The United States men’s national team is preparing for the start of the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. About a year ago SSFC’s Depth Chart series explored the USMNT player pool. Now, a year later, the team has improved tremendously from a horrid 2015, but how has the outlook on the pool changed? So with that in mind, as the Americans gear up for the Hex, we attempt to create a depth chart for the team, position by position. Figuring out what Klinsmann is thinking is a fool's errand, so this is what our depth chart would be and we'll talk about how we landed here.
Rob: Over the past few years, Jurgen Klinsmann had developed a fetish for the Michael Bradley as a No. 10 experiment. It was his mission to make Bradley the centerpiece of the team no matter what. While as admirable and understandable as that wish was, it just wasn't working. Thankfully like well-groomed mustachioed Batman, Sacha Kljestan reappeared from the fog and is now man who holds the keys. Is Kljestan the long lost No. 10 Amercian soccer has been searching for?
Brendan: I don't know if Kljestan is the free flowing, And1 mixtape generating, creative midfielder American fans dream about, but he can certainly play a nice pass. I still have my doubts about his ability to break down a bunker-and-counter team. However, he's the best option we have right now and is a hard worker who pitches in on defense (something the USMNT always needs). To think, he was only called into September's friendlies because another player was injured. That's how fast someone's national team fortunes can change.
I still think Bradley can be the guy, but we haven't figured out the right situation for him. With two years until the World Cup and a relatively shallow (but deepening) player pool, there isn't the time to continue experimenting.
Rob: My two cents on Bradley is that he's best as a deep-lying playmaker partnered with a natural destroyer. He has the ability to pick apart a defense with a pass, so I understand the desire to put him in a more natural playmaking role. It's just not his cup of tea. He's proven already that he's more comfortable playing deeper. Unless something terrible happens to Sacha, I hope we never have to see the Bradley experiment again for both the player and team's sake.
Brendan: It is curious that we didn't see Kljestan for almost two full years. This team is always in need of a distributor, but Klinsmann just refused to call him in. He experimented with other players, like Lee Nguyen and Darlington Nagbe, but it took an incredible amount of production for Kljestan to get the call.
Granted, Nagbe is not an attacking midfielder, as much as people want him to be. Also, he's probably not going to be a national team player for the next two years, as much as people want him to be.
Rob: *pours one out for Darlington Nagbe*
It's a shame that he wasn't utilized the way he or anyone else wanted. It's a bigger shame that the situation has apparently escalated rapidly to an irreparable status. As much as anyone wants to debate how dynamic Nagbe is, I don't think anyone can argue his quality and his ability to help the team. I'm biased because I adore him as a player, so I'll just go cry in a corner and leave this be.
The U.S. have so few true No. 10's that we're forced to pigeonhole players into the spot. Alejandro Bedoya has played their some in the past, but he doesn't possess the natural playmaking gene. His high work rate is nice, but you're just not going to see him being the proverbial point guard of any team.
Brendan: At times, we've played with three holding midfielders and gone back to the 4-4-2. Even Kljestan isn't a true attacking midfielder. We have Lynden Gooch listed as an "attacking midfielder", but that's a bit untrue. I believe Sunderland plays with three of them, and he's usually on the wing. Granted, his playing time has fallen off a bit after a ferocious start to the season. Gooch is still playing as a substitute, which is good because he's young.
I suppose the USMNT will have to wait a little while longer before finding that true 10.
Rob: I'm sure there are some New England fans out there that would argue that Lee Nguyen is a true No. 10. While that may be the case, his inconsistency this season has seen him fall out of contention for the USMNT. I was encouraged by his play in the few chances he did receive earlier this year, but it just doesn't seem to be happening for him.
Other more obscure players who could play their way into contention include Christian Roldan who is more of the box-to-box type like many of these candidates are. Then you have the prince that was promised, Gedion Zelalem, who is still grinding away for Arsenal's youth teams. Are there any fringe players out there that give you hope for the future?
Brendan: Luca de la Torre is similarly grinding away at Fulham. There's also Harry Shipp who has lost his way in Montreal, although one could argue that his time with the Chicago Fire disrupted his development. There's also Luis Gil playing in Mexico, but we haven't heard from him in a while.
I'm not sure how a country develops attacking midfielders, but whatever the U.S. does now isn't working. Roldan is an interesting name, one who deserves a call, but he's actually been playing as a defensive midfielder for Seattle next to Osvaldo Alonso. If he doesn't get called in, then he can and likely will play for Guatemala.
Isn't this discussion emblematic of U.S. Soccer? We attempt to talk about attacking midfielders and the discussion turns to defensive midfielders.
Rob: I'm not even sure it's that. We're a country of No. 8's with very few true No. 6's and 10's. That's a problem. Hopefully it'll get solved one day.
Depth Chart Series: