The midfield. For the better part of three World Cup cycles, the U.S. midfield was seen as the strong suit of the team. There was constantly players knocking on the door and pushing other players to higher levels, which was great for the team, even if it led to selection choices more than a few times. But the fact that there were so many options in midfield seemed like a very, very good thing.
For most of the last year and a half, however, the midfield has been a bit under fire. Michael Bradley never really looked to regain the form that made him invaluable at the 2010 World Cup and for most of the 2014 World Cup cycle after a lackluster summer in Brazil, and while he’s played well enough in the grand scheme of things, “well enough” just wasn’t the “great” that U.S. fans were expecting from the former Roma man. Jermaine Jones became more and more polarizing the more entrenched he became in the lineup. Alejandro Bedoya was a hard worker, but his offensive explosions came and went. Kyle Beckerman looked like he had aged a decade in the matter of a year.
But with the infusion of a few new faces, and one very notable old one, the U.S. midfield looks to be relatively on track for the Hex, one poor friendly with New Zealand notwithstanding.
Christian Pulisic - B+
The kid has been playing a ton of minutes for Dortmund over the beginning of the season with Marco Reus and Andre Schurrle both out due to injury, and has done well with his time overall. He has two goals and three assists in 7 Bundesliga games and another couple assists in the Champions League. That doesn’t mean he’s ready to take over the starting reins in Dortmund for good, however: he’s still prone to being muscled out of games at times, as Schalke just proved over the weekend.
Michael Bradley - B+
Michael Bradley has been looking more and more like his old holding mid self with Toronto FC in the playoffs, making vital defensive contributions and springing Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco into counter attacks left and right. It’s especially important for a strong defensive midfield with the 3-5-2 Greg Vanney has rolled out, and Bradley has answered the call. It remains to be seen whether he can do that on a consistent basis for the USMNT anymore.
Sacha Kljestan - B+
Sacha was just rewarded for his performances on the season with as a MLS MVP finalist, and the assist king probably stands to get a good shot at it. His performances over the past two years for the Red Bulls have been consistently great. That didn’t stop Montreal from preventing him from creating a single chance in their playoff match, however, the first time that has happened all season.
Alejandro Bedoya - B-
Bedoya has brought his trademark grit and workrate to the center of the Philadelphia Union midfield, and helped propel them to their first playoff berth since their inaugural season. He managed to score a goal in their playoff match against Toronto, too. Unfortunately for him, that wasn’t enough to stop the Reds. Bedoya should be rested and ready to go for the Hex.
Jermaine Jones - C
The fact that Jermaine has anything above a D here is a good thing for him, seeing as he’s finally back to playing. He also managed to create the Rapids only real threat on the Galaxy goal last weekend, a 25-yard thunderbolt that Brian Rowe just managed to parry away. His fitness levels are still in question, but that right foot sure isn’t.
Perry Kitchen - C+
Captain America to Hearts fans, Kitchen looked initially shaky in a three-man midfield against New Zealand with Michael Bradley and Sacha Kljestan, but the three appeared to grow into the game at the tail end of the first half and beginning of the second, before both teams started making wholesale changes. Hearts have slipped a bit in Scotland as well: after a 3-3 draw with Inverness, in which none of the Hearts defense covered themselves in glory, they now sit in third behind Celtic and Rangers.
Danny Williams - B-
Williams’ stock appeared to be on the rise at October camp, making a game appearance before Perry Kitchen, and most likely appeals to Klinsmann for his propensity to play both ways on the field. This is also a measure of his importance for Reading. He’s one of the first names down on the team sheet for the Royals, and likes to roam from deeper positions to test opposing keepers.
Paul Arriola - C+
Arriola will be looking for a spot on this roster after a string of call-ups and appearances against Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Tobago, and Cuba, scoring two goals in those three games. He’s still fighting for playing time in Tijuana, on the other hand, and has been mostly used as a late-game sub by Miguel Herrera as of late. The Xolos are in first place in Mexico, so trying to break into the lineup will probably continue to be difficult.
Lynden Gooch - C
Lynden Gooch’s positive start to both the Premier League season and his senior USMNT career both has led to a spell stranded on the bench at Sunderland. While Black Cats supporters admire the youngster’s work rate and intelligence in the midfield, he’s only collected a handful of substitute minutes over the last month, despite the fact that Sunderland are dead last in England and haven’t won a game all season. David Moyes looks to be the next coach to exit the Stadium of Light’s coaching carousel.
Josh Gatt - B+
Josh Gatt! We’re talking about him! Because he’s finally playing again for Molde, because he’s just scored a goal, and because it seems he’s retained most of the speed that made him such an intriguing U.S. prospect in the first place!
- 4 years & hundreds of hours of PT in the making, it is with great pleasure that we bring you this goal. Ladies & gentlemen, Josh Gatt. pic.twitter.com/L9ofyQ0xXq— Nats Abroad (@NatsAbroad) October 30, 2016
He might be a longshot to make this roster, but it’s just good to see him out and running again.
Darlington Nagbe - **waves goodbye**
Nagbe didn’t have a great second half of the season for the Timbers, but the same could be said of the rest of the squad, and Nagbe himself was forced out of the position that put him in the USMNT (a deeper-lying box-to-box midfielder) and onto the wing or higher up in the midfield due to injuries and severe dips in form from other players. That didn’t stop him from looking very good in his limited USMNT minutes, but I think it’s safe to say that between league play and the mysterious snub of call-ups to the October friendlies, we most likely won’t be seeing Nagbe for a while.