TYAC USMNT Depth Chart Series Part IV: Wingers

Landon Donovan has returned, drastically changing the US depth chart on the flanks.

Landon Donovan has returned, drastically changing the US depth chart on the flanks.

Jon Levy

What a summer for the Yanks. They’ve now run the longest winning streak in national team history to twelve games, and that’s the longest active streak in the world. And by a good margin.

But shouldn’t we be talking about the now undeniable trend of playing absolutely thrilling matches against Eastern European opposition? Okay, so maybe it’s not quite as important a topic as the historically significant winning streak, but who would have thought the two-two draw with Slovenia in the 2010 World Cup would be the first of many can’t-miss goal-rich matches against formerly Soviet states. All I’m saying is if we schedule a pre-World Cup friendly against the likes of Slovakia, Bulgaria, or Albania, you better set your DVR. And with that lesson in hand, let’s jump into part four of our Depth Chart Series.

Here at The Yanks Are Coming we write a lot about the harsh realities of small sample size inherent in the game at national team level. So few matches, so much riding on each one, and hardly any opportunities to evaluate without consequences.

That’s why we’re including notes made prior to this most triumphant summer for the USMNT as we embark on our latest series. It’s our TYAC USMNT Depth Chart Series, and it’s a little like time travel, minus the DeLorean and the historically cool destinations (May 2013 wasn’t all that interesting was it?). Hopefully the contrast in our depth charts between May and present day will speak to how big a difference relatively few matches can make in the world of international soccer.

Please note we made these valuations based on who we would start at each position given the current player pool, not who we think Jurgen Klinsmann would start. Otherwise we’d have Danny Williams ranked number one at each position. Kidding. Sort of.

Want to catch up on parts one through three in this series? Here ya go:

CB’s & GK’s

RB’s & LB’s

CDM’s & CM’s

Joey Beers is among the Americans on the wing who had a nice summer. Doesn't he look sharp in this jersey??

Joey Beers is among the Americans on the wing who had a nice summer. Doesn’t he look sharp in this jersey??

Today we tackle the American wingers, and while you might not notice as stark a contrast at the top of each time-lapse depth chart for these positions as we’ve seen in some of our previous posts, it’s worthy of mention that each of these end-of-summer depth charts is longer than its pre-summer predecessor. That can be attributed to two factors.

  1. Landon Donovan is no longer missing-in-action.
  2. Jurgen Klinsmann spent the beginning of this year going against his nature and playing the USMNT in a narrow formation. Remember when his inaugural squad was revealed soon after the 2011 Gold Cup? All we could say was, “speed on the wings, speed on the wings!,” even prior to that team taking the field.  He’d called up everyone from DaMarcus Beasley to Robbie Rogers. Well, a year and a half into his national team tenure Jurgen had taken a few CONCACAF kicks to the teeth and opted for a “more pragmatic” and much narrower approach. Thankfully, now two years into said tenure, the manager has rediscovered his love of the flanks, and his selections of “proper wide men” have in no small part fueled one of the greatest runs in USMNT history.

Alright, anyone need a bathroom break before we get going? I’m not pulling this thing over if you start whining back there.

MAY 2013 RW DEPTH CHART AND NOTES:

RW: Graham Zusi, Josh Gatt, Joe Corona, Alejandro Bedoya

Zusi has his critics, but none of them write for this blog. Dude’s got quality delivery on-ball from set pieces and in the run-of-play; he’s got instincts and makes good decisions, and he’s starting to develop great chemistry with the rest of the national team starters. If you watch Sporting KC in the MLS you’ve seen the damage an in-rhythm Graham Zusi can do when he’s got chemistry with his teammates. And perhaps more tellingly, if you’ve watched Sporting KC play without Graham Zusi, like they did in San Jose this past weekend, you understand the lack of rhythm and attacking quality Kansas City show when he’s gone. His value is such that other players around him get better, and Kansas City loses points when he’s not there, regardless of Peter Vermes’ tendency to blame referees. There’s a massive gulf between Zusi and the rest of the guys on this depth chart, not just because the SKC winger is good at soccer. None of the other guys listed have really established themselves with the national team under Klinsmann. There’s hope for all these guys though, especially Josh Gatt, who possesses a natural skill that Graham Zusi lacks. Speed kills, and that plus club form probably equals Jurgen giving Gatt multiple chances to shine in the coming year.

AUGUST 2013 RW DEPTH CHART AND NOTES:

RW: Graham Zusi, Landon Donovan, Alejandro Bedoya, Joe Corona, Eddie Johnson, Josh Gatt*

Zusi is just barely hanging on to that starting spot, and that’s even with his recent impressive performances this summer. This depth chart is a testament to Landon Donovan’s triumphant return to the national team. He absolutely dominated the Gold Cup. His performance in that tournament should ranks somewhere in between Forlán’s 2010 World Cup and Maradona’s 1986 World Cup domination. That’s how good Landon was. Granted, those were World Cups and Donovan did his business this summer in a Gold Cup, so I don’t have him jumping Graham Zusi just yet. Remember, Zusi struck a great partnership with Clint and Jozy early this summer, and he’s proving to be one of the most coachable guys on the team, playing “fast! fast! fast!,” like Jurgen wants. Meanwhile, Ale-Alejandro Bedoya and Joe Corona both improved their national team stock in a big way, as did Eddie Johnson, who operates on a wing for Klinsmann by necessity at times. Bad news for Josh Gatt though; you can’t make the squad if you’re always on the training table. There was some discussion recently about Icelandic forward Aron Johannsso getting in the mix here– the bottom line is that he’s a forward for depth chart purposes- though it is worth noting he is tactically a more polished player than Josh Gatt, who when healthy still need to pick his head up and be more aware of the game occurring around him.

Brek Shea had a maddening summer for the US, but it ended well. Can he turn the corner at Stoke?

Brek Shea had a maddening summer for the US, but it ended well. Can he turn the corner at Stoke?

MAY 2013 LW DEPTH CHART AND NOTES:

LW: Fabian Johnson, Brek Shea, Brad Davis, José Francisco Torres, DaMarcus Beasley

This was a tough list to compile and put in order because Jurgen hasn’t been fielding a real left winger in recent matches. So reaching back just a little bit, we go with the guy that’s had the best match at this position under Jurgen Klinsmann. Fabian Johnson is our left back of the future, but in the November 2011 Slovenia friendly he showed more attacking promise than any American left winger has in a number of years. Quality. Speed. Danger. And despite the fact that Brek Shea is error prone and has alternated being injured and out of favor (not a good combination) he still gets the nod at number two, nipping at Johnson’s heels if he can get fit and back into the reckoning. The rest of this list is pretty boring. Brad Davis has a wonderful left foot, but I’m still not sure if he’s a good fit on this national team. JFT is the most promising of the non-wingers that Jurgen sometimes plays wide left, and Run DMB’s gritty left back performances against Costa Rica (Snow Clasico) and Mexico at the Azteca probably signal Jurgen’s intent to keep him on the defensive depth chart rather than further up the field.

AUGUST 2013 LW DEPTH CHART AND NOTES:

LW: Fabian Johnson, Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, Brek Shea, José Francisco Torres, Brad Davis, Edgar Castillo

This depth chart looks so much nicer than it did in May. Now we know Fabian Johnson runs a mean left flank, and I think his lackluster first half at left back in Bosnia and Herzegovina further cements the “Beasley at left back pairing with Fabian at left wing” combination. That said, Beasley’s been so good getting forward from left back that he’s still a midfield option as the situation dictates. Donovan’s placement as second choice on this side of the field as well should speak for itself. The guy can play both side and he’s really good, whatta’ you want from me? Plus, there’s a decent argument that Donovan, Dempsey, Johnson is the triangle the US would want for attacking purposes on that flank. Johnson still needs to cut in more on his opposite foot (when he finally did it in Sarajevo, he drew a dangerous free kick), but he’s still the best option at this position when you pick a starting eleven.

As for the others, Brek Shea has definitely played himself into a great spot. He may be the number four on this depth chart, but keep in mind, Donovan and Beasley could be on the field playing other positions at any given time, making Brek a de facto number two to Fabian. Edgar Castillo works his way onto the back end of this depth chart with a couple Gold Cup performances that proved he might actually be good for something. Just not left back. And in small doses. He also played well in relief of Mix Diskerud against Bosnia and Herzegovina– the US scored four times with him on the field and his contributions, particularly on the overlap, were one of the nicer but less-mentioned stories in the aftermath of that victory.

That’s it for part four in the TYAC USMNT Depth Chart Series; join us next time when we write about “the Dempsey spot,” and lobby for Tab Ramos to start over Altidore.

And don’t forget to argue with us on Twitter, @YanksAreComing, @TYAC_Jon and @nwb_USMNT. Now go annoy your friends about the awesome US Soccer depth chart series you’re reading. A closer look at the sportsbook odds on the latest MLS matches can be seen here, where Sporting KC, no surprise, is seen to be heavily favored.

Jon Levy is Co-Founder and Co-Editor of The Yanks Are Coming. Follow him on Twitter, link above, and e-mail him with comments or questions at jon.f.levy@gmail.com

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  • http://www.yanksarecoming.com/ The Yanks Are Coming

    I am intrigued by the idea of Johannsson out wide in the “EJ” spot at some point before the Cup next summer. Just another wrinkle.

    As for Gatt, if he ever does get healthy, he needs to get out of that busher league he is in in Europe. An MLS move would do him well.

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