 7/0), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund/GER; 9/5), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders FC; 0/0)

FORWARDS (5): Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC/CAN; 38/16), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC; 39/18), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC; 3/0), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes; 0/0), Bobby Wood (Hamburg/GER; 10/4)

Who Should the United States Call Up for the September World Cup Qualifiers?

Who Should the United States Call Up for the September World Cup Qualifiers?

U.S. coach Bruce Arena and the United States will need to get as many points as possible from the upcoming World Cup qualifiers in September against Panama and Honduras, and the U.S. will need the strongest squad possible. The United States is currently sitting in third place in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying with 8 points while Mexico is in first with 14 points and Costa Rica is in second with 11 points.

During the 2017 Gold Cup, Arena used less than a full strength squad that needed all six roster additions after the group stage to win the tournament full of countries’ B Teams. In September, the United States will need Christian Pulisic and Clint Dempsey starting to field anything close to an A Team. Without Pulisic or Dempsey, the United States has no playmaker, which has proved to be a problem for a team that struggles to score without them. Dempsey and Pulisic playing together gives the Arena his best squad.

Besides Pulisic and Dempsey, Arena will also need Geoff Cameron and John Brooks starting in the center of the defense as both Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler are a level below the European based center backs. Cameron and Brooks are better defensively, technically, an athletically than Besler and Brooks. The United States was also missing its best center forward Bobby Wood in the Gold Cup.

The United States’ passing and creativity was poor during the Gold Cup, but a full-strength team for World Cup qualifying should fix these two problems.

Here’s who Arena could or should call up for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica and Honduras in September:


Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, William Yarbrough

Tim Howard and Brad Guzan are obvious locks for two of the three goalkeeper spots, but the third spot is a hard choice. Ethan Horvath and David Bingham have been recent picks for the third goalkeeping spot, but William Yarbrough has shown well for the U.S. before. The U.S has plenty of goalkeepers to chose from, but Yarbrough is the most proven and most ready if a third goalkeeper is needed in the event that both Howard and Guzan are injured or suspended in two games.

Right Backs

DeAndre Yedlin, Eric Lichaj

Right back is an interesting position for the U.S. In many ways, the U.S. still needs a better right back. After Steve Cherundolo retired, none of the U.S. right backs have looked anywhere close to as good. DeAndre Yedlin is of course the top option, and Eric Lichaj looked a lot less smooth than he did for the United States years ago. Graham Zusi has looked ok for the U.S. His overall skill level is good for a defender, and he can cut onto his left foot, which is a useful skill. In international soccer, the United States really needs a right back with speed, technical ability, and good defending. Yedlin has the speed, but he doesn’t really have the polished technical ability of a top class right back. Arena likes using Zusi, but Lichaj has more experience.

Center Backs

Geoff Cameron, John Brooks, Omar Gonzalez, Walker Zimmerman

Geoff Cameron and John Brooks are the first-choice starters for the U.S. Despite Arena’s using Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler in the Gold Cup, Steve Birnbaum and Walker Zimmerman have all looked better, even if the former two have more caps. Arena will probably select Gonzalez and Besler as the backups – or at least Gonzalez- but World Soccer Source supports Birnbaum and Zimmerman. Birnbaum is faster and more technical than Gonzalez, and Zimmerman is a better marker and tackler than Besler. Zimmerman is also good technically and athletic enough for international play, even if Besler is known for his speed.

Left Backs

Jorge Villafaña, DaMarcus Beasley

Jorge Villafaña as solidified his spot as the starting left back for the United States. He’s both solid defensively and dynamic and lively going forward. Villafaña also has the skill to cut onto his weaker right foot to play passes or crosses, and he’s become one of the primary attacking pieces despite playing as a defender. After Villafaña either DaMarcus Beasley or Greg Garza have to be the second-choice left back. Garza at times looks slow, and Beasley is in his mid-thirties. Beasley always performs well for the U.S., plus he still has his speed. Beasley is the likely back-up between the two.

Defensive Midfielders and Central Midfielders

Michael Bradley, Dax McCarty, Kellyn Acosta, Cristian Roldan

No big surprises in this group. Michael Bradley is the obvious starting defensive midfielder in what will likely be a 4-1-3-2 formation. Dax McCarty is Bradley’s substitute, and Kellyn Acosta is a box-to-box or Number 8 midfielder who offers plenty of creativity and quality, including free kick and scoring quality. Unlike Bradley and McCarty, Acosta offers more playmaking and attacking flair and skill.

Attacking Midfielders and Wings

Christian Pulisic, Darlington Nagbe, Paul Arriola, Kelyn Rowe

Look for Paul Arriola, Christian Pulisic, and Darlington Nagbe to start from right to left in the line of three attacking midfielders in front of Bradley. Kelyn Rowe will likely be the first substitute for those three positions. Rowe has long been an MLS standout, and he stood out for the U.S. as well in the Gold Cup group stage. It would be surprising if Arena left Rowe off the roster, especially with Sebastian Lletget injured. A healthy Lletget is an immediate starter on the right over Arriola, and Lletget is probably the best substitute for Pulisic as the Number 10 as well.


Clint Dempsey, Bobby Wood, Jozy Altidore, Jordan Morris

For a long time, the U.S.’s forward options were poor, and the U.S. had a hard time scoring goals. Now with the emergence of Bobby Wood and Jozy Altidore’s improvement in form, the United States has a more dangerous attack that’s better at putting the ball in the goal. Wood is excellent at stretching the defense and beating defenders 1v1, and the Hawaiian is a clinical finisher with both feet. Another huge plus with Wood is his willingness to attack defenses directly and take shots even when he gets even a half chance or a glimpse of the goal. Jordan Morris attacks defenses in the same way that Wood does, and he’s qualified to start over Altidore and partner Wood. Clint Dempsey has to be a starter up top for this team, and there will be three full days between the two World Cup qualifiers. Three days aren’t a lot of rest, but it makes more sense to let Dempsey start both games and just sub him out if he runs out of steam, especially since this team has three Number 9s on the roster. You have to think that Arena not starting Dempsey in the semifinals and finals was because it was the Gold Cup and not World Cup qualifiers.


Takeaways from the United States’ 2017 Gold Cup Victory

Takeaways from the United States’ 2017 Gold Cup Victory

It felt like the United States eked out its 2017 Gold Cup victory, rather than truly outplaying its competition. There were plenty of positives to take away from the tournament and the championship, even if the rotation of players led to a lack of excellent team passing and creativity most of the time.

Jordan Morris, Kellyn Acosta, and Paul Arriola all either reaffirmed their talent or they showed more of what they were capable of. Acosta and Arriola oddly received some criticism for not showcasing enough talent and special qualities, but Acosta looked smooth, skillful, and involved, while Arriola looked fast and dangerous.

Without Christian Pulisic acting as a Number 10 behind the forwards, there definitely was a lack of playmaking and creativity in the attack that saw Jozy Altidore dropping back into the midfield to receive the ball and playmake. Luckily, Clint Dempsey was around to win the semifinal and break the deadlock in the final, but Bruce Arena deserves some criticism for cutting Kelyn Rowe after the group stage and not always starting someone to operate as the team’s playmaker. Arena has several quality playmakers to choose from in the field, and he arguably didn’t have any of them on the roster for the group stage or knockout rounds.

Against a weak CONCACAF field of B Teams, the United States should have been more dominate and impressive. Arena did what was necessary to win the tournament, but the U.S. barely won most of its games. The only rotating of players that made sense was not starting Dempsey in the semifinal when he had just played 90 minutes a few days before. Other than that, there was too much meddling with the starting lineup, which affected the team’s performances negatively. Not starting Dempsey in the final didn’t make much sense either since Dempsey only played some 20 minutes in the semifinal.

After so many years of Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones not pairing well as the team’s holding midfielders, Acosta proved himself to be a box-to-box midfielder who partners well with Bradley. Acosta plays with graceful skill and easy athleticism, and he passes well. Arena now has the option of either using two holding midfielders or two forwards, and this allows him to field a more attack-minded or slightly less attack-minded lineup whenever he wants. Morris continues to be a direct and aggressive striker who scores goals and unsettles opponents with his speed, so the United States has another striker like Bobby Wood who can get behind the defense and score.

Without the first-choice center backs, right back, striker, and playmaker, the United States’ Gold Cup squad wasn’t it’s A Team, so this wasn’t a chance to see if the United States has built on its progression under Arena. Nevertheless, at least the United States won the tournament, which should have been much easier to win. The real lesson is that the United States should always be starting its very best lineup until they are more dominant.


Bruce Arena Taking United States 2017 Gold Cup Competition Too Lightly

Bruce Arena has been a better national team coach than Jürgen Klinsmann in terms of his player selection and tactics, but Arena has taken the Gold Cup competition too lightly. In the 2017 Gold Cup, the United States has been drawing or barely winning, and in the semifinals, it took Clint Dempsey coming on in the 69th minute to break the deadlock with an artistic assist and a masterful free kick goal to finally beat Costa Rica.

Arena’s coaching decisions in this Gold Cup haven’t been poor, but they haven’t been excellent either. Arena has been taking opposing teams too lightly by shuffling lineups and auditioning players too much while also failing to start a playmaker behind the strikers to fill Christian Pulisic’s Number 10 role. Pulisic is already back with his club team Borussia Dortmund, and the United States’ passing, creativity, and attack has been subpar compared to previous recent U.S. National Team games.

The second-time U.S. coach was close to fielding a strong lineup against Costa Rica in the semifinal, but again there was no real attacking midfielder or playmaker until Dempsey came on late in the game. Pairing Kellyn Acosta and Michael Bradley as the holding midfielders behind the more attacking players was an improvement for the squad as Bradley could sit deeper in front of the defense and Acosta was free to go forward more. On the other hand, starting Graham Zusi once again at right back was suspect at best. Arena is apparently going to insist on having Zusi as a right back option, and Arena has really dug his heels in on this questionable decision.

Against Jamaica on Wednesday in the 2017 Gold Cup Final, Arena will likely start Dempsey rather than saving him for the end like last game which was done on purpose to account for Dempsey’s 90 minute performance just a few days prior to the semifinal against Costa Rica. Look for Dempsey to play alongside Jozy Altidore up top in the attack or to play as the center attacking midfielder behind Altidore and possibly Jordan Morris. We could see the United States drop Acosta in order to go with the more attack-minded 4-1-3-2 formation, but maybe not.

Arena has been taking the United States’ Gold Cup competition way too lightly in the 2017 Gold Cup, but against Jamaica in the final, Arena would be wise to not start the likes of Zusi or Gyasi Zardes. It will be interesting to see if Paul Arriola or Joe Corona starts in the final, but with many first-choice attacking players like Pulisic, Sebastian Lletget, and Kelyn Rowe not on this roster, one of Corona or Arriola should start.


The United States Must Build All Lineups around Christian Pulisic

The United States Must Build All Lineups around Christian Pulisic

Christian Pulisic should be the first name on the United States’ team sheet, and he should be on the team sheet in the Number 10 role.

When Bruce Arena first deployed Pulisic as a Number 10 beneath Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore, what Arena did was set the United States up to showcase its best passing and best attacking play ever.

Recently, when the United States tied Mexico 1-1 in Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, Arena was somewhat forced to not use his first-choice players because they were operating on only a few days rest from a previous World Cup qualifier, but Pulisic nevertheless started. In the 3-4-3 formation used by Arena, Pulisic was operating out on the left wing in an attacking triangle, and this lessened his impact to attack Mexico and facilitate the American attack. Pulisic didn’t have as many touches on the ball out left, and he wasn’t in a position to feed Bobby Wood up top at striker as much as Pulisic could have in the middle.

Rotating players was excusable, but there was no need to use Pulisic out left or to use one less midfielder. Arena made the wise decision to start Kellyn Acosta in the center of the midfielder with Michael Bradley, and with Acosta helping out Bradley, there was no need to use three center backs instead of two. With the set-up used, there was a big gap between where Acosta and Bradley were and where Wood was up top.

This game against Mexico, while a good draw for the U.S., nevertheless showed how much the U.S.’s passing and attacking ability weakened with Pulisic out wide instead of behind the striker or strikers, and the team’s passing was certainly worse with Darlington Nagbe on the bench as one of the rotated out players.

Given Pulisic’s abilities and importance for the U.S., some minor criticism of Arena’s tactics against Mexico is warranted. The U.S. did earn an important point for the draw, but that point likely mostly came from an incredible and sensational golazo from Bradley.

Starting Pulisic as the center attacking midfielder should take precedence in an Arena lineup for the United States, and the real decision for Arena going forward will be whether or not he starts Acosta again with Bradley in more of a 4-2-3-1 or if starting two forwards is key for Arena. Whatever Arena goes with, Pulisic must be used centrally to orchestrate the American attack and to score and create goals.



Michael Bradley Scores Totti-esque Chipped Golazo Against Mexico

Michael Bradley Scores Totti-esque Chipped Golazo Against Mexico

Michael Bradley scored a stunning golazo against Mexico in Sunday in World Cup qualifying when he chipped Mexico’s goalkeeper Memo Ochoa from some 40 yards out while sprinting. Bradley’s goal was worthy of Francesco Totti who lived to score by the cucchiaio, as it’s called in Italian.

Several minutes into the game against Mexico, Bradley stole a pass from Mexico weaved right in between two defenders and more or less immediately hit a soft chip while sprinting over Ochoa who was near the top of his own penalty box.

Shawn Francis had it right when he posted a photo of Michael Bradley on Twitter with the caption, “Remember when you thought my dad got me this job?”

Bradley’s goal was impressive for several reasons. First, he hit his chip without any hesitation when he possibly could have tried to score by hitting his shot low and hard into the corner. Second, Bradley hit the chip from some 40 yards out, and, third, it’s very difficult to get the weight of the shot just right off a chip. Finally, Bradley hit his chip while dribbling at a sprint which makes the chip so much harder not to hit too hard over the crossbar.

In many ways, you can’t help thinking that Bradley should still be playing in Serie A if he’s able to score that caliber of an international goal. MLS offered Bradley a huge salary, but Bradley’s abilities are better maximized in European club soccer. In Serie A, Bradley proved himself to be an excellent dead ball specialist, and his chip against Mexico further showcased this control of the ball.

Before Bruce Arena took over as head coach of the United States, fans and the media had been lamenting Bradley’s play with the national team, but with better players deployed in a more logical tactical setup, it appears the Bradley’s struggles might have been caused by playing with subpar players.

After a goal like he just scored, Bradley might have silenced a small minority of his critics who unjustly blamed him for the U.S.’s poor play before Arena took over.


Who Should the United States Start Against Mexico in World Cup qualifying?

Who Should the United States Start Against Mexico in World Cup qualifying?

Except for starting Jozy Altidore over Bobby Wood at center forward, coach Bruce Arena got his United States lineup right in the World Cup qualifying win over Trinidad and Tobago in Denver. The United States beat Trinidad and Tobago 2-0 as they should have, and the U.S. should obviously be playing for the win against Mexico in Mexico City.

Altidore played well for the United States in the last game where he even set up a goal, but Wood is the more dangerous player and the more difficult player to defend and contain. Arena also has the option of altering his formation, but he seems content with his 4-1-3-2 formation which has worked very well for the U.S. It’s even an attacking lineup, which the United States and Arena never used to use.

Wood over Altidore may be the only lineup change for the United States, and having Wood and Pulisic running at the Mexican defense in Azteca should be a more electric attack than the U.S. has ever fielded in Mexico’s enormous Azteca stadium in Mexico City. There is a possibility that Kellyn Acosta will start against Mexico with the logic being that the United States will need another center midfielder to keep possession and recovery possession, and both Bradley and Acosta cover a lot of territory.

Fabian Johnson didn’t play particularly well in either of the last two U.S. games, but nobody doubts his talent, speed, or experience. Nevertheless, Arena should play somebody over Johnson, and that somebody should be Acosta.

Using Acosta would alter the Americans’ formation, and just maybe Dempsey plays tucked in on the left rather than playing as a second striker. Pulisic moves all over the attack and all over the field for that matter, and rigidly confining Dempsey or Pulisic to wide or central roles on the field is a misunderstanding of how they play and how the sport is played.

A strong option for Arena against Mexico therefore is to insert Acosta into the lineup and not use a three-man defense with three center back, which is something the U.S. is comfortable enough with to really use against Mexico. Even though the U.S. just played Thursday, switching up the center backs or the defense at all feels risky. If a player or players get tired, then that’s what substitutes are for. Going with the 4-3-3 formation would help with the fatigue from the recent game since the 4-3-3 would have Nagbe, Bradley, and Acosta as a three-man midfield with three center midfielders to keep possession and recover possession, which would make for an attacking three of Pulisic, Wood, and Dempsey who are all fluid and versatile attackers who know how to move into space and show for the ball. Rather than trotting out some unproven and new defense, Arena should play a three-man midfield of Nagbe, Bradley, and Acosta

Here’s who World Soccer Source believes the United States should start against Mexico:

Goalkeeper: Tim Howard

Right Back: DeAndre Yedlin

Center Back: Geoff Cameron

Center Back: John Brooks

Left Back: Jorge Villafaña

Right Center Midfielder: Kellyn Acosta

Defensive Midfielder: Michael Bradley

Left Center Midfielder: Darlington Nagbe

Right Wing: Christian Pulisic

Center Forward: Bobby Wood

Left Wing: Clint Dempsey