Yesterday, our panel unveiled the goalkeepers and defenders they felt warranted selection for the upcoming US World Cup qualifying matches against Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago.
You can meet the panel members and read the discussion here.
Today, we explore the midfielders and forwards. We also note the sad news that American star Clint Dempsey will miss the qualifiers with an irregular heartbeat. Dempsey, who has scored more than half the US goals in international tournament play dating back to the 2014 World Cup, was on each panelist’s 23 man list. With Dempsey out, the player on the “just out” list that received the most votes has been included in the team.
Having discussed Dempsey’s absence at the top, we’ll start with forwards.
Jozy Altidore, Toronto FC
Bobby Wood, Hamburg (Bundesliga)
Gyasi Zardes, LA Galaxy
Jordan Morris, Seattle Sounders
Just Out: Julian Green, Bayern Munich (Bundesliga); Aron Johannsson, Werder Bremen (Bundesliga); Rubio Rubin, FC Utrecht (Holland); Mukwellle Akale, Villareal (La Liga)
Honestly, I would have started Dempsey and Morris together as that partnership is really cementing itself lately in Seattle. Now the US likely goes Wood and Zardes if it is 4-4-2, though Altidore with Morris making runs beneath him makes more sense.
Maybe the Dempsey absence ends up being good?
Clint Dempsey is now 33 years of age, but he simply won’t fade away from the USMNT picture. His lack of athleticism and speed limit his viability in the international game against top-tier opposition, but the goal-scoring prowess that was on display at Copa America simply can’t be ignored.
I expect Werder Bremen’s Aron Johannsson to earn his way back into contention and beat out Jordan Morris for a spot as long as he stays healthy, and he and Julian Green’s viability on the wing make them all the more compelling. Keep an eye on Villarreal’s Mukwelle Akale as a darkhorse this year. Even if he isn’t in this team- and I don’t imagine he will be- he’s risen quickly through the La Liga side’s system and appeared as a substitute for the first team last week.
Zardes is so productive at center forward I think the US should just pair him with Wood in Dempsey’s absence and go from there.
Altidore’s been arguably the best forward in the East since returning from injury. He’s scored five times in six games heading into the weekend and is playing the best hold-up football of his career to boot. Matthew Doyle, who knows about such things, thinks this is the best the 26 year old has ever played. If the US go 4-3-3, you could put Jozy at the center and play Zardes and Wood out of position on the wing and probably do fine against these two teams. I wouldn’t use that deployment, because you don’t want to bat .333 on attacking players in position- but Jurgen’s gonna Jurgen.
Julian Green is close. Pulisic’s ability to come in underneath a CF probably means Klinsmann only goes with 4 without Dempsey.
A former national team assistant told me this afternoon he thinks it’s a big deal that Dempsey’s out. He’s just so productive internationally and the US haven’t shown they can win on any stage without him in a long time. Hard to argue this point. US needs to learn how. Fast.
Sticking with the idea I had before, where I note who progressed in the summer and then talk about the current situation, I have it like this:
Player Who Helped His Case in the Copa: Bobby Wood
Bobby proved to be a traditional center forward who helps build the attack even when he’s not scoring. But he does that too. Just not against Colombia. They seem to have some sort of force field in front of their net. Bummer. Bobby’s a starter though.
Player Who Should Be Called Up: Jordan Morris
I’m sad for Jozy Altidore, because he was close to earning this spot. Then Lodeiro came to Seattle and boosted Morris past the newly fit Altidore. It’s probably for the best though. When’s the last time Jozy was healthy for a full summer tournament? Three games in the ’08 Olympics in Beijing? Anyway, Jordan Morris should’ve been on the Copa squad, and he should be given a shot at starting up top alongside Wood at some point soon.
Altidore seems to have found his groove in MLS right now.
Since his return from injury this season, Altidore has been scoring like a madman, scoring four goals in his last five matches. He’s been holding up the ball better than anyone in the league and finishing his chances. Altidore needs to ride this scoring groove to the National Team and no better way to to immediately insert him in the lineup for these critical matches. Dempsey and Morris have been having so much success in Seattle together, it is a shame Dempsey is out. I think Klinsmann should look at that relationship on the international level when/if Dempsey again becomes available.
Alejandro Bedoya, Philadelphia Union
Michael Bradley, Toronto FC
Fabian Johnson, Borussia Mönchengladbach (Bundesliga)
Jermaine Jones, Colorado Rapids
Darlington Nagbe, Portland Timbers
Christian Pulisic, Borussia Dortmund (Bundesliga)
Graham Zusi, Sporting Kansas City
Lynden Gooch, Sunderland (Premier League)
Perry Kitchen, Hearts of Midlothian (Scotland)
Just Out: Sacha Kljestan, New York Red Bulls; Danny Williams, Reading (Football Championship); Emerson Hyndman, Bournemouth F.C. (Premier League)
Between the midfield and the forwards I’m not sure which is the best group with the USMNT.
Nagbe has played tremendous in his last couple of calls, even scoring versus Ecuador. Pulisic is one of the brightest young stars the US have in their pool and they must begin getting him quality, meaningful minutes with the senior team to grow him the right way.
That said, because this isn’t just a call-up for friendlies, Klinsmann will do what he’s always done, and rely on players like Bradley, Zusi, Jones, and Bedoya to anchor the midfield that, at times this cycle, has been a problem spot for the USMNT. So far Bradley has played in 15 games for Toronto FC as he continues to battle injuries, but if the USMNT wants to be successful, Bradley will have to be on his game.
Player Who Helped His Case in the Copa: Alejandro Bedoya
Bedoya unveiled a new, workmanlike dimension of his game for US Soccer fans this summer. That’s not to say he wasn’t already a high energy player, but he certainly added a degree of both defensive and possession efficiency at the Copa. Proved the argument made on this here website that he’s an underrated cog in the USMNT system.
Player Who Should Be Called Up: Danny Williams
Danny has never been my favorite player, and he was close to being dead to me when Jurgen tried to convince us he could play EVERY position. That sucked. But he really found himself as a defensive midfielder at Reading, and he seemed sincerely disappointed at being left off the Copa America roster. With our beloved Dred Pirate Beckerman seemingly ready to exit the consideration set, Williams should be viewed as a possible replacement. He’s in his prime, he wants the job, and unlike Timmy Chandler, he probably deserves a last chance.
My belief is that the U.S. will remain in some variation of a 4-3-3 formation, hence the relatively thin midfield selection.
Bradley, Bedoya, and Johnson are automatic starters when healthy, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to justify keeping Nagbe off the field. Pulisic’s situation with Dortmund is up in the air right now, so stay tuned, but Hyndman, who was largely a non-factor for Fulham last year, should play significant minutes for Bournemouth this year and is in line to take over the “Kyle Beckerman role” in the USMNT defensive midfield.
It’s hard to make any bold claims as now, but keep an eye on Sunderland’s Lynden Gooch. He was a shock inclusion in the Black Cat’s opening day XI, and he could certainly beat out a handful of the other USMNT youngsters based on playing time over the coming weeks.
The midfield should be able to give Klinsmann some tactical variety.
Since the manager likes to tinker with formations, perhaps to prove he’s smarter than the critics this set of midfielders gives him the tactical flexibility most coaches dream of. Perry Kitchen needs time in a holding role before we get to the Hex and this is a perfect two-game stretch for him. Paul Arriola is one for the future and could use the experience of a camp for competitive qualifiers to help him grow as a player.
There are probably others playing better- but Jermaine Jones despite his age still provides far too much at this level to drop him just yet – and maybe he’s going to make it to Russia even at 36, an incredible feat for a field player. He missed most the summer but always manages to be fit when national team duty comes up.
Sacha Kljestan has fifteen assists and will threaten the single season MLS mark on a team I think wins the East, mainly because of him.
Five goals & 15 assists is pretty good.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) August 25, 2016
He won’t get called in but he should. Jermaine Jones is 36 and not a good partner for Michael Bradley, who the US need to succeed. The double pivot worked when Kljestan and Bradley were younger. It’s worth another look.
Normally, I’d make fun of the “new toy” crowd that are demanding the US call Lynden Gooch. But letting a guy who earned a starting gig in the Barclay’s Premier League start against St. Vincent and the Grenadines (and thus keeping him from Ireland) is probably as solid a bet as you could place under Klinsmann. If he’s good enough to play out of position for David Moyes, a manager with an impeccable reputation for how he deals with young players- he’s good enough to help the US right now.
The rest of the list is fairly self-explanatory: it’s really about roles.
Fabian Johnson is the best American soccer player. Where does he play?
What does Jurgen see Pulisic offering the team in the HEX? Why not explore that now?
Graham Zusi probably helps you through the qualifying grind even if he isn’t on the Russia roster. Do you change his position now or just bring him in to take a set piece in a big spot?
Is Perry Kitchen ready to replace Kyle Beckerman, or are the US going to move away from the deep defensive midfielder?
We won’t get many answers to these questions in this camp- but the Trinidad game is a good one to apply the solutions you’re looking for in training.