Five Players the United States Should Include on its March World Cup Qualifying Roster
Going into the March World Cup qualifiers against Honduras and Panama, the United States must place a premium on selecting enough skill players to not get outplayed and embarrassed. Here are five players that Bruce Arena would be wise to call up again.
Sebastian Lletget is an essential inclusion on the United States’ roster because he improves the team’s passing ability, creativity, and overall technical ability. Lletget is an active player that constantly passes and moves, and he offers a proactive and refined playing style that the United States lacks. With Christian Pulisic certain to start, Lletget is a player that complements Pulisic’s quick, creative, and skilled play. Whether Lletget is used as a wing, playmaker, or central midfielder, the LA Galaxy midfielder has a skill-set worthy of a starter for the United States.
Benny Feilhaber is still the best playmaker in the American player pool, and in the recent international friendlies, he showed why he is a more creative and dangerous option than Sacha Kljestan, who is a level below Feilhaber in terms of skill and efficacy against better teams. Feilhaber facilitates quick combination play and scoring opportunities, which the United States sorely needs. The Sporting Kansas City midfielder is still at the top of his game, and he’s the United States’ best option as the Number 10 or attacking midfielder beneath the strikers.
Kellyn Acosta has really come into his own over the last year, and he’s the type of box-to-box midfielder that the United States has been lacking. Acosta brings excellent two-footed skill on the ball plus tons of athleticism and ball-winning ability. Acosta is also a very aggressive and direct midfielder who opens up space for the attacking players with his spirited runs into the attack. The FC Dallas midfielder is also a scoring threat from the midfield, and his tendency to rip shots on target from outside of the box unsettles the opposing defense and draws defenders away from American attackers.
Juan Agudelo is arguably the best center forward in the American player pool after Bobby Wood, and he might offer some more flair and creativity than Wood, who appears to have only displayed part of his creativity so far. Agudelo can play either as the Number 9 or as a second striker, and he offers a complete forward skill-set of two-footed finishing, individual dribbling ability, heading ability, speed, and the needed physicality. Agudelo is needed on the roster for his aggressive, proactive play that helps the team more than Jozy Altidore’s deeper, more subdued play.
Like Agudelo and Wood, Jordan Morris is just more aggressive and direct than Altidore. Morris’ creates multiple scoring opportunities every game, and he goes straight to goal. Morris has a tendency to never use his left foot, but he still consistently beats defenders and scores. Morris also has a huge, game-changing weapon in his phenomenal speed that allows him to torch almost any defender in a foot race. The Seattle Sounders forward excels at getting behind the defense and attacking the goal, and even with less experience than Altidore, Morris is a more difficult center forward for opposing defenders to contain. The physicality that Altidore brings is also present in Morris who doesn’t let himself get pushed around either.
Who Should Bruce Arena Play as the USMNT Number 10?
“We need a better passer in the midfield than we have. We need to have a player in the attacking half of the field who can deliver the right ball at the right time. Who that is remains to be seen. There’s a couple of domestic players that are very good at that who we’ll look at in camp in January, and that to me is an area we’ve got to identify.”
That was Bruce Arena during an interview on the Extratime Radio Podcast for MLSsoccer.com.
Just the fact that United States’ coach, Arena, wants to use a Number 10 type player is an improvement over Jürgen Klinsmann, and Arena has multiple playmaker options.
The coach of the United States can choose to use Benny Feilhaber, Lee Nguyen, or Sacha Kljestan, and he has the luxury of using another Number 10, Sebastian Lletget, on the wing opposite Christian Pulisic. This gives the United States more skill and creativity in the midfield, and it makes the United States a better passing team.
Arena highlighted poor passing as one of the things that he’s looking to improve right away. He also specifically stated that he wants to find a Number 10 style player.
So, Arena will likely decide between Feilhaber, Nguyen, and Kljestan, and Arena told Extratime Radio that he thought Kljestan was perhaps the best player in MLS this season. Nevertheless, both Nguyen and Feilhaber are better playmakers than Kljestan. Both are more creative and more technical than Kljestan, and both are quicker and harder to stay in front of. Looking at all three playmakers, Nguyen is the best 1v1, but Feilhaber is perhaps the most gifted passer. Feilhaber has proven to be a better tackler and worker than he was earlier in his career, but of all three options, Nguyen is the youngest and quickest.
An argument can be made that if Arena is going to use Michael Bradley and Darlington Nagbe as the defensive midfielder and box-to-box midfielder, then Arena has the luxury of going with the most electric of the options: Nguyen. While Nguyen has been playing faster and more creatively than either Feilhaber or Kljestan, Feilhaber is undoubtedly the most deserving option. Feilhaber is the most proven on the international level, and Feilhaber has the best passing ability of all three.
Nevertheless, Nguyen is in his prime right now, and recent games with the United States have shown him to be someone that can facilitate quicker and better one-to-two touch passing for the United States. The team needs quicker, smoother, and better passing, and Nguyen plays with the style and energy to play at Christian Pulisic’s and Bobby Wood’s speed.
Arena can’t go wrong with either Nguyen or Feilhaber, but Kljestan is the least talented of the three options. Will Arena go with Feilhaber or Nguyen, or will he go with the more inspired option of letting Lletget play as the Number 10?
Calling up both Feilhaber and Nguyen is Arena’s best course of action. That way he has both playmakers to choose from and use. The only way either playmaker can distinguish themselves from each other is in games, so their play in meaningful games for the United States will show more than just speculating based on their strengths and weaknesses.
Along with Eric Wynalda, Benny Feilhaber and Freddy Adu are the two most polarizing figures in American soccer.
Both Feilhaber and Adu have been labeled as inconsistent luxury players who aren’t as impactful and consistent for 90 minutes as many people would like.
Nevertheless, the reason that both players are important for American soccer and the United States Men’s National Team is that both players fill a role that Michael Bradley, Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, and Jozy Altidore can’t fill: the playmaker role.
This role as the central attacking midfielder or the playmaker is essential for the success of the United States Men’s National Team because it provides a link between Michael Bradley’s defensive midfielder role and the role of Dempsey, Donovan, and Jozy Altidore as attackers and goal-scorers.
The playmaker not only facilitates quality passing, but the playmaker turns the passing between Jones or Cameron, Bradley, Donovan, and Dempsey into goal-scoring chances, and the ability to set up goals or score goals are arguably the two most important skills in soccer.
For this reason, players like Feilhaber and Adu remain relevant figures for the United States, and Feilhaber currently appears to be close to winning over Jürgen Klinsmann who has had his reservations about Feilhaber due to a perceived lack of impactful play for the full 90 minutes of playing time.
Running, work rate, and defending have always been important soccer fundamentals that have always snuck into the conversation when discussing the performance and importance of playmakers – and also strikers for that matter.
Playmakers are sometimes referred to as luxury players or non-essential players because there is a belief that many people have which holds that playmakers are a liability for their lack of work rate, defending, and their lack of overall distance covered, and this opinion has an important element of truth to it, which is that running and movement without the ball or off the ball are a vital quality for any soccer player.
No matter what one’s personal opinion is about the amount and the type of running that one should expect out of a playmaker, running and movement off the ball is part and parcel with being a good playmaker.
Take for example the games Zinedine Zidane played for France in the knockout rounds of the 2006 World Cup. Zidane was demonstrating a great deal of running and movement off the ball because it was essential to one of his greatest qualities as a footballer: constantly being a passing option or outlet for his teammates.
Zidane was most effective when he constantly presented himself as a passing option for his teammates, and this required constant movement and running. The Magician of Marseille was lethal to opponents when he dictated the tempo of the game by essentially receiving seemingly every other pass, and he did this by playing passes to his teammates and instantly showing for the ball or moving into space to receive the ball back.
When Zidane played like this, he even made Brazil look mediocre.
Turning to American soccer and the United States Men’s National Team, it’s important to expect lots of running from American playmakers, but it should be the right type of running.
Constantly moving all over the field to provide one’s teammates with a player to whom the ball can be played is essential to dictating the tempo and style of the game, and American playmakers should make a major effort to use their touch, vision, ball control, and creativity all over the field.
American playmakers should show just how valuable they are to American soccer fans and Jürgen Klinsmann by constantly involving themselves in the passing all over the field because this displays how the skill-set that playmakers bring to games is vital to producing quality passing and imposing the United States’ will on opponents, as opposed to being played out of games when opponents boss the midfield and pressure the American defense.
While the purpose of the United States using playmakers is to produce a better quality of play and create more scoring opportunities, American playmakers like Mix Diskerud, Joe Corona, Benny Feilhaber, and especially Freddy Adu must make a conscientious effort to be actively involved in the passing of the United States all over the field to win over the fans and the coaching staff.
Technically, a system with two defensive midfielders should somewhat cut out some of the running needed from a central attacking midfielder or a number 10, but fair or not, it looks as if American playmakers will need to take their work rate and running to a level above and beyond what is normal.
At its core, soccer is a sport based on constant movement in addition to ball control and vision, and American playmakers will need to be virtually omnipresent on the field, in order to convince many people of their importance in the long term success of American sides against competition on the club and international level.
To win over an American audience and the coaching staff of the United States, it would appear that American playmakers will have to fight their way onto the national team and prove their worth through lots of running for the purpose of forcing a superior brand of passing and soccer to be played by the United States Men’s National Team.
If the 2013 MLS Cup playoff taught Americans anything, it was that Benny Feilhaber’s increased work rate and distance covered won over a lot of people and silenced a lot of critics.
With the 2014 World Cup approaching, the United States’ roster will probably need two true playmakers to really be able to keep possession and effectively attack Germany, Portugal, and Ghana. Mix Diskerud, Joe Corona, Benny Feilhaber, and the controversial Freddy Adu are all part of the American player pool, and the United States needs two of them on the roster with one starting.
Many people will not want Adu on the roster because of his lack of club playing time and his club limbo (which is a valid point), but the United States needs to pick two playmakers from the following options: Feilhaber, Diskerud, Corona, and Adu.
Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones or Geoff Cameron, Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, and Jozy Altidore or Aron Jóhannsson need a playmaker to fire on all cylinders, and the idea that the United States can really produce quality soccer without a playmaker starting with the other players in the Front Six is a fantasy.
The United States Men’s National Team is close to becoming a Giant Killer.
Granted, there is a big talent gap between the technical ability of the United States as a collective unit, but someone like Clint Dempsey is a world-class soccer player, even if someone like Robinho is much better.
Furthermore, a defensive or box-to-box midfielder like Michael Bradley isn’t anywhere close to Paul Pogba in terms of skill or athleticism, but that certainly doesn’t take anything away from Bradley’s qualities and physical gifts.
For the United States to become a Giant Killer, the entire Starting XI needs to be players who are close to or equal to Dempsey’s and Bradley’s level.
The key is a team comprised of technically-skilled and athletic players who have different and complimentary skills that allow them to play their own natural positions better than other American players.
There has been real progress in American soccer, and even if Jürgen Klinsmann isn’t using the best outside backs at his disposal and even if he doesn’t seem to be entirely convinced that he needs to start a playmaker, the talent and athleticism is there in the core group of United States internationals.
To be fair, it was already there when Bob Bradley was coach because Tim Howard, Michael Bradley, Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, and Jozy Altidore were all regulars during his tenure.
The good news is that Bradley and Altidore are drastically better than they used to be, and Bradley was somewhat close to being a finished product before Klinsmann took the reins as coach of the United States.
Altidore is really the player who has seen an enormous improvement in his technical ability, his smoothness on the ball, his finishing, and the aggression with which he attacks the goal, but the reason for these improvement was his time spent in Dutch football.
On the other hand, Dempsey is a player who has just progressively become better over time, but Dempsey’s skill-level and his ability to excel against top competition was already excellent when he first started playing for the United States and before he went to play in the English Premier League.
Of all the core group of strong U.S. internationals, Donovan has been around the longest, and players like Bradley and Dempsey provided skills and qualities that he didn’t have or they served as needed support. Dempsey and Donovan play the same position, and they can just be started together on opposite sides of the field and allowed to roam free.
Looking really closely at Bradley, Dempsey, Donovan, and Altidore, what one sees is a defensive midfielder, two attacking midfielders who aren’t playmakers but who can score, and finally a first striker who combines athleticism with size and technical ability.
These four players along with Tim Howard give the United States half of a Starting XI minus the Back Four and a playmaker, and the role of playmaker has a front-runner: Benny Feilhaber, a proven and experienced central attacking midfielder.
Giant Killing is the next step for the United States.
Jürgen Klinsmann needs to start Bradley as a defensive midfielder behind Donovan, Feilhaber, and Dempsey as a line of three attacking midfielders with Altidore as the first striker.
If Klinsmann does that, which he hasn’t done, then he simply needs to find four quality defenders and either a second defensive midfielder or an additional center forward or a second striker, the latter of which can play off Altidore as a sort of secondary playmaker to compliment Feilhaber.
Once Klinsmann fields something like the Starting XI proposed in the paragraph above, then the United States Men’s National Team is inching closer to becoming a Giant Killer.
There are probably very few people in the American soccer media or in the American fan base who would strongly doubt the logic of starting Bradley, Donovan, Feilhaber, Dempsey, and Altidore together, especially if Geoff Cameron was inserted into the Front Six to be the midfield destroyer in place of Jermaine Jones so that Bradley had more license to go forward and attack.
Although Brazil, Spain, Germany, Italy, and the like would be better in terms of collective team skill, starting Cameron, Bradley, Donovan, Feilhaber, Dempsey, and Altidore together is certainly a competitive and legit Front Six that national teams would take seriously.
The Front Six proposed is strong because it has a more stay-at-home defensive midfielder or midfield destroyer, a defensive midfielder with more licence to attack, a playmaker flanked by free-roaming attacking midfielders who can score, and a first striker that has the skill and speed to stretch the opposition’s defense. The Front Six is also all players who can keep possession by playing one-to-two touch soccer with purpose.
Despite the skill of the Front Six, the weak area is thus the American defense because no matter how well that American Front Six does, what happens when really first-rate midfielders and attackers terrorize the American Back Four?
This is the true impediment to American success because Tim Howard or Brad Guzan can only make so many game-saving saves before top national teams or second-tier national teams eventually find the back of the net. Howard and Guzan cannot be expected to stop every shot off the feet or head of elite players.
Klinsmann has Brad Evans, Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, and DaMarcus Beasley as his preferred Back Four, but questioning their ability to stop the type of competition in the World Cup is a fair question, and it is a question that needs to be taken seriously.
Many people have placed too much trust in the ability of those four defenders (two of which aren’t defenders) to stop elite attackers or even merely international-caliber attackers, and this mentality could doom the United States in the World Cup.
American soccer and the United States Men’s National Team has improved, although not really because of Klinsmann, but the American defense is a problem and a matter of concern.
There are two solutions to the problems with the USMNT’s Back Four: 1.) Start a more proven Back Four such as Jonathan Spector, Michael Orozco, John Anthony Brooks, and Eric Lichaj; or 2) Start a Back Four made up of DeAndre Yedlin, Andrew Farrell, Shane O’Neill, and Chris Klute.
Of course, the obvious third solution is some combination of the more-proven defenders with the newer MLS defenders.
Plenty of people will contend that the young MLS defenders are unproven and inexperienced, but at least they are defenders that are both skilled and athletic. Their youth or their lack of international inexperience doesn’t change the fact that they have the skill and the athleticism to compete at the international level, and their youth and inexperienced shouldn’t be used against them.
How long until the U.S lets the better defenders play?
The real question is not which players Klinsmann prefers, but rather who are the best American players at each position?
Given the amount of teams in the 2014 World Cup that are frankly much better than the current preferred Klinsmann starting line-up, the United States would be wise to start the Front Six advocated in this article and use a new Back Four that has the ability to compete with the types of players who will be in this World Cup.
The United States won’t be a Giant Killer in this World Cup if Klinsmann’s makeshift defenses are used or if no playmaker is used.
These two things need to change because starting Cameron, Bradley, Donovan, Feilhaber, Dempsey, and Altidore as the Front Six at the very least makes for a competitive group of players with the skill and the athleticism to do well in the 2014 World Cup.
No one will know how good the United States Men’s National Team really is until Klinsmann fields the best American players at the same time in a balanced formation that tactically makes sense.
Brad Evans, Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, DaMarcus Beasley, Graham Zusi, and Brad Davis are solid MLS players, but they are not Giant Killers.
They really aren’t as good as other American options such as DeAndre Yedlin, Andrew Farrell, Shane O’Neill, Chris Klute, Joe Corona, and Mix Diskerud.
Many of Jürgen Klinsmann’s first-choice starters hold players like Cameron, Bradley, Dempsey, Feilhaber, Donovan, and Altidore back, and this needs to change.
The American soccer media revived their interest in Benny Feilhaber after his impressive outing against the Houston Dynamo in the second leg of the MLS Cup Semifinal, which caused many observers to realize that that game was part of a series of influential playoff games.
Benny Feilhaber and Freddy Adu seem to attract the same American critics with the difference being that Feilhaber has been used more by the United States Men’s National Team and thus has more quality international performances to cite as evidence of his playmaking skill and efficacy against something close to the highest level of competition.
While many people value Feilhaber for his playmaking skills and his technical ability, which the USMNT needs, other people are very critical of his playing resume and his playing style.
By beating the Houston Dynamo recently, Feilhaber outlasted both Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey in the MLS Cup Playoffs. Of course, Feilhaber is a different type of player than Dempsey and Donovan, but Feilhaber’s play has highlighted the importance of playmakers.
One thing that Feilhaber showed was that no matter what critics said or wrote about him that he was willing and able to rise to the occasion in another important game when he was needed.
Feilhaber’s performances disprove the belief that skilled American players who Klinsmann hasn’t really used have no place on the national team.
The United States Men’s National Team will need to fit the various types of players together to form a balanced and skilled national team, and Feilhaber offered a glimpse of how the United States could improve by playing Geoff Cameron, Michael Bradley, Landon Donovan, Benny Feilhaber, Clint Dempsey, and Jozy Altidore together as the Front Six.
Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey Are Not Playmakers
Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan are excellent attacking midfielders or second strikers, but they aren’t playmakers.
The best way to get the most out of both Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey is to start them as the right and left attacking midfielders with a true playmaker in between them.
Joe Corona won over a lot of American fans and members of the American soccer media with his play in the 2013 Gold Cup, but Corona had already proven himself way before the Gold Cup, particularly with his play against Corinthians in the Copa Libertadores.
With the coaching change at Corona’s club, Tijuana, Corona has found himself in the doghouse struggling to get club minutes, but for the purposes of the United States Men’s National Team, this shouldn’t matter given his skill-set as a playmaker who can also play on the right or left side of the field.
Mix Diskerud has also begun to win more plaudits due to his playmaking abilities and his clear ability to perform well against strong competition. Recently, Diskerud has reminded people of how Donovan and Dempsey aren’t playmakers and that they somewhat lack the true traits of a playmaker or central attacking midfielder.
Then, there is Benny Feilhaber. It’s unfortunate that after a season of quality passing and good form (not to mention his international record with the United States) that Feilhaber has only been praised or even discussed by the media or the majority of the American fan base after several excellent playoff games for Sporting Kansas City.
Furthermore, many of the people who praised Feilhaber after writing him off for so long seem to have been more interested in the amount of running he put into the second leg of the MLS Cup Semifinal against the Houston Dynamo than his technical ability, passing skills, and vision.
In short, Feilhaber garnered praise recently mostly by running a lot, and for Klinsmann’s entire tenure as coach, there has never been much support for using Feilhaber as a central attacking midfielder between Donovan and Dempsey.
The United States Men’s National Team has seen the most success when Michael Bradley was used as a defensive midfielder and when Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey flanked Benny Feilhaber who was used in the center to orchestrate the passing of the United States and create more scoring opportunities.
Given Freddy Adu’s almost total lack of playing time with Bahia, Adu has been scoffed at by Americans and non-Americans alike, but there’s never been much to suggest that the United States has the collective technical ability as a team to mock or freeze out skilled playmakers who haven’t lived up to people’s expectations or even seen a reasonable amount of club minutes.
When the 2014 World Cup comes around, the only thing that will matter is if the players that are started or used by Jürgen Klinsmann are physically fit to play and if they have the skill level to compete at the international level.
Feilhaber, Diskerud, Corona, and Adu are all skilled players with various club situations and form, and each player is different. The USMNT’s World Cup roster will probably need two or three of those players on the roster as they can all play left, right, or center, and they all bring playmaking qualities that Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, and Landon Donovan don’t bring.
With strikers like Jozy Altidore, Aron Jóhannsson, and Juan Agudelo in the American player pool, using a playmaker behind Altidore and in between Donovan and Dempsey with Michael Bradley and Geoff Cameron or Jermaine Jones in front of the Back Four is a strong tactical set-up to give the USMNT a balanced and talented Front Six that can compete in a World Cup.
Whether one prefers Feilhaber, Diskerud, Corona, or Adu playing as a central attacking midfielder, the United States really does need one of them to connect the defensive midfielders to Dempsey, Donovan, and Altidore. The playmaker will strengthen the passing and the attack of the United States, and it’s time for more people to accept that the use of one is vital to World Cup success and American soccer progress.
With the 2014 World Cup coming up next summer, at the very least Jürgen Klinsmann and Americans should support starting Geoff Cameron and Michael Bradley as a two-man defensive midfield where Cameron hangs back more than Bradley, and Americans should support playing a true playmaker in between Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey behind Jozy Altidore.
This set-up gives the United States defensive coverage and quality passing deep in the American midfield, and it gives the United States three attacking midfielders including a playmaker who can not only pass and attack well but who can ensure that Altidore receives enough service.
The key to this set-up is making a point of starting a true playmaker because no one has any major doubts about the efficacy of Cameron, Bradley, Donovan, Dempsey, and Altidore, even if observers have their own Starting XI preferences.
One of the weak areas for the United States Men’s National Team is the absence of quality passing and significant possession against quality opponents.
Given Michael Bradley’s ability to help to orchestrate passing from the defensive midfielder position, starting three playmakers in a line of three with a second striker and first striker in front of them would be an excellent way to improve the quality of the United States’ passing.
If the United States were to employ this system, it would mean that Michael Bradley would sit directly in front of the Back Four with Joe Corona, Benny Feilhaber, and Mix Diskerud in front of him. Bradley, Corona, Feilhaber, and Diskerud all display lots of movement off the ball, and starting them together would foster a style of fluid passing, which is something that the United States has never displayed unless Freddy Adu or Benny Feilhaber are playing.
Despite the lack of club playing time with Bahia, Freddy Adu is another playmaker who could play in a line of three attacking midfielders at any of the three positions. Adu is controversial due to his lack of club playing time and the amount of clubs that he has played for, but Adu has always performed at the international level for the United States.
Looking more closely at this concept of using a line of three attacking midfielders, starting only one defensive midfielder in front of four defenders is a perfectly acceptable formation that has plenty of defensive-minded players in the line-up. By only using one defensive midfielder, the United States would elevate its play to a superior brand of soccer that produces more scoring chances and more goals.
Based on the teams that have qualified for the 2014 World Cup, the United States will have to look to improve the level of its play in any way that it can in order to keep up with an enormous list of incredibly talented and deep national teams.
With Corona, Feilhaber, and Diskerud playing behind Altidore and Dempsey, the USMNT can make a real attempt to field most of its most talented attacking players without being too weak on the defensive front.
The key to starting three 10s in a line of three is that the players listed as right or left midfielders on paper aren’t wingers or players who are confined to one side of the field; the system is based on the constant movement of all three 10s all over the field with Bradley being heavily involved in the passing of the United States while playing deep to provide the defensive coverage that is needed in front of the Back Four.
Another key to this system is Clint Dempsey’s freedom to go wherever he wants as opposed to just floating around Jozy Altidore. Altidore is a first striker, and his job is to constantly make runs into space and to look to get into scoring positions.
With three playmakers and Dempsey, Altidore doesn’t need to concern himself with dropping deep to receive the ball where his back would be to goal. Altidore should be the focal point of the attack without having to waste his time and energy by shielding defenders off him with his back to goal.
Not many defenders are going to be able to outrun or outmuscle Altidore, and these qualities should be directed toward the goal instead of having Altidore post defenders up like a center or power forward in basketball.
No top national team has their strikers playing with their back to goal except for the rare times that a striker receives a pass with his back to goal and takes the defender off the turn.
Strikers playing with their backs to goal is a very English and long ball style of play that always gets destroyed by elite national teams on the international level. The purpose of using multiple creative midfielders who are playmakers is to set the striker free to hunt with his eyes toward the goal.
The attacking midfielders are there for possession, creativity, and quick ball movement. Altidore is there to put the ball in the back of the net, and he has shown that his finishing has become more clinical and more deadly.
Players like Bradley, Dempsey, Corona, Feilhaber, and Diskerud don’t need any charts or strategy explained to them, they just need to be allowed to play the way they want to play: one-to-two touch soccer with constant movement off the ball.
Starting a line of three number 10s makes this style of play possible without being tactically unsound.
While the American defense has been a problem for the United States Men’s National Team, the midfield has also been an enormous problem because the U.S. hasn’t showcased quality passing and combination play at a level that’s good enough for a deep World Cup run.
Setting the defense to the side for the moment, the American midfield is something that can be examined with some basic math.
Normally, a World Cup roster would have eight or perhaps nine midfielders, with three or four of those players being defensive midfielders. If one accepts that Bradley, Jones, Donovan, Diskerud, and Dempsey should all be on the USMNT roster, then three midfield spots are open.
Any honest evaluation of the United States Men’s National Team’s player pool in the midfield reveals Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Landon Donovan, and Clint Dempsey to be players that are probably just too talented and way too capable of playing well against strong competition to leave off the roster.
Therefore, if one looks to add another defensive midfielder to that list, a player like Kyle Beckerman is too big of a liability from an athletic standpoint to put on a World Cup roster.
Beckerman isn’t just a player who isn’t quite quick enough or fast enough to put on a World Cup roster, but he is a player that is totally overmatched in terms of speed, quickness, and agility to really compete outside of MLS and CONCACAF.
Given this reality, the United States needs an additional defensive midfielder on the roster, and the only options are Maurice Edu, Amobi Okugo, Ricardo Clark, Perry Kitchen, Jared Jeffrey, Will Trapp, or Jeremy Hall.
Of course, Geoff Cameron, who has been listed as a defender, can play the midfield destroyer probably better than any American except Bradley, and Cameron has the defensive skills, the technical ability, and the athleticism to perform at the World Cup.
Additionally, another option would be to list Shane O’Neill as a midfielder, in which case he could play as a defensive midfielder, as a center back, or as an outside back.
O’Neill is probably a better defensive midfielder than all of the options listed above with the exception of Cameron, but selecting Beckerman to represent the United States in a World Cup would be a very unrealistic expectation of his ability to really keep up with the speed of international play.
With this information in mind, selecting Shane O’Neill to be the third defensive midfielder along with Bradley and Jones would likely be the wisest course of action, even if many people view it as a risky or crazy selection. O’Neill proved his worth not only in MLS but also for Tab Ramos’s U-20 side.
Turning to the attacking midfielders, by selecting Dempsey and Donovan, the United States is left with two to three roster spots for attacking midfielders, and Mix Diskerud, Joe Corona, and Benny Feilhaber stand out as players who have clearly shown that they have the tools to play at the international level with players like Bradley, Dempsey, and Donovan.
Whether one looks at Brad Davis, Graham Zusi, or Alejandro Bedoya, any realistic examination of the touch, vision, passing ability, and general playing style and technical ability reveals them to be quite a few levels below Diskerud, Corona, and Feilhaber in terms of their ability to receive and release the ball quickly enough to not be overrun by better national teams.
Based on the number of roster spots in the midfield, by selecting Bradley, Jones, O’Neill, Dempsey, Donovan, Feilhaber, Corona, and Diskerud, the USMNT has eight players who fulfill needed roles.
Players like Bradley, Jones, and O’Neill provide defensive coverage in the midfield and serve as passing outlets for the defenders, and they also are key elements to the midfielders’ ability to pass well and keep possession.
With these players providing quality defending and excellent technical ability directly in front of the defense, the need is then to have attacking midfielders who can foster quality passing that leads to possession and the creation of goal-scoring opportunities.
Dempsey, Donovan, and Corona are all attacking midfielders who can play centrally, out right, or out left, but Donovan and Dempsey are really better suited to line up out wide with lots of freedom to roam or as second strikers with the same freedom.
On the other hand, Corona is also a true playmaker like Diskerud and Feilhaber, and the inclusion of Dempsey, Donovan, Corona, Diskerud, and Feilhaber on the roster gives the USMNT many line-up options in the midfield in front of the defensive midfielders.
Even Feilhaber and Diskerud are capable of playing on the right or on the left because their style of play is predicated on showing for the ball and moving into space wherever they are needed.
Any brand of soccer based on confining attacking midfielders to a specific side of the attacking half or the attacking third eliminates any fluidity or quality to the passing play of the team.
Diskerud, Corona, and Feilhaber are players who allow the United States to field a Front Six where players with excellent technical ability, creativity, and agility can play in front of defensive midfielders like Jones and Bradley who provide a combination of defensive ability, running endurance, and passing ability that the attacking midfielders don’t have.
When it comes time to select midfielders for the USMNT’s World Cup roster, players like O’Neill, Diskerud, Corona, and Feilhaber are needed both as support and as substitutes for players like Bradley, Jones, Dempsey, and Donovan.
Diskerud’s international play in recent months seems to have convinced the American soccer media and the American fan base of his importance as a playmaker, and the play of Feilhaber and Corona for club and country greatly overshadows anything Brad Davis, Graham Zusi, or Alejandro Bedoya have ever done.
Stuart Holden showed just how important a complete midfielder can be for the United States, and young or not, Benji Joya is the only other midfielder in the American player pool who brings Holden’s combination of attacking and defending to the midfield.
While Michael Bradley is often described as a box-to-box midfielder, his attacking ability and creativity aren’t on par with Holden’s or Joya’s, and this is why Joya would be an inspired and needed selection for the 2014 World Cup.
Like it or not, there’s no room for Zusi, Davis, Bedoya, or Kljestan on the USMNT’s World Cup roster because they can’t outplay Diskerud, Corona, Feilhaber, Joya, and O’Neill.
Jozy Altidore, Aron Jóhannsson, and Juan Agudelo will need attacking midfielders and playmakers who can provide them with the service they need to score in the World Cup, and the likes of Davis, Zusi, and Bedoya just don’t match up to the U.S.’ better attacking midfielders that have proven that they can perform at a higher level.
To explain this gap in skill more clearly for the purpose of avoiding any misunderstanding, consider the following:
If Bradley, Dempsey, or Donovan are injured or suspended, the United States will need players like Shane O’Neill, Joe Corona, Mix Diskerud, Benny Feilhaber, and Benji Joya to compete against quality opposition.
On the off chance that Bradley, Dempsey, and Donovan couldn’t play, the U.S. could field a Front Six made up of O’Neill, Joya, Corona, Diskerud, Feilhaber, and Altidore and still be competitive, but the same thing couldn’t be said of fielding Jones, Kljestan, Bedoya, Zusi, Davis, and Altidore.
The collective thinking of the American soccer media and the American fan base is largely a parroting of Jürgen Klinsmann’s own opinions, and the reason that this is so is because many people feel that Klinsmann’s playing resume makes his coaching decisions infallible.
This refusal to question Klinsmann’s selections or to evaluate players based on their physical gifts and skills is probably the root of the problem of the United States’ tendency to underperform as far as the quality of the soccer goes.
Many people use Klinsmann’s win/loss record as evidence of the success of his methods and of his player selections, but consistent winning against better national teams requires improving the United States’ quality of play, and the steady improvement of Bradley, Dempsey, and Altidore has nothing to do with Klinsmann.
The collective skill-level of the players on the national team is directly related to the ability of the United States to begin to consistently challenge and beat better national teams.
If you were to ask a cross section of American soccer journalists who they thought should be the midfielders on the roster, you would likely find that the responses were consistent with whichever players Klinsmann had most recently called up to the national team.
Therefore, the collective thinking is probably that Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Kyle Beckerman, Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Graham Zusi, Mix Diskerud, and Fabian Johnson should be the USMNT’s midfielders, but Beckerman and Zusi can be immediately removed from the roster in favor of Corona and O’Neill, Okugo, Kitchen, or Edu.
The problem with the collective thinking is that if Bradley, Donovan, or Dempsey is unavailable for a game, then the national team is without viable substitutes.
By putting Feilhaber, Corona, and Diskerud on the roster, you ensure that those three players are available to allow the United States to pass well and create scoring chances.
While the collective thinking is that Bradley, Jones, Beckerman, Dempsey, Donovan, Zusi, Diskerud, and F. Johnson should be the USMNT’s midfielders, World Soccer Source believes that Bradley, Jones, O’Neill, Joya, Dempsey, Donovan, Corona, Feilhaber, and Diskerud represent a group of players who have the tools necessary to compete in the World Cup.
The decision is yours, but there isn’t any real evidence that Zusi and Beckerman can outperform talented and proven players like Corona, Feilhaber, Joya, or O’Neill against higher-level competition.
Then, there’s always Freddy Adu who has shown the ability to open up games and create scoring chances against top competition. Not a bad option to put on the roster given the lack of technical ability and creativity on the United States Men’s National Team.
Can Graham Zusi and Alejandro Bedoya really outplay Freddy Adu? The evidence says they can’t.
The good thing about Adu is that he can be listed as a forward in place of Terrence Boyd, which gives the USMNT four forwards: Jozy Altidore, Juan Agudelo, Aron Jóhannsson, and Freddy Adu.
This group of players leaves 10 rosters spots open for seven defenders and three goalkeepers, and O’Neill and Cameron triple as center backs, as defensive midfielders, and as outside backs.
Coming into October of 2013, and since the United States has already qualified for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, here is the Best Starting XI that Jürgen Klinsmann can start for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers in October.
Michael Bradley and John Anthony Brooks are currently injured with an ankle injury and elbow injury, respectively, but here is the best Starting XI that the United States could use, if both players are healthy in time.
This starting line-up combines proven-players with players who have shown a real ability to offer the United States Men’s National Team upgrades in certain areas, most notably in the defense and at the playmaker role.
The national team must keep starting its very best players like Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Landon Donovan, and Jozy Altidore, but it should fill the rest of the starting line-up with new players with the tools to compete at the next level.
Here is World Soccer Source’s Best Starting XI for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers:
GOALKEEPER: Brad GUZAN
Chosing Brad Guzan over Tim Howard is a tough decision because Tim Howard excels at making game-saving stops that register high on the difficulty scale. There is some concern that Howard doesn’t always come off his line to collect balls played in the air fairly close to his own six-yard box, but goalkeepers are often judged too harshly. Nevertheless, it’s time to see if Guzan comes off his line better than Howard, and if Guzan is better at saving shots from distance than Howard is. Either way, this choice between two excellent keepers is a toss up, and until Guzan plays more, it will be hard to determine which keeper should start. Starting Guzan isn’t risky, nor is it a drop off in skill.
RIGHT BACK: DeAndre YEDLIN / Andrew FARRELL
The time for Jürgen Klinsmann to let DeAndre Yedlin or Andrew Farrell play right back is now. The United States has qualified for the 2014 World Cup, and both Farrell and Yedlin are better than Brad Evans. Both players are more technically-skilled than Evans, and both can stay with faster and more-skillful attackers better than Evans. Although Geoff Cameron can play right back quite well, Cameron has shown how he excels as a midfield destroyer with his tackling, passing, and running, so it’s better to let a natural and explosive outside back like Yedlin or Farrell play right back. Both Yedlin and Farrell are extremely fast and technically-skilled, but Farrell’s tackling is likely better than Yedlin’s (but Yedlin’s defense and tackling are quite good). Time will tell if Yedlin or Farrell is better or if they are just different, and time will tell if Farrell proves to be better suited to be a starting USMNT center back.
CENTER BACK: Shane O’NEILL
Just like DeAndre Yedlin and Andrew Farrell are legitimate options for the United States and likely upgrades at right back, Shane O’Neill is an upgrade at center back to both Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler. O’Neill is a better defender and a better soccer player in general, and O’Neill possesses a complete skill-set that allows him to play better defense and pass and dribble out of trouble better than Gonzalez and Besler. Both Gonzalez and Besler have become familiar to American soccer fans, and the recent winning streak makes people afraid to accept the possibility that there is another level above that at which Besler and Gonzalez play.
CENTER BACK: John Anthony BROOKS
Assuming he’s healthy, John Anthony Brooks should start at left center back for the USMNT. Brooks is a starting center back for Hertha Berlin at 20 years old, and he was named to the Bundesliga Team of the Week twice already this season. These facts combined with his agility, size, skill on the ball, and athleticism are just too much to ignore, and Brooks showed that he was ready to play international soccer against top competition when he started against Bosnia and Herzegovina.
LEFT BACK: Chris KLUTE
Chris Klute is the best American left back in the American player pool. Klute offers better defending and more speed than Fabian Johnson or DaMarcus Beasley, and Klute is a constant attacking threat who creates a lot of goals. Klute’s defending and attacking skills combined with his athleticism (most notably his world-class speed) make him too good to not incorporate into the national team now. Skeptics will argue that Klute is inexperienced, but since any defender has the potential to make a mistake or be beaten in any game, the possibility that a new defender may be beaten a few times is just an irrational excuse to ignore a talented player at a position where the United States is weak.
DEFENSIVE MIDFIELDER: Geoff CAMERON
Geoff Cameron’s passing, tackling, skill on the ball, and tireless and smooth running make for an excellent midfield destroyer to patrol the back of the midfield, while Michael Bradley has more freedom to attack and drop back as he sees fit. Jermaine Jones also likes to participate in the attack when he plays for the United States, and starting Cameron over Jones prevents a hole from being left in front of the American defense.
BOX-TO-BOX MIDFIELDER: Michael BRADLEY
Michael Bradley is a defensive midfielder who was always skilled as a passer and as a defender, and his trademark was his ability to run for the full 90 minutes participating all over the field. Bradley’s passing and technical ability have progressively improved, and Bradley’s forays into the attack and his combination play with Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan make him the ideal player to provide Cameron passing and defensive support deeper in the midfield, in addition to providing the link from Cameron to the attacking midfielders and strikers.
RIGHT MIDFIELDER: Landon DONOVAN
Landon Donovan’s skill-level and experience are a vital component of the USMNT, and using Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan together as attacking midfielders gives the United States good passing and excellent attacking in the midfield. Donovan’s speed and his ability to score and set up goals are well-documented. Starting Dempsey and Donovan together should be a priority for Jürgen Klinsmann.
PLAYMAKER: Benny FEILHABER
Benny Feilhaber brings playmaking qualities that Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan don’t have. Whereas Donovan and Dempsey are skilled-attackers who can score or help to create goals, Feilhaber is an actual playmaker who makes sure players like Jozy Altidore, Landon Donovan, and Clint Dempsey receive service when they make their runs in the final third. Feilhaber is a proven-performer, and he allows Dempsey and Donovan to focus on scoring goals and combining with Altidore, rather than being tasked with providing all of the playmaking responsibilities.
LEFT MIDFIELDER: Clint DEMPSEY
Whether Clint Dempsey is playing as an attacking midfielder out on the left or playing as a second striker, his role is a fluid role built around passing and moving throughout the attack in an effort to score or set up goals. As the best American soccer player ever and the most skilled American player now, Clint Dempsey is an obvious inclusion in any USMNT Starting XI that is looking to have the United States playing its best soccer.
STRIKER: Jozy ALTIDORE
Jozy Altidore has shown that he has blossomed into a more-refined striker with improved technical-skill and better movement off the ball; Altidore has also become a more aggressive striker and a more ruthless finisher who can score with both feet and his head. Altidore’s scoring drought with Sunderland is a product of no longer playing for a team like AZ Alkmaar that places a premium on quality passing and good technical play. Sunderland’s poor form doesn’t change the fact that Altidore has become a complete striker who brings skill, athleticism, and size to the front of the American attack.