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.
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.
When the United States Men’s National Team faces off against Scotland later this week, there is a possibility that Eric Lichaj, an American outcast under Jürgen Klinsmann, will be given the start at right back, even though Brad Evans has been the favored right back under Klinsmann.
Conventional wisdom would seem to indicate that Tim Howard will start in goal, but there is a very remote possibility that Sean Johnson or Bill Hamid could start in goal.
Looking over the center back options, Geoff Cameron and John Anthony Brooks will likely start together, but it’s possible that Omar Gonzalez will pair with one or the other instead.
Given the fact that Fabian Johnson is listed as a midfielder on the USMNT roster, it’s unclear whether or not DaMarcus Beasley or Fabian Johnson will start at left back. Beasley has been the preferred choice under Klinsmann in recent months, but maybe Klinsmann would like to get another look at Johnson at left back with Brooks and Cameron at center back.
Therefore, a possible starting Back Four against Scotland could be Lichaj (right back), Cameron (center back), Brooks (center back), and Johnson (left back).
Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones are Klinsmann’s preferred two-man defensive midfielder partnership, but perhaps Klinsmann will just start Bradley as the lone defensive midfielder to make room for both Jozy Altidore and Aron Jóhannsson to start at striker.
The most likely scenario would be for both Bradley and Jones to start as defensive midfielders with Jóhannsson being placed somewhere in the line of three attacking midfielders in front of the two-man defensive midfield.
Clint Dempsey is likely a lock in the starting line-up, as he should be, but where Dempsey will be deployed in the midfield is unclear. Dempsey could start out left, out right, or in the center.
As the line of three attacking midfielders (assuming Klinsmann uses this formation), Clint Dempsey, Mix Diskerud, and Alejandro Bedoya or Brek Shea is a possible option.
Unless Klinsmann wants to give another striker the start, Jozy Altidore will likely be starting as the lone striker.
Taking all of this into account, it’s possibly that the following USMNT Starting XI will take the field against Scotland:
Tim HOWARD; Eric LICHAJ, Geoff CAMERON, John Anthony BROOKS, Fabian JOHNSON; Michael BRADLEY, Jermaine JONES; Aron JÓHANNSSON, Mix DISKERUD, Clint DEMPSEY; Jozy ALTIDORE.
Predicting the Starting XI that Jürgen Klinsmann will select is difficult to do, but World Soccer Source would like to see the following Starting XI:
Tim HOWARD; Eric LICHAJ, Geoff CAMERON, John Anthony BROOKS, Fabian JOHNSON; Michael BRADLEY; Brek SHEA, Mix DISKERUD, Clint DEMPSEY; Jozy ALTIDORE, Aron JÓHANNSSON.
The World Soccer Source USMNT Starting XI uses only one defensive midfielder (Bradley), in order to have both Altidore and Jóhannsson starting as center forwards, and the World Soccer Source Starting XI includes Shea, in order to deploy an aggressive winger who has a history of attacking opposing defenses with gusto.
This writer’s proposed Starting XI includes two-way outside backs, complete central midfielders, a defensive midfielder with excellent technical ability, a line of three attacking midfielders including a playmaker, and two first strikers who are excellent goal-scorers.
Mix Diskerud is a creative attacking midfielder and true playmaker who has oddly been described as some sort of box-to-box midfielder like Michael Bradley who forms the more attacking half of a two-man defensive midfield.
Even Michael Bradley is a defensive midfielder who uses his ability to run tirelessly to showcase his excellent technical ability and defending, but Bradley is still a defensive midfielder.
Diskerud, on the other hand, is a playmaker who has a different skill-set and playing style than Bradley, but some in the American soccer media and some in the American fan base continue to view Diskerud as a sort of box-to-box midfielder who should be used as a defensive midfield partner for a midfield destroyer.
Starting line-ups should be based on building the formation around the best players at the coach’s disposal, as opposed to just forcing a player like Diskerud to slot into a role that Bradley played. A different roster requires changes to be made to the Starting XI and sometimes to the formation used.
Diskerud is best used as a central attacking midfielder playing directly behind one or two strikers where he can use his vision, his technical ability, and his passing to set up goals and orchestrate the attack. As a playmaker, he is certainly capable of scoring, but using Diskerud like Brazil uses Paulinho or Ramires is really forcing a square peg into a round hole.
While Bradley’s running and his technical ability certainly make using him as a box-to-box midfielder possible, Diskerud doesn’t bring the same amount of recovery defense and strong tackling that Bradley brings.
Wherever Diskerud is lining up on paper, his playing style and strength is as a creative midfielder who helps to facilitate smooth passing in the midfield and who constantly looks to set up goals. He has a strong track record of performing well for the United States, and he has a tendency to improve the passing and attacking threat of the United States, which was most recently seen in the United States’ win over Mexico in World Cup qualifying.
As the coach of the United States Men’s National Team, Jürgen Klinsmann should be starting Diskerud as a playmaker, especially if Diskerud is the only playmaker called up to a given roster.
Some United States rosters include Joe Corona and Mix Diskerud, but if Klinsmann is calling up only one or the other than whichever one is called up needs to start.
Diskerud has demonstrated whenever he plays for the USMNT that he provides a level of creativity and passing ability that Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, and Landon Donovan don’t have. All of those players are excellent technically, but none of them has the same vision or ability to play final balls.
If Bradley, Dempsey, Donovan, Altidore, and Jóhannsson are likely starters for the United States, then Diskerud needs to be deployed as a playmaker whenever he is on the roster, unless Klinsmann elects to use a different playmaker.
As a player, Diskerud isn’t some sort of substitute for Bradley, but rather he is a playmaker who brings a different skill-set to the national team and whose game is built around creative one-to-two touch passing that unlocks defenses. Diskerud also poses more of a scoring threat than Bradley, which makes it important to play him in a more advanced role.
Diskerud is one of the only international-caliber American playmakers in the player pool along with the likes of Benny Feilhaber, Joe Benny Corona, Freddy Adu, and Benji Joya, and if Diskerud is the only one on any given roster, then a Front Six made up of Bradley, Donovan, Diskerud, Dempsey, Altidore, and Jóhannsson would be the best way to effectively use Diskerud to bring out the most in the other players listed in the Front Six.
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.
Several of the players discussed in this article such as Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones were also discussed in World Soccer Source’s article entitled “Depth Chart: USMNT Defensive Midfielders.”
Both players can play either role, but Benji Joya is the one player in the American player pool, to the best of this writer’s knowledge, who is truly a box-to-box midfielder in the traditional understanding of the role.
While Bradley participates in the attack and goes forward quite a bit, his game is heavily characterized by collecting the ball from the defenders deep in the midfield and starting the attack. Joya appears to be more of a true box-to-box midfielder than Bradley is.
Depth Chart: USMNT Box-to-Box Midfielders
1.) Michael Bradley (AS Roma)
Michael Bradley was discussed in World Soccer Source’s article about the depth chart of the United States Men’s National Team at the defensive midfielder position, but Michael Bradley is also a box-to-box midfielder who advances forward with the attack and drops back to play defense when the United States loses the ball.
Due to his club play with Heerenveen in the Eredivisie, Borussia Mönchengladbach in the Bundesliga, and his play with AS Roma in Serie A, Bradley’s technical ability and passing has progressively improved over time from what was already a solid foundation when he turned pro at 16.
The combination of playing lots of soccer as a child combined with a steady improvement in his technical ability with non-EPL clubs has made Bradley a player whose attacking and technical skills are equaled by his defensive skills and his workrate.
It’s worth mentioning that Michael Bradley is still not at the same level technically as Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan, but he is a highly-skilled midfielder with excellent, touch, vision, passing, shooting, and dribbling skills.
Bradley is by far the best box-to-box midfielder and defensive midfielder in the entire American player pool.
2.) Jermaine Jones (Schalke)
Jermaine Jones was also included in World Soccer Source’s recent depth chart of American defensive midfielders, but Jones is also capable of playing a box-to-box role due to his skill on the ball, his running endurance, and his athleticism.
Jones is a formidable defender, and he has refined technical ability with both feet.
While Jones may not be as smooth of a passer as Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones is a Bundesliga and Champions League veteran who is a complete midfielder with proven technical ability, defensive skills, and athleticism against the highest competition in the world.
3.) Benji Joya (Santos Laguna)
Benji Joya is a 19-year-old Santos Laguna player who skipped college soccer and MLS to go play professionally in La Liga MX. Joya was used by Tab Ramos as a holding midfielder with the U-20 United States national team, but Joya is a very creative player with great vision, excellent ball control, and a big-game mentality.
While Joya’s natural position is hard to classify, Joya is a complete midfielder who brings excellent passing and movement off the ball with good defending. The young American can best be described as an attacking midfielder with far better defensive qualities than players like Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Benny Feilhaber, Joe Corona, Mix Diskerud, and Freddy Adu.
Joya brings an array of skills in one player that almost no one else in the pool has. Using Joya would give the United States Men’s National Team a player who plays one-to-two touch soccer, but who also provides a lot of defensive coverage in the midfield. Joya doesn’t see a lot of playing time for Santos Laguna, but that doesn’t mean that his skill-set isn’t needed by the United States.
4.) Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg)
Mix Diskerud has recently been used by Jürgen Klinsmann has either a playmaker to play right behind a striker like Jozy Altidore or as a box-to-box midfielder to bring more of an attacking threat and linking ability to a two-man defensive midfield set-up.
Mix Diskerud is not really a box-to-box midfielder as Diskerud doesn’t quite have the level of defensive qualities needed in a true box-to-box midfielder but he is an excellent passer and shooter who is one of the only playmakers in the entire American player pool.
Diskerud can play as the box-to-box midfielder in a two-man defensive midfield, but playing the number 8 role is not really his natural position, as Diskerud excels at passing, orchestrating play, setting up goals, and scoring goals.
There is some overlap between defensive midfielders of the midfield destroyer variety and those of the box-to-box midfielder variety. When selecting a roster, Jürgen Klinsmann might consider calling up Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Geoff Cameron, and Benji Joya as the more-defensive midfielders, even if the term is a misnomer for players like Joya.
Choosing these four players leaves Klinsmann four more midfield roster spots for players like Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Joe Corona, Mix Diskerud, Benny Feilhaber, and Freddy Adu.
A strong argument can be made that the best Starting XI for the United States Men’s National Team would look nothing like the ones that Jürgen Klinsmann has been using with the exception of Tim Howard, Geoff Cameron, Fabian Johnson, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, and Jozy Altidore.
Those players along with Brad Guzan leave Jürgen Klinsmann and the USMNT 15 open roster spots to improve the U.S. national team.
There has been a fantastic youth movement over the last two years in the United States, and Juan Agudelo burst onto the scene a little before that time when he was only 17 years old.
The influx of new and better American players into Major League Soccer and other leagues is what the American soccer community has been waiting for. Making these new players wait to play for the national team is a poor long-term strategy and a poor strategy for the performance of the United States Men’s National Team now.
After the United States plays Mexico on Tuesday, Jürgen Klinsmann either needs to call in Jonathan Spector, Eric Lichaj, and Benny Feilhaber to play in the next World Cup qualifiers to give the United States experienced and proven players or he needs to start filling the roster with the better younger players. To be fair, Feilhaber, Spector, and Lichaj aren’t old players themselves.
The United States needs to shore up its national team all over the field, and the players to do this are currently in the American player pool. Players like Benji Joya, Chris Klute, DeAndre Yedlin, Andrew Farrell, John Anthony Brooks, and Shane O’Neill are the most pressing.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that Juan Agudelo, Joe Benny Corona, and Mix Diskerud are young players who have been included on some of the rosters, but they haven’t played as big of a role as they deserved.
There are also players like José Villarreal who are definitely national team material, but they aren’t as needed with both Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan on the national team.
Gyasi Zardes should be ready for national team play in several months, but he too isn’t as needed with strikers like Jozy Altidore, Juan Agudelo, Aron Jóhannsson, and Eddie Johnson on the roster. Zardes’ time will come, and the more refined his attacking skills become, the harder it will be to keep him off the national team
Nevertheless, there is a growing list of players who look more than capable of playing international soccer, and some of them are more ready than others.
Of all the players discussed, several fill urgent needs.
Chris Klute, DeAndre Yedlin, and Andrew Farrell are very talented and athletic outside backs, and the United States needs outside backs with the tools to play international soccer.
Farrell is naturally a center back, and athletic and skilled center backs like Farrell who have strong tackling instincts and skills would be beneficial to the national team.
Despite the growing popularity of Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler among the American fan base, there are two younger center backs who are better in almost every area: John Anthony Brooks and Shane O’Neill.
O’Neill can play as a defensive midfielder, as an outside back, and as a center back, and nothing about Gonzalez’s and Besler’s physical gifts or skill-sets suggests that either player is anywhere close to Shane O’Neill in terms of defensive ability, overall skill on the ball, and athleticism.
Not only is O’Neill a superior 1v1 defender and ball-winner, O’Neill does Cruyffs in his own defensive third and can dribble out of the back and play passes on the ground through crowds of people, and Gonzalez and Besler simply can’t do that.
It’s not clear where many people in the American soccer media insist that a 20-year-old Bundesliga center back is somehow less qualified than Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler who have both never played abroad nor have they put in strong performances against elite attackers, but Gonzalez and Besler are certainly skilled defenders who are far better than defenders like Carlos Bocanegra, Clarence Goodson, or Oguchi Onyewu ever were.
Brooks is only 20 years old, but selection to the national team should be based on merit. Brooks is better than both Gonzalez and Besler who will both likely never play club soccer outside of the United States.
While MLS is producing very good players who are international-caliber players, there is no way to argue that Gonzalez’s and Besler’s experience in MLS make them anywhere close to as good as a 20-year-old center back like Brooks who starts for Hertha Berlin.
Brooks proved his abilities against Bosnia and Herzegovina where he was only guilty of losing sight of the ball on Bosnia and Herzegovina’s third goal when Geoff Cameron jumped up to try to get high enough to clear the cross, but the jump obstructed Brooks’ view of the ball.
Therefore, Brooks is a 20-year-old and skilled Bundesliga center back and Shane O’Neill is a 20 year old MLS center back who is more athletic and more skilled than both Gonzalez and Besler. Additionally, both Brooks and O’Neill are tall enough to not be liabilities on crosses or balls played in the air.
World Soccer Source has covered Chris Klute, DeAndre Yedlin, Andrew Farrell, and Benji Joya extensively, and all four of those players fulfill pressing needs for the United States Men’s National Team.
Joya is a technically-skilled central midfielder who can play out wide, and he offers outstanding technical-ability and passing vision with better defense than Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan provide. Joya offers the complete package of technical-ability, defensive skill, athleticism, and a big-game mentality.
While not a true playmaker, Joya brings skills that are different but compatible with Michael Bradley’s, Clint Dempsey’s, and Landon Donovan’s.
Klute, Yedlin, and Farrell are quite simply modern outside backs (and also center backs in Farrell’s case), and they represent an improvement in skill, athleticism, and international-caliber play. Klute and Yedlin pose an attacking threat up the sidelines that the USMNT has never seen before, and Klute has an equally strong defensive-skill set, which is above Yedlin’s steadily improving defensive skills.
When comparing Farrell to Yedlin at right back, Farrell is definitely the better defender without a drop-off in speed or athleticism compared to Yedlin. Farrell’s technical-ability is close to Yedlin’s.
Of all three outside backs, Klute appears to be the fastest, but the important thing is that all three players give the United States more speed and skill at the outside back positions; all three players can play as right backs or as left backs, which is another reason that they should be on the national team.
With the arrival of the three outside backs discussed above, Kofi Sarkodie has been flying under the radar, but Sarkodie continues to be more of an attacking threat, and he too is a legitimate option for the national team; Sarkodie deserves to be included in the national team set-up more, and he should be evaluated closely and monitored.
There are numerous other young American players who are international-caliber players such as strikers like Mario Rodriguez and Alonso Hernandez, and there are defensive midfielders such as Perry Kitchen, Jared Jeffrey, and Will Trapp who are players to monitor closely.
The key to improving the United States Men’s National Team is continuing to use better players, as opposed to using makeshift line-ups that can’t do real damage to better national teams.
It’s time to start incorporating and seasoning Agudelo, Corona, Diskerud, Joya, Klute, O’Neill, Brooks, Yedlin, Farrell, Villarreal, Sarkodie, Rodriguez, Hernandez, Kitchen, Trapp, Jeffrey, and Zardes.