The United States Men’s National Team needs Joe Benny Corona in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil because Corona gives Michael Bradley, Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, and Jozy Altidore a creative, two-footed, and one-to-two touch attacking midfielder to play with to give them a critical mass of American players who are skilled on the ball.
As Corona plays either on the left or right wing in addition to playing centrally as a playmaker, Corona is a versatile attacker that can either be a substitute for Donovan or Dempsey or be a playmaker to start in between them or a player to start over Donovan or Dempsey if the circumstances call for it.
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.
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.
Joe Benny Corona is important to the United States Men’s National Team not only because of his abilities as an attacking midfielder but also for his ability to play out right, out left, and in the center as a central attacking midfielder.
Corona is also the logical substitute for Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey as Corona has the ability to bring lots of technical ability, creativity, and quickness to their roles, which have largely been described as irreplaceable.
Given the choice of selecting Joe Corona, Alejandro Bedoya, or Graham Zusi to replace an injured or suspended Donovan or Dempsey, Corona has to be the logical choice due to his ability to fill the roles of Donovan or Dempsey, which requires a combination of quickness and a very high-level of technical ability.
Bedoya’s style of play is more based on cutting to the inside of the field at pace, and Zusi’s style of play is largely based on playing lots of crosses into the penalty box. On the other hand, Corona’s style of play is more based on a combination of quick passing, movement off the ball, and actively looking to score.
In short, Corona can fill Dempsey’s and Donovan’s roles better than Bedoya and Zusi who are each one-dimensional in their own ways. Corona is the obvious substitute for Dempsey and Donovan, and Corona is also a player who can actually play as a central attacking midfielder in between Donovan and Dempsey.
Both Dempsey and Donovan were pioneers for American soccer because of their combination of 1v1 skills, scoring ability, and a fluid style of play that was in lines with elite soccer seen outside of the United States.
Jürgen Klinsmann and the United States Men’s National Team cannot afford to leave Joe Corona off the roster in favor of Graham Zusi or Alejandro Bedoya because they don’t offer the same complete package of attacking midfielder skills that can be used all over the attack.
Mix Diskerud has begun to win Klinsmann’s approval, and it’s time that Klinsmann realizes that he also needs Corona not only for his skill-set and smooth and fluid style of play but also for Corona’s ability to replace Dempsey or Donovan without exposing the United States Men’s National Team to a huge drop in skill out left or out right.
Playmakers are rare, and American playmakers are more so. Joe Corona is a natural playmaker that can also play in wide positions without being a one-dimensional winger who hugs the sideline, dribbles into crowds, or plays blind crosses one after another.
Joe Corona has earned his national team spot, and it’s time that Klinsmann made him a fixture on the USMNT for the good of American soccer.
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.
Despite the possibility of Michael Bradley and John Anthony Brooks still being injured, Jürgen Klinsmann still has a lot of new options for the United States Men’s National Team’s October World Cup qualifiers.
A prudent decision for the future success of the USMNT is for Klinsmann to start many of the proven players who he has chosen to snub in the past, but he should fill the rest of the roster with new players that need to be given experience.
The math on this is simple; Klinsmann has 11 starting line-ups spots that he can reserve for some of the more-experienced American players who he has chosen to not use, and he has 12 roster spots for the new talents in American soccer.
The other alternative is to use the same roster outlined above but start the new players.
If Klinsmann wants to start more-proven players, then this is a topic that can be discussed with specificity.
For example, Klinsmann could start Brad Guzan in goal with Jonathan Spector at right back, Shane O’Neill and Michael Orozco at center back, and Eric Lichaj at left back.
In front of them, Klinsmann can start Geoff Cameron as a defensive midfielder with Joe Benny Corona, Benny Feilhaber, and Mix Diskerud as a line of three attacking midfielders.
Up top, Klinsmann could start Juan Agudelo (if he’s healthy) or Terrence Boyd with Aron Jóhannsson.
The line-up proposed above leaves 11 or 12 roster spots open for Klinsmann, depending on the health of Agudelo.
Starting in the defense, the obvious names are DeAndre Yedlin, Chris Klute, and Andrew Farrell.
This leaves eight or nine roster spots (depending on whether or not Agudelo is healthy) for goalkeepers, midfielders, and forwards.
If there are eight roster spots, calling up Nick Rimando and some other goalkeeper like Clint Irwin, Dan Kennedy, Sean Johnson, Luis Robles, or Tally Hall leaves six more roster spots to fill.
For the final six roster spots, Perry Kitchen as a defensive midfielder, Amobi Okugo as a center back and defensive midfielder, Benji Joya as a midfielder who plays as an attacking midfielder or as a box-to-box midfielder, José Villarreal as a forward or attacking midfielder, Joe Gyau as a winger or forward, and Freddy Adu as midfielder or forward (it’s time for Klinsmann to check in with Adu).
The roster proposed above includes three goalkeepers, four outside backs, four center backs, four forwards, five attacking midfielders, three defensive or box-to-box midfielders (plus Shane O’Neill and Geoff Cameron).
To be clear, the USMNT could start the following fairly-experienced XI below:
Starting Guzan in goal with Spector, O’Neill, Orozco, and Lichaj forming the Back Four should be a strong enough defense to win or at least they should be strong enough to win.
In front of them, Cameron as a defensive midfielder behind a line of three attacking midfielders (Corona, Feilhaber, Diskerud) should be a midfield with a strong defender and good passer patrolling the back with three creative midfielders helping the United States to maintain possession and set up goals.
Up top, Agudelo or Boyd with Jóhannsson is a potent young strike force who at the very least should cause problems for all but the very best of international defenders.
These forwards still have room to improve, but all three of them are real threats on the international level. There is no reason to think that they aren’t capable of easily scoring against CONCACAF opposition unless they simply don’t receive enough service.
Something similar to the roster and starting line-up proposed in this article combines the best of both worlds for the United States Men’s National Team: more-experienced players that Klinsmann hasn’t favored as starters with new talents who can gain experience and help to strengthen the national team.
On the other hand, if Klinsmann wanted to use mainly new and/or younger players, then he could start the following XI:
What Jürgen Klinsmann really needs to learn is whether or not he’s been using the best players and if the new talents or some of the out of favor talents can improve the ability of the USMNT to better compete or win at the highest level against better national teams.
The coach of the United States enjoys using the metaphor about tossing players into the cold water, and with the 2014 World Cup approaching next summer, it’s time to see who the best American soccer players are and prepare them for the big stage.
Jürgen Klinsmann hasn’t been using playmakers in his United States Men’s National Team starting line-ups for the most part, but he did start Mix Diskerud as a playmaker against Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Rather than using true playmakers who have the unique skill-set and abilities to see openings in the defense and play killer final balls, Klinsmann has preferred to use Clint Dempsey or Landon Donovan as second strikers who are tasked with the responsibility of setting up goals for strikers like Jozy Altidore.
The United States has the option of starting a playmaker in between Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan who should be allowed the freedom to roam around in the attack where they see fit, and starting a playmaker would force the opposition to contend with marking Dempsey, Donovan, and Altidore who would all be making final runs.
Recently, Mix Diskerud and Joe Benny Corona have shown how the way that they play the game and the way that they see the game is more along the lines of a playmaker than Dempsey and Donovan, who are really attacking midfielders or second strikers.
American soccer fans and the American soccer media should be mindful that despite the good winning streak under Jürgen Klinsmann, only Benny Feilhaber and to a less extent Freddy Adu have ever really proven that they can excel as playmakers against quality international competition.
Until there is a real contest between Corona, Diskerud, Feilhaber, and Adu, no one will know which American playmaker truly performs the best against international competition.
1.) Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City)
Of all the playmakers, Benny Feilhaber has been the one who has a track record of success on the international level.
There are many journalists and fans who want Feilhaber to play more like a box-to-box midfielder, but this over-emphasis on playing more defense makes little sense especially in a system with one or two defensive midfielders playing in front of four defenders.
Feilhaber should certainly apply defensive pressure on the opposition to make mistakes when they have the ball, but expecting Feilhaber to bring the same amount of defense and tackling that defensive midfielders bring is unnecessary and unreasonable.
Feilhaber’s role is to constantly make himself available as a passing option for his teammates and to facilitate the quick movement of the ball around the field, and he should be focused on doing this and looking to unlock the defense with incisive passes or final balls whenever the opportunity presents itself.
Being a playmaker requires hitting effective and quality passes as soon as the playmaker sees the opening to play the pass, and Feilhaber has been the American playmaker who has the best track record of being able to do that in World Cup games and in other big games.
2.) Freddy Adu (E.C. Bahia)
No one ever questions Freddy Adu’s talent, but he has been on the receiving end of lots of criticism for the amount of club teams that he’s played for and the lack of consistent playing time at the club level.
From the United States Men’s National Team’s perpective, Adu has always shown the ability to not only play up to the level of top competition but also to distinguish himself.
Regardless of Adu’s club history, he remains a special talent blessed with excellent vision, trickery, 1v1 abilities, passing skill, goal-scoring abilities, and great quickness.
The United States is not at the level yet where players of Adu’s individual ability who can win games with one pass, one trick, or one shot can be left off the roster.
Like it or not, the United States will have a hard time beating top national teams in the World Cup without Adu or one of the other playmakers in this article on the national team.
Freddy Adu is a controversial enigma, but if he’s physically fit to play, then his skills are needed by the USMNT.
3.) Joe Benny Corona (Tijuana)
While Benny Feilhaber and Freddy Adu were given the opportunities to show what they could do for the USMNT under Bob Bradley, Joe Benny Corona hasn’t been given the same amount of chances to show Jürgen Klinsmann how he can improve the play of Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, and Jozy Altidore.
Corona has proven himself in the Copa Liberatores against teams like Corinthians, but Corona has only been given limited opportunities to play as a playmaker under Klinsmann.
Based on Corona’s playing-style, his ability to use both feet, his touch, and his ability to score and set up goals when deployed as a number 10, the United States would benefit from seeing what Corona can really do.
With the World Cup one year away, Klinsmann will need players like Corona if he hopes to unlock elite defenses in the World Cup, and if Klinsmann is going to totally freeze out Benny Feilhaber and Freddy Adu.
3.) Mix Diskerud (tied with Joe Benny Corona) (Rosenborg)
Mix Diskerud may be equal to, better than, or worse than Joe Benny Corona, but until Klinsmann really lets both players play more, it’s hard to decide which playmaker is better.
Certainly, Diskerud has shown that his passing, vision, and playmaking abilities are rare in the American player pool, but the way to evaluate playmakers is to play them with the best attacking players on the team and see what happens.
Both Corona and Diskerud haven’t really been started with or seen significant minutes with Bradley, Dempsey, Donovan, and Altidore, and giving them these minutes will help to answer questions about who the best American playmakers are and which ones the USMNT needs.
Benny Feilhaber is the most proven playmaker of all American playmakers, and his play in MLS this season has demonstrated that there is nothing to suggest that he’s experienced any drop in skill or fitness that would somehow make him not play as well now with Bradley, Dempsey, Donovan, and Altidore as he did in the past.
The most bizarre aspect of Klinsmann’s line-ups and formations is why he has refused to use a true playmaker when he is using two defensive midfielders, four defenders, and a goalkeeper. The use of a playmaker to link the defensive midfielders with the attackers and to set up goals is internationally-recognized as a key aspect of soccer tactics.
It’s unclear why a former striker of Klinsmann’s level would not place more of a premium on using true playmakers to set up the U.S.’ strikers and attacking midfielders.
If Jürgen Klinsmann doesn’t want to use Feilhaber and Adu, then he would be wise to put Corona and Diskerud on the roster and actually start one or the other on a consistent basis.
Jürgen Klinsmann announced the United States Men’s National Team roster to face Bosnia-Herzegovina on Wednesday that is made up of proven international players, new international players, and less experienced but stand out performers from the Gold Cup.
While the group of players that Klinsmann has selected contains a good balance of defensive and attacking midfielders in addition to a talented group of strikers, the defensive selections make it harder to predict who will start.
It’s unclear which goalkeeper will start for the United States, but Klinsmann has elected to go with the best two American goalkeepers in Tim Howard and Brad Guzan, in addition to Cody Cropper, the starting goalkeeper from the U-20 ranks.
The selections at right back would appear to be Michael Parkhurst, Brad Evans, Michael Orozco, and Geoff Cameron, but Parkhurst, Orozco, and Cameron are also center backs. Additionally, Cameron is a defensive midfielder who put in a commanding performance at midfield destroyer against Panama in World Cup qualifying, which allowed Michael Bradley more freedom to go forward more with the attack.
Right back is anyone’s guess. Will Klinsmann use Cameron at right back because he plays there for Stoke, or will Klinsmann elect to use Cameron at center back or at the midfield destroyer role?
Klinsmann used Evans at right back in recent World Cup qualifying games and friendlies, but Klinsmann used Parkhurst as the right back in the Gold Cup. This writer thinks that Parkhurst will receive the start at right back.
Center back is more guesswork as well. Michael Orozco showed excellent technical ability along with good athleticism and defending in the Gold Cup, so perhaps Orozco starts at center back along with Cameron. Despite Cameron’s excellent showing as the midfield destroyer where he showed that he was more willing to stay back than Jermaine Jones, the Bradley and Jones tandem as defensive midfielders of the more box-to-box variety seems to be Klinsmann’s duo of choice.
It will be interesting to see if John Anthony Brooks sees any playing time at center back against Bosnia, or perhaps Klinsmann will start him and toss him into the deep end to get him some experience with the USMNT. Playing for the United States cannot be any more pressure than playing in the Bundesliga, but Brooks is young and new to the team.
Fabian Johnson is listed as a midfielder, so perhaps Klinsmann plans to start Edgar Castillo at left back with Fabian Johnson playing as a left winger. When Castillo makes overlapping runs, then Johnson and the defensive midfielders will be there to cover for the space left by Castillo.
Turning to the Front Six, Klinsmann has a variety of choices. He can start Bradley and Jones as the two defensive midfielders, or he could possibly use Cameron as a midfield destroyer with both Jones and Bradley in front of him as box-to-box midfielders. Choosing this second option would alter the defensive back four, and it would likely mean that Fabian Johnson would be moved to left back, as there wouldn’t be space for a left wing with a diamond midfield formation containing Cameron, Bradley, Jones, and a playmaker.
On the other hand, if Bradley and Jones start as the defensive midfielders, then Klinsmann will likely use a line of three attacking midfielders in front of them. If Klinsmann does this, then perhaps the line of three attacking midfielders would be Joe Benny Corona out right, Mix Diskerud in the center, and Fabian Johnson out left.
Jozy Altidore is Klinsmann’s first-choice striker, so Altidore will likely start against Bosnia. Perhaps, another striker will start, but it seems likely that Klinsmann will use the other strikers as substitutes.
Another scenario to consider is one in which either Corona or Diskerud would start in the midfield but not both, and Eddie Johnson and Fabian Johnson would start as the two wingers, even though Eddie Johnson isn’t a winger.
Looking at all of players and positions discussed above, there are a number of possible line-ups that Klinsmann might use. Below are several options:
Making an improved 23-man USMNT roster is much easier than choosing the best Starting XI.
The primary difficulty now is not finding quality American players but rather cutting the pool down to 23 players and deciding how many new players should receive roster spots.
Any national team roster normally contains three goalkeepers, four outside backs, four center backs, 4 defensive midfielders, four attacking midfielders, and four forwards, but frequently players can play more than one position so the amount of players at each position can vary.
At goalkeeper, Tim Howard and Brad Guzan are clearly the best two American goalkeepers (excluding Brad Friedel), and the only decision for Jürgen Klinsmann to make is who the the third goalkeeper should be. Maybe it should be Nick Rimando or some other goalkeeper like Clint Irwin, Dan Kennedy, Tally Hall, Sean Johnson, or Luis Robles, but perhaps Cody Cropper or some other young goalkeeper should receive the third goalkeeper spot.
When selecting center backs, a wise decision would be to have four center backs. The primary center backs to choose from for the USMNT are Geoff Cameron, George John, Omar Gonzalez, Michael Orozco, Michael Parkhurst, Tim Ream, and Matt Besler. These center backs are some of the more experienced center backs that aren’t too slow for or not skilled-enough for international play.
Additionally, there are younger center backs like Shane O’Neill, Andrew Farrell, Amobi Okugo, Gale Agbossoumonde, and Caleb Stanko who are worthy of a look. Assuming John Anthony Brooks plays for the United States, which isn’t definite, he also has to be strongly considered as a front-runner for one of the four spots.
Therefore, at center back, the coaching staff of the USMNT has at least 12 players to look at without doing more extensive scouting of all of the other options.
When choosing four center backs, the final decision comes down to deciding which center backs have the defensive instincts and fundamentals combined with the technical ability and athleticism to realistically be able to compete at the international level.
Outside back is an area of some concern for the United States. Without any exploration of new players, the obvious starting point is to choose from Eric Lichaj, Jonathan Spector, Timothy Chandler, and Fabian Johnson, but then one has to strongly consider new players like Chris Klute, DeAndre Yedlin, and Andrew Farrell. Furthermore, Steve Cherundolo when healthy is still likely the best American outside back.
The United States has several quality defensive midfielders, and Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Geoff Cameron, and Maurice Edu are the first names that come to mind. There are additionally some MLS defensive midfielders like Perry Kitchen, Jared Jeffrey, and Jeremy Hall who need to be looked at.
Without even including Shane O’Neill and Caleb Stanko, who were listed above in the center back section, Jürgen Klinsmann has seven defensive midfielders to choose from for four spots.
Just looking at this list of defensive midfielders, Bradley, Jones, Cameron, and one other player are the obvious choices.
At the very least, Bradley, Jones, Cameron, and Edu are a good starting point unless Klinsmann is willing to pick one of the newer defensive midfielders instead of Edu.
Benji Joya falls in between the realm of the defensive midfielders and the attacking midfielders. Joya is somewhat more of an attacking midfielder than he is a defensive midfielder, even though he has stated that he is a holding midfielder. Joya has also stated that he can play a variety of positions. A young, complete midfielder like Joya is another name that deserves serious consideration for the USMNT because he can bring defensive coverage and excellent passing and attacking skills to the American midfield.
The decisions now are attacking decisions.
For a country that has a reputation for not having very technically-skilled players, the United States has more quality attacking midfielders than it has roster spots. Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan should be obvious choices, and then the team realistically needs to select two playmakers. The obvious group of playmakers to choose from includes Benny Feilhaber, Joe Benny Corona, Mix Diskerud, and Freddy Adu.
While contending that Corona and Diskerud should be the playmakers on the roster is a logical and good decision, both Feilhaber and Adu have demonstrated their ability to perform well against strong opponents in international play.
Choosing Feilhaber should be a much easier choice than it appears to be for Klinsmann because Feilhaber has an excellent track record at the international level, and his comfort on the ball, passing ability, set piece taking, and his excellent shooting skills are quite evident.
Nevertheless, Corona and Diskerud have recently shown their ability to bring strong playmaking qualities to the United States, but of all of the playmakers, Feilhaber has the most international experience and the most proven-ability on the international level.
Additionally, the USMNT has wingers like Brek Shea and Joe Gyau in the player pool who can bring speed and skill as well attacking strength out wide.
At striker, the United States actually has more than four capable and effective strikers. The player pool includes Jozy Altidore, Juan Agudelo, Terrence Boyd, Eddie Johnson, Herculez Gomez (injured), and the pool has newer strikers like Mario Rodriguez, José Villarreal, Alonso Hernandez, Gyasi Zardes, Teal Bunbury, Aron Jóhannsson, and Tony Taylor. With the exception of Villarreal, those are all first strikers including Tony Taylor, but a roster normally has four forwards who are not always just first strikers.
The goal is to close the gap with the world’s best national teams, and Jürgen Klinsmann’s roster selections always contain way too many players that are solid at the club level but lacking that next level of skill and athleticism needed to do battle with elites and magicians.
The next step for Jürgen Klinsmann should be to at least call up all of his players with the most proven-ability at the international level, and he also needs to play them together. The starting line-up of proven-players would be something like this formation below:
Tim Howard; Jonathan Spector, Michael Orozco, Maurice Edu, Fabian Johnson; Geoff Cameron, Michael Bradley; Landon Donovan, Benny Feilhaber, Clint Dempsey; Jozy Altidore.
On the other hand, if the USMNT was willing to use more inexperienced players in the defense to try and improve the level of play of the United States, then perhaps this line-up below would be a good place to start: