March 2010

US Position Battle: Central Midfield

Since prior to the inception of the most important blog of our time the USMNT has relied on a dynamic duo of center mids. This duo consists of Michael Bradley, a.k.a. MB90 a.k.a. Junior, and “your face here.” While the revolving door at “the other” CMF spot is sometimes glossed over by Yanks fans and critics alike, the cohesion of the two center midfielders should take partial credit and/or blame for the team’s performance at any given point.

The team started off World Cup qualifying with Sacha Kljestan pairing Bobbo’s son in what looked to be a young tandem that possessed staying power. Sadly, the emergence of Sacha as a legitimate offensive presence who provided dangerous passes and powerful strikes going forward was followed by a run of some of the worst form most U.S. soccer fans have seen out of a midfielder. He’s since pulled his head out of wherever it was for a few months, albeit without his magnificent mane, but nevertheless, his absence paved the way for Ricardo Clark and Benny Feilhaber to make their respective cases.

In a case of inconsistency versus the stalwart, Feilhaber provided the odd offensive spark in matches played only on days with evenly numbered dates, while Ricardo always provided as reliable defensive midfield play as can ever be expected from an MLS vet. Yes, he was the victim of an undeserved red card against Italy in America’s first match of the Confederations Cup, but he also authored a strike for the ages to lift the Yanks in Trinidad and help secure an important three WC qualifying points. While Redcardo’s folly (deserved or otherwise) brought controversy, Benny’s problematic form in half of his games saw the Brazilian born attack-minded mid pulling a Houdini and disappearing from the pitch while still on it. Funny how Yanks’ offensive creators do that from time to time isn’t it.

Barring a few one-off appearances from Bruce Arena holdover Pablo Mastroeni this brings us up to speed or at least to the Netherlands friendly. Two of this blogs favorite sons both took their shot for a half next to the fully pedigreed American Hairless Center Mid. Jose Francisco Torres showed only a glimpse or two of his attacking prowess while spending most of his time looking lost in the USMNT’s system (not to mention the clinic the Dutch were running around pretty much everyone on the field). The second half saw Maurice “everyone’s convinced I’d be a starter if I was healthy over the course of the past two years” Edu take the field and feel out his game. To his credit the flow of the match did turn in favor of the U.S. in the final fifteen minutes, but whether that had more to do with Edu’s influence or Holland taking the foot off the pedal is up for debate.

Regardless, the point must be made that the partnership formed between Bradley and his closest midfield neighbor shapes the way the team plays. When Kljestan or Feilhaber was playing well we actually created offensive chances that were sometimes ably finished off by the strikers and the Donovan/Dempsey contingent. But when Feilhaber decided to take a vacation on the pitch or when Kljestan decided to take something much more putrid smelling the team looked disjointed and feeble. Likewise, Ricardo Clark probably had the best thing going with Bradley when one would bomb forward with the other staying true to his natural defensive tendencies, but at times they’d both hang back in defensive positions while the team tried in vain to attack. Even more often the two would just fail to do anything creative with the ball when in a forward position and end up back passing to oblivion.

And despite Mo Edu’s impressive run in the USMNT youth system (including Olympics) and Gringo’s good form with Pachuca, the two just don’t have the resume’s as of yet on the senior national team to justify a shoe-in for anything except a spot on the plane. Oh, and for all you asking it in your heads or out loud right now, NO, we will never ever see Jermaine Jones play in a U.S. shirt. See, now if it ever happens you’ll feel like a kid on Christmas morning until he commits his first turnover.

With the evidence in hand and all biases aside, if the World Cup was to start tomorrow and everyone was healthy, Ricardo Clark should get the start for U.S. against England. Then again, Michael Bradley did just break his nose in training over in Germany, and a father wouldn’t want to risk his son’s newly reconstructed face right away, right? In the words of Ferris Bueller, “Oh, I’m sorry. I can’t come to the door right now. I’m afraid that in my weakened condition, I could take a nasty spill down the stairs and subject myself to further school absences.” So who knows what transpires in the ensuing two matches against the Czechs and Turks, maybe we audition two or three different center mids in each match, there is after all a starting spot up for grabs. This would also give Coach Bob a chance to see how each player works with another player not named Bradley.

Then again, we do call him MB90 for a reason. Maybe someone else can play in stoppage time.

Jon Levy is a senior writer and managing editor for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at or @TYAC_Jon.

Jon Levy

  • Amy

    Never take out Junior !!! His lunch pail attitude is a metaphor for US Soccer– if only his nose weren’t messed up now. Poor guy.

    Good article. I really think the Edu and Clark battle for the other starting position should be a dandy. I think Clark has to have the edge right now, but it would help if he would get back to playing full time club soccer. I also think Edu brings the ability to make quicker, cooler decisions– which addresses the problem of keeping the ball once the ball hawks get it, a big problem for the Yanks thus far.