by Jacob Klinger
Williams - Bradley
Fabian Johnson gave fans and coaches every reason to believe that the spot could be his with his recent performances against France and Slovenia, but he is still very much in the audition phase. For now he has the blessing of savior-until-proven-otherwise. Yet regardless of whether or not Johnson makes the position his own, the fate of Klinsmann's midfield lies with his ability to identify - and play - stable central midfield talent.
Bradley shone most brightly in his performance against Slovenia, tracking back when needed, breaking up opposing attacks, and generating plenty of meaningful distribution in his own right. In effect, he did all that one could ask of a holding midfielder, but from the right side of a diamond. Williams too, has been played on the right side of midfield, displaying a comparable if not a less complete skillset to Bradley's. Williams features centrally at the club level for Hoffenheim and has even stated that he prefers his role there. The displacement of national team players from their club positions is not necessarily a bad thing - ex. John O'Brien - but with Williams and Bradley showing more promise than that which has already been displayed in deep midfield under Klinsmann, a pairing of the two is at the very least a promising option. At best, the two recreate a spine in the team that has been noticeably missing for some time now.
The untried is by its very nature, of course, more appealing than the already seen. This is as true as ever in regards to the way Klinsmann moves forward with his midfield. Returns to fitness by Stuart Holden and Jose Torres, players Klinsmann admitted he had plans for, promise to provide depth and competition if not a complete makeover of the American midfield. Furthermore, a Klinsmann-led team with Donovan and Dempsey sharing the field also remains to be seen. The presence of one of them in a central attacking midfield spot with a pair of capably pacy end-to-end wingers should result in the offensive thrust the US is still after.
Bill Clinton once said that "There is nothing wrong in America that can't be fixed with what is right in America."
DaMarcus Beasley fits the bill and is likely to feature intermittently in the upcoming qualifying campaign,Mike Wallace Steelers Jersey, but the 29-year old hardly projects to be a part of the finished product come 2014 if not sooner. Despite his valuable peskiness in defense, players of pace are not known to age well and Beasley lacks the technical ability of someone like Thierry Henry - the exception that proves the rule,Santonio Holmes Jersey. That said, Klinsmann has promised to play those in good form with their clubs and Beasley has had a fair bit of success for Puebla in Mexico, resulting in some very decent appearances for the US.
The engine room, the heart of the team, the core, the mitochondria - maybe not - are all expressions commonly used when discussing a team's midfield, and rightfully so. At the highest levels of competition it is where the game is won and lost. The same is true of a given team's possession of the ball. With Jurgen Klinsmann seeking a more 'proactive' style of play in his team his face-lifting task is just as much about changing perspective as it is about changing personnel,Whitney Mercilus Jersey.
Of course the most complete American player of this generation, and perhaps of all-time, Landon Donovan, has been successfully deployed on the wings before. His tireless work rate and explosiveness on the counter have been invaluable to the US in the past,Jason Witten Youth Jersey. Under Bradley however, he was tasked with pinching in atop a 4-2-2-2 of sorts with the responsibility of linking the midfield to the attack rather than keeping chalk on his boots and staying tied to the sideline. Klinsmann's wingers are still asked to put in substantial defensive work, but as Donovan ages it seems likely that he will be asked to play more centrally, possibly as a central attacking midfielder or even as a forward - as Klinsmann deployed him in his brief stint at Bayern Munich,Charles Woodson Jersey.
HAVE YOUR SAY ... Go ahead and hop behind the desk of the armchair soccer doctor and tell us what's right and wrong the the American midfield in the Facebook comments section below.
With one midfield spot seemingly destined for one of Donovan and Dempsey, and another two occupied by wingers, the US is left with a maximum of two midfield anchors to apply the needed defensive tenacity coupled with some semblance of passing and possession skill. With Beckerman's touch and defense both asking more questions than they answer Klinsmann should turn elsewhere. Maurice Edu and Jermaine Jones have had mixed performances thus far under Klinsmann, and while they have plenty to offer in terms of overall talent, currently they both appear too specialized as defensive midfielders to be first choice,Mark Sanchez Jets Jersey. That's not to say they should be excluded. In fact, they will almost undoubtedly and rightfully be given further runouts, but the next logical step in Klinsmann's experiment would be to select one or both of his two best two-way midfielders: Michael Bradley and Danny Williams.
Check out what Jacob K has to say in Part 1 - Diagnosis America: Part 1 of 3
Jacob Klinger is a regular contributor to Soccer365 as well as No Short Corners. He is currently a journalism student at Syracuse University. His love for the game goes back as far as he can remember, but was truly christened during the United States' cardiac qualifying campaign for Korea/Japan 2002. Between classes and columns, he still plays. You can follow him on Twitter @MrJacobK.
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Yet Donovan's fate, and that of the entire midfield really, is inseparably tied to that of Clint Dempsey. Dempsey too, was a fixture in Bob Bradley's attacking midfield, but as much as anyone he has embraced a more central role under Klinsmann. Either as a striker or as a #10 in the hole behind the striker(s) Dempsey has made this US team his own. Unfortunately Dempsey and Donovan have yet to occupy the same field under Klinsmann. As such, their future roles in the squad are unclear. The fact remains that the team's two most talented midfield players are in transition themselves, possibly out of midfield altogether and that as a result a spot on the wing is very much up for grabs.
By the same token there is nothing wrong with the American midfield that can't be fixed by what is right with the players already at Klinsmann's disposal. Unlike with other portions of the US team, it's not a matter of acquiring and developing talent as much as it is of assembling the existing abundantly diverse talent in a complementary unit.
To clarify what I'm suggesting I have posted the midfield that I would be running out this coming spring if I were Klinsmann:
Whether Klinsmann lines his team up in a 4-3-3, a 4-2-3-1, a 4-3-1-2, a 4-1-3-2, or even the diamond-esque 4-1-2-1-2 the US ran against Slovenia, his teams have looked best when the team has taken the fight to the opposition on the wings. Consequently Brek Shea has become a favorite and Timothy Chandler and Steve Cherundolo's overlapping runs have become increasingly expected.
The transformation under Klinsmann does not necessarily dictate that the US become a "possession team," most especially against teams that are simply more technically skilled and apt to dominate possession, but it certainly requires more possession than Bob Bradley's game plans of the past few years. Regardless, such a team needs space to play in. Space that can best be opened up through dynamic wing play.
Shea - Dempsey - Donovan
Unfortunately Shea is somewhat alone in his status as a true international caliber American winger. Robbie Rogers has his citizenship and position down, but his lack of tactical wherewithal compounded with his inability to dribble with his head up damn him to the reserves.
For starters, Beckerman lacks the defensive skill at the international level to properly shield his defense. Consequently the US has all too frequently fallen into the vicious cycle of hurrying back to defend, clearing its lines, failing to establish possession, and getting trapped in its own half. When Klinsmann plays two, or even three deep midfielders - most recently against France with Beckerman, Jones, and Williams - the US has lacked a midfield link from defense to attack. As a result, genuine chances have been few and far between for a side already lacking a cut-throat strikeforce.
No matter what formation Klinsmann selects, the deepest of his midfielder(s) is/are expected to shield his now-shaky defense and distribute the ball upfield to more attacking-oriented players, maintaining possession and cycling the ball into space around midfield. Kyle Beckerman has been most consistently chosen for this role, causing a number of problems both behind and in front of him.