MLS Improving from Hacking to Skill Soccer

MLS Is Improving from Hacking to Skill Soccer

The level of play in Major League Soccer has improved, but the level still falls short of the top European and Latin American soccer leagues. The major difference, which stands out immediately, is that the control and smoothness of the passing is not at the same high level as those other leagues. It’s not the speed of the passing per se that makes the passing smoother because the English Premier League has almost out of control and overly fast passing where many of the teams look like there are rushing their passing and putting too much power behind their passes. But, anyone watching the passing in La Liga, the Bundesliga, Serie A, Ligue 1, etc can see that each player normally takes a maximum of two touches when the ball is passed to them: one touch to control the pass and one touch to play the ball to a teammate.

MLS is still improving in this regard. MLS games feature more balls played in the air, more header sequences, and more instances of the ball bouncing around in a chaotic fashion. You could say that the passing and ball control in MLS needs to settle down without transforming into slow, listless, and boring play. By all accounts MLS continues to improve and the overall skill of the players both American and non-American continues to improve, but it is still true that too many players who base their play on physicality over technical skill and athleticism.

The next area where MLS needs to improve is curbing the roughness and dirty, violent play. There’s a difference between some pushing and taking out people’s legs from behind. There’s also a feeling that too many coaches, players, and media members believe that rough tackles are a part of the game. Nobody said slide tackles or shielding the ball don’t belong in soccer, but can’t we draw the line and slide tackling players’ legs from out from behind them without getting the ball. Can’t MLS refs give more cards for stomping player’s ankles, feet, and legs.

MLS fans can now enjoy more technical and creative players who can beat defenders with individual skill and quickly combine with teammates, and while this is great, too many talentless hackers and dirty players are uglying up MLS games with dangerous play that they feel is part of the game. The reality for these players is that you won’t see elite enforcers around the world playing quite as dirty as they do. Of course, any soccer fan can list certain elite players who are dirty hackers, but by and large, this type of thuggery is not allowed by other elite players who keep these hackers in check.

MLS has definitely seen a bump in attractive and creative play, and an excellent example of this is Jozy Altidore, who has been showcasing a new dimension of playmaking and passing to his game. Altidore is fairly or unfairly seen as a player whose play is based on size and strength, but his transformation to a smoother, more refined player signals a change to more skillful play in MLS, that is separate from the continued influx of technical players from outside of the United States.



The Arrival of Andrew Farrell


Throughout this Major League Soccer season, Andrew Farrell earned praise for his two-way effectiveness as a right back for the New England Revolution.

The New England Revolution were knocked out of the MLS Playoffs last night, but Farrell has raised his game to a new level.

Amidst all of the just praise for DeAndre Yedlin, Andrew Farrell has truly cemented his status as an outstanding American talent who lived up to his hype and exceeded it.

Farrell is technically a center back, but Farrell not only embraced the right back role, but he also developed into an international-caliber outside back.

He used his skill on the ball and his blazing speed to burst through the opposition with forays downfield and also to hunt down attackers on the defensive end.

Even more so than in all of his quality and impressive performances throughout the regular reason, Farrell raised his game to a new level in the MLS Playoffs where he showed how well he could shut down attackers and how much he could impose his will on the game in the attack and in the defense.

While American defenders like Geoff Cameron, Chris Klute, Shane O’Neill, and DeAndre Yedlin have also shown this quality, Farrell showed a real ability to dribble and pass out of trouble deep in the heart of his own defense, as opposed to just sending clearances 50 yards downfield.

Farrell certainly knows when to just send a ball way out of the defense or play a ball out of bounds, but the combination of being able to dribble and pass out of the back combined with the instinct to know when to send a ball out of the danger area is something Jürgen Klinsmann and the United States Men’s National Team can use.

World Soccer Source covered Chris Klute extensively this season in addition to highlighting the excellent qualities in DeAndre Yedlin’s game as a right back, but Andrew Farrell is equally as worthy of praise as Klute and Yedlin.

Yedlin and Klute will both be upgrades at the outside back positions for the United States, but Andrew Farrell is a monster who combines an intimidating combination of strength, size, and speed with a cultivated technical skill-set that makes him too good to leave off the the USMNT anymore.

When Klinsmann was watching Matt Besler, Graham Zusi, Benny Feilhaber, and Juan Agudelo last night, there’s no way that he didn’t notice the impressive play of Andrew Farrell who is certainly someone who was being monitored and scouted anyway.

At the conclusion of Andrew Farrell’s rookie season in MLS, it’s safe to say that Farrell is for real and that he can certainly excel at the international level and outside of MLS.

Andrew Farrell is a freak of nature and his rookie season was a tour de force that displayed great attacking and skill on the ball along with strong defending and tackling without recklessness


Obvious Problems with the May/June USMNT Roster


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Time for Jürgen Klinsmann to return to formula that works. © Martin Meissner / AP Photo/
Time for Jürgen Klinsmann to return to a formula that works. © Martin Meissner / AP Photo/


The United States Men’s National Team roster selected to participate in two friendlies (Belgium and Germany) and three World Cup qualifying games (Jamaica, Panama, Honduras) contains several solid, international-caliber selections, but the roster also fails to correct weaknesses in the balance and technical ability of previous rosters.

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Updated USMNT 2013 Gold Cup Roster Proposal


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Joe Corona
Joe Corona


Jürgen Klinsmann stated that the American players called up to the roster to face Belgium and Germany would likely be the same players who would appear on the Gold Cup roster. This plan seems to be flawed because the performance of players against Belgium and Germany should affect who Klinsmann calls up to the United States Men’s National Team for the 2013 Gold Cup.

In light of the performances of certain players in Major League Soccer and other leagues and the fact that Klinsmann announced that Stuart Holden would be on the Gold Cup roster, World Soccer Source proposes the following 23 players for the United States’ Gold Cup roster:

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MLS Players Who Belong on the USMNT



Gale Agbossoumonde. (Source: Toronto F.C.)
Gale Agbossoumonde. (Source: Toronto F.C.)


Despite criticism of the quality of Major League Soccer, there have always been talented American players in MLS who have been able to perform and excel at the international level. Here are several American MLS players who the USMNT can use and why they need to be used by Jürgen Klinsmann:


Juan Agudelo


The U.S. Men’s National Team is simply not good enough to not need strikers of Juan Agudelo’s technical ability, fearlessness, nose for goal, and creativity—not to mention that all of these playing qualities are found in a quick, tall, fast, and strong athlete.


Juan Agudelo is way too skilled and athletic to not play for a team like the United States which not only struggles to score goals or produce a technically-advanced style of play but that also is regarded by national teams and people from around the world as a physically-fit but somewhat technically weak national squad.


George John

* From a previous World Soccer Source article found here .

For several years now, it’s been unclear why Geoff Cameron, Omar Gonzalez, and George John weren’t all incorporated into the USMNT and steadily given more playing time. It took Klinsmann about five or six months to even call Cameron and Gonzalez into a USMNT camp, but Klinsmann essentially totally ignores John besides all of the praise of his play from players, coaches, scouts, and foreign clubs. The Greek national team has even expressed interest in having John play for them. Like Cameron and Gonzalez, John is technically-skilled with the ball while also being a strong defender, and he has a level of athleticism above players like Clarence Goodson and Carlos Bocanegra. Matt Besler of Sporting Kansas City has been used by Klinsmann, but John is visibly more talented than Besler who is largely one-footed.


Perry Kitchen


The U.S. Men’s National Team needs Perry Kitchen. If Michael Bradley were ever injured or suspended (like in the 2009 Confederations Cup Final when Brazil scored three second half goals), then the United States would only have Jermaine Jones as a technically-skilled defensive midfielder to replace Bradley. While Edu is a much better player than many Americans give him credit for, Kitchen is a player who can bring the U.S. another effective defensive midfielder with advanced two-footed skill on the ball, and there is room for Kitchen on a 23 man roster. Kitchen’s ability to play center back along with his comfort on the ball make him a player that is needed in a balanced USMNT roster with skilled replacements at every position.


Benny Feilhaber


Benny Feilhaber (along with Freddy Adu) is the only American playmaker who has ever demonstrated with the national team that he has the ability to bring the technical ability needed to not only play at Michael Bradley’s, Clint Dempsey’s, and Landon Donovan’s level, but also to bring the vision and passing ability to break down defenses in a way that the other three midfielders listed above can’t. Once a player consistently performs well for the USMNT for six years even against the most elite competition in international soccer (and he’s under 30 years old), there really is not a good excuse for not including a player like Feilhaber on the roster, unless you have better playmakers who are improving the U.S.’ passing and setting up goals. The USMNT does not.


Gale Agbossoumonde


Agbossoumonde has everything you could want in a center back: defensive instincts, skill on the ball, speed, controlled tackling, strong heading ability, lateral quickness, and calmness. Agbossoumonde is young, but he is way too talented and athletically gifted to ignore. Now playing in MLS at 21 years old, Agbossoumonde has demonstrated in a string of starts that he deserves to be strongly considered for the upcoming friendlies, World Cup qualifying, and the Gold Cup. It’s important to give Agbossoumonde his first USMNT cap, so that he can serve the American defense for years to come.


Andrew Farrell


Andrew Farrell’s versatility, skill, speed, and strength is needed on a USMNT with a history of poor defensive performances. The sooner players like Farrell are incorporated into the national team, the sooner the players without the skill and athleticism to be effective defenders against elite attackers will be phased out of the U.S. Men’s National Team.



Amobi Okugo


Amobi Okugo now plays as a center back after being converted from a defensive midfielder, but he can certainly play both. Okugo certainly is the type of player the USMNT needs: a fast, technically-skilled, two-footed, quick, tall, and defensively strong center back. Okugo continues to improve as a center back, and his style of play based on skill plus athleticism is a major upgrade from many of the American center backs in the past who simply headed balls out of the back or cleared the ball 50 yards downfield. Okugo can help prevent the United States from being in the situation it was in against Mexico where the United States needed Maurice Edu at center back and defensive midfielder at the same time (instead Klinsmann had to use both Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu as defensive midfielders to protect Matt Besler at center back).


Chris Klute


Chris Klute has all of the technical and physical tools to perform well at the international level. Klute as an outside back brings a strong combination of attacking and defensive skill. Whether Klute is just included in a USMNT camp to be looked at more closely or put on the roster for the upcoming friendlies or even considered for the Gold Cup or World Cup qualifying, American soccer fans should keep an eye on Chris Klute. There is often talk of putting certain MLS players on the USMNT, but their technical abilty and athleticism doesn’t translate to the international level. Klute just might be a sleeper who has all of the tools and gifts to play international soccer.


José Villarreal


José Villarreal is exactly what the United States Men’s National Team needs: a creative, quick, aggressive, and technically-skilled striker. Villarreall has garnered a lot of attention for his play in MLS, in Under-20 World Cup qualifying, and his play in the CONCACAF Champions League. If one watches Villarreal closely in games for the LA Galaxy and reviews his highlights, it becomes clear why he’s knocking on the door of the USMNT roster; he’s probably ready to play for the USMNT right now.


Honorable Mention:

Zach Loyd

Kofi Sarkodie

DeAndre Yedlin

Dax McCarty

Jeremy Hall


EDIT: DeAndre Yedlin belongs on the USMNT now. His combination of attacking skill and bravado combined with his speed and defensive tenacity and timing makes him a modern outside back who the USMNT sorely needs.


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USMNT Positional Depth Charts: Center Back



Gale Agbossoumonde. (Source: Toronto F.C.)
Gale Agbossoumonde. (Source: Toronto F.C.)


It’s a mystery why  Jürgen Klinsmann doesn’t always put Geoff Cameron, Omar Gonzalez, and George John on the United States Men’s National Team roster as three of the four center backs. In the list below, World Soccer Source ranks George John fourth in the USMNT center back depth chart (below Gale Agbossoumonde). Both Soccer America and Soccer By Ives have ranked American center backs, but World Soccer Source believes those rankings don’t include many of the center backs with the athleticism and skill to help the United States improve as a national team on the international level.

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USMNT: The Best 40 American Soccer Players (May 2013)

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Freddy Adu (Source: Esporte Clube Bahia)
Freddy Adu (Source: Esporte Clube Bahia)


 USMNT: The Best 40 American Soccer Players (May 2013)

*This list is a counter argument to the ASN Top 100 put out by the website, American Soccer Now, on a monthly basis, except for April. The next ASN Top 100 comes out in May.

*Jürgen Klinsmann doesn’t use many of these players on the USMNT, and that has caused some less than stellar USMNT performances.


1. Clint DEMPSEY (Tottenham)

2. Michael BRADLEY (Roma)

3. Landon DONOVAN (LA Galaxy)

4. Freddy ADU (E.C. Bahia)

5. Benny FEILHABER (Sporting Kansas City)


6. Joe CORONA (Tijuana)

7. Mix DISKERUD (Rosenborg)

8. Juan AGUDELO (Chivas USA)

9. Terrence BOYD (Rapid Wien)

10. Geoff CAMERON (Stoke City)

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USMNT Center Backs: Start Gale Agbossoumonde and Andrew Farrell


Gale Agbossoumonde. (Source: Toronto F.C.)
Gale Agbossoumonde. (Source: Toronto F.C.)



With Geoff Cameron having a natural tendency to making dribbling forays out of the back, using Cameron as a right back allows the United States Men’s National Team to attack wide and defend well along the flanks.

Many of the best teams in the world put their best attacker out left, so the player can cut onto their right foot as the player attacks the goal by going at the center of the defense.

Using Cameron out right would allow the United States to have a skilled and athletic defender marking this type of attack by either forcing the player out wide toward the sideline or into the center of the defense which should be guarded by Gale Agbossoumonde and Andrew Farrell.

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Changes: An updated USMNT roster proposal


Benny Feilhaber. (Photo: Reuters)
Benny Feilhaber. (Photo: Reuters)


Roughly a year ago, Jürgen Klinsmann suggested that the problem with the United States Men’s National Team was that the team needed to be “an edge more nastier” and work the referees more.

That tactic seems to have not worked.

Klinsmann once famously said “Anyone can play left back,” and if that was his attitude in a World Cup qualifier, then inexperienced players with a high-skill level deserve a shot in the upcoming friendlies with Belgium and Germany.

Since Klinsmann’s approach to coaching the United States Men’s National Team has achieved no real progress in improving the technical ability of the team, this writer would contend that essentially tossing in a large group of new players into the deep end against Belgium and Germany would at least offer the potential to see some improvement at various positions and in the overall technical ability of the team.

With other CONCACAF teams demonstrating better technical skill in World Cup qualifiers than the United States, the next two friendlies should be used to really take some roster and starting line-up risks just to see what the United States has in the talent pool. Certainly, Germany offers the chance to see new players’ skill level while factoring in nerves and inexperience.

What’s the real harm in really seeing how some totally new and promising players do when thrown into the lion’s den against Germany in an international friendly?

No matter what happens against Belgium or Germany, the United States should fare fine in World Cup qualifiers if it starts Tim Howard, Jonathan Spector, Omar Gonzalez,  Geoff Cameron, Fabian Johnson, Landon Donovan, Michael Bradley, Benny Feilhaber, Clint Dempsey, Juan Agudelo, and Jozy Altidore.

As opposed to what Klinsmann suggested below, a major change in the players included on the United States Men’s National Team as discussed below would seem to be a better strategy to improve the level of play.

Change the players or up the nastiness as suggested in the video below? You decide.










George JOHN




Jonathan SPECTOR







Benji JOYA






Freddy ADU




Terrence BOYD




Possible Starting XI Formation:

Starting XI
Starting XI


USMNT: The Best 30 American Soccer Players

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Clint Dempsey has been the best American soccer player since 2006 and maybe earlier.
Clint Dempsey has been the best American soccer player since 2006 and maybe earlier. © Getty Images


The World Soccer Source Best 30 American Soccer Players

What makes one player better than another player? Good question.

The names on the list are more important than the order as many of these names are drastically different from the first thirty names on American Soccer Now’s Top 100 from February, which asks several writers, pundits, podcasters, ex-players, and analysts to rank American players, but the list does not show how high each panelist ranked each player.


*This World Soccer Source list is based on the criteria of skill, club performances, international performances, current form, and the players’ performances against high-level competition.

*Ultimately, every soccer fan will weigh each criterion higher than others.

*Some people will value the overall skill of the player: meaning the visual impression of how talented the player is in terms of technical ability, movement off the ball, and athleticism compared to quality competition.

*Other people will value consistent playing time at the club level and club form as the most important criterion.

*Still other people will consider how a player has performed against the highest level of international competition over the years, as the most important criterion as few Americans are playing for truly elite club teams: only Michael Bradley is playing in Serie A, Clint Dempsey plays and starts for one of the best teams in the English Premier League, and Jermaine Jones has been consistently playing and performing for one of the best Bundesliga teams, Schalke, for years.

*Keep in mind that a player’s ranking does not necessarily mean that a player is better or worse, based purely on talent, compared to players above or below the player. One excellent example of this is Freddy Adu.

*Observers are always quick to qualify what they say about Freddy Adu with some phrase such as “No one doubts Adu’s ability, but he needs to be more consistent.” Freddy Adu’s last game for the United States Men’s National Team at the senior level was against Mexico in the 2011 Gold Cup Final, but Adu was widely considered the best American player on the field in that game against a Mexican team that was considered much better at that time and even now. What does this say about Freddy Adu compared to other American players? If Adu plays for the United States Men’s National Team rarely, but normally plays well, how high should he be ranked? How much does signing for and playing, even if for a short time, for Benfica matter?

*The performances of the United States Men’s National Team under Jürgen Klinsmann indicate that there is a major problem with how unwilling fans and the media are to accept the need for change, and there is a problem with the way that players are being selected as the United States Men’s National Team has several well-known problems that many observers quickly point out: a weakness in the center of the defense, poor overall passing, lack of goal-scoring chances created, a low number of total goals, and a heavy reliance on Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, and Tim Howard.

*Every soccer fan, coach, player, analyst, and observer has a certain criterion that they value above others, but the most important thing about this list is that the names on the list are more important than the particular numerical ranking that each player is given.

The World Soccer Source Best 30 American Soccer Players:

1. Clint Dempsey (Tottenham; England)

2. Michael Bradley (Roma; Italy)

3. Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy; USA)

4. Tim Howard (Everton; England)

5. Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim; Germany) 


6. Jermaine Jones (Schalke; Germany)

7. Geoff Cameron (Stoke City; England)

8. Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City; USA) 

9. Steve Cherundolo (Hannover; Germany)

10. Terrence Boyd (Rapid Wien; Austria)


11. Juan Agudelo (Chivas USA; USA)

12. Joe Corona (Tijuana; Mexico) 

13. Timothy Chandler (Nürnberg; Germany)

14. Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg; Norway)  

15. Freddy Adu (Philadelphia Union; USA)


16. Brek Shea (Stoke City; England)

17. Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht; Belgium)

18. Herculez Gomez (Santos Laguna; Mexico)

19. Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar; The Netherlands) 

20. Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders; USA) 


21. Eric Lichaj (Aston Villa; England)

22. Maurice Edu (Bursaspor; Turkey: on loan from Stoke City; England) 

23. Jonathan Spector (Birmingham City; England)

24. Brad Guzan (Aston Villa; England)

25. Omar Gonzalez (Los Angeles Galaxy; USA)


26. Joe Gyau (St. Pauli ; on loan from Hoffenheim; Germany) 

27. Jay DeMerit (Vancouver Whitecaps; Canada)  

28. Dax McCarty (New York Red Bulls; USA) 

29. Zach Loyd (FC Dallas; USA)

30. Perry Kitchen (DC United; USA) 


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