The United States' 2015 has been a disaster, from a failed Gold Cup to a CONCACAF Cup loss. But things start anew on November 14 with the start of 2018 World Cup qualifying. Jurgen Klinsmann needs to turn the team around, and he's said he wants to get younger as part of his continued evolution of the team. So with that in mind, as the Americans gear up for qualifying, 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.
Ryan: The United States defense has taken a lot of heat since the World Cup, and they haven’t been good, but in their defense, they get put in a lot of bad situations. That is in part due to the decline of Kyle Beckerman, which has left the Americans without a dependable defensive midfielder. So what do they have to stabilize this midfield and, more than anything, give the defense a fighting chance?
Rob: They have several really good options, but ones that are either aging, being played out of position, or injury prone. During Michael Bradley's time in Serie A he played predominantly as a defensive midfielder and did so really well. It's time to give up the hope that he can play the No. 10 position and bring him back to his more natural No. 6 spot, even if it's alongside another holding player. The whole lineup revolves around Bradley's positioning, it's time to put him where he's needed most and with Beckerman likely out of the picture, that's at the defensive midfield spot.
Ryan: I don't know about several good options. I think there's one really good options and a lot of problems. Bradley would be a very good defensive midfielder for the team. He reads the game better than anyone else, is a capable tackler and wouldn't give the ball away in dangerous places. Moreover, in addition to short passes and making himself available as an outlet to develop rhythm, he can also hit the long ball that pushes opposing defenses back. The problem is he's also the team's best player in other spots and after him, well, it's pretty bad.
Rob: I have to disagree. Danny Williams is a really good player and more than capable of replacing Beckerman if paired alongside someone like Bradley. I think trying to find someone who can man the defensive midfield position by himself is a fool's errand right now. We just don't have someone good enough. The formation has to be tailored to what we do have and that's a field of competent midfielders that run at least six deep.
Ryan: I don't see much reason in pairing someone like Williams with Bradley. If you're going to put Bradley deep, why waste another spot on someone like Williams, who offers you little else than the basic defensive midfield qualities. The thing about Beckerman, as vital as he was, is that he was of the minimum quality to be passable. Worse than Beckerman doesn't really cut it. Williams is worse than Beckerman and you can tailor a team however you'd like, but trying to find the right people to complement Williams or anyone else below him on this list right now isn't going to give you a particularly good team.
The only other player besides Bradley who is good enough is Geoff Cameron, which is problematic because he doesn't play there much anymore and he's also the team's best centerback.
Rob: The Bradley-Cameron defensive midfield pairing was my favorite one to watch during the last qualifying cycle. It's a shame we didn't get to see more of it. Cameron is certainly needed more on the back line than he is in the midfield now.
That brings us to Jermaine Jones. While he's been a fantastic player for the USMNT the last two years or so, unfortunately age is a huge factor with him. He's 34-years-old now and would be 36 come Russia 2018. I just don't see a scenario in which he makes it all the way through this cycle as a contributing national teamer. How big of a role do you think he'll play this cycle?
Ryan: Hopefully he'll play a big role. Or hopefully a small one? I'm not sure.
I think it's easy to get caught up thinking ahead to 2018, but many of the players playing big roles three, two or even a year before the World Cup aren't going to be with the team in Russia. The goals for the team right now are World Cup qualifying and Copa America Centenario. Jones can still help the team with those two and there can still be enough time to find a younger option for the World Cup. I'd like to see Jurgen Klinsmann continue to lean on Jones and I think he will. It's not ideal, especially considering Klinsmann's desire to push Bradley up the pitch, but it's not an awful option and his age isn't a big concern for me yet.
Rob: Short term he certainly does appear to still be one of the better options. Only time will tell how long he can keep going at the international level. The next three players on our depth chart come from MLS and all have very little USMNT experience, but all perform great for their clubs.
Wil Trapp is a really promising young player. I'm a huge fan of his technical and passing abilities, but I'm very concerned that he doesn't have the defensive acumen for the international level. What is it about him that gets him so high on the list?
Ryan: He definitely doesn't have the steel you'd ideally want from your defensive midfielder, but it's not as if he's a total sieve. I think his ability to read the game defensively is really underrated and he often cuts out attacks early so he isn't put into a place where he has to make a tough tackle. It's just as effective, if not as sexy or apparent. I'm with you on his technical ability, which is huge. I wouldn't throw him in as a lone holder right now, but put him with a partner in a holding pivot and I think he can be effective. His ability going forward makes me like him in that situation much more than someone like Williams, plus Trapp has a lot of upside.
Rob: I agree with you on the partnership idea. It's always nice to have young players to look forward to. Hopefully he gets his chance in the near future.
One player who got his chance nearly five years ago is Dax McCarty. He captained the USMNT in the 2011 Camp Cupcake under Bob Bradley. Since then he's never been called up again. He's had a phenomenal two years with the Red Bulls and has always been a consistent player. He's a really good defender, has adequate technical ability, and plays with so much emotion. He seems like the perfect national team candidate to me. Why hasn't he gotten a chance under Klinsmann?
Ryan: Quite simply, I don't think he's good enough. He's a very good MLS player, no doubt, but he's not exceptionally tidy on the ball, or a great tackler, or anything that I think would make him good enough for the national team. Again, Beckerman was barely good enough. McCarty isn't as good as Beckerman was a couple years ago. The pickings are slim so he's in the mix, but I don't think he's a guy anyone wants out there.
The same is true of Perry Kitchen and Alfredo Morales. They're just not good enough. Kitchen is at least decently young so there's hope that he will grow, but I think he ends up a lot like McCarty -- really nice MLS player who pretty much every team would love to have, but not quite good enough for the national team.
Rob: I think Dax could absolutely help the national team as a role player if given the chance. I agree with the other two, though. It's really downhill after Jones. Hopefully the current U-23 crop of Matt Polster and/or Fatai Alashe improve and force their names into the conversation next year.
Ryan: Kellyn Acosta needs to get it going. Or Tyler Adams needs to be a star. And damnit, we're talking about a 16-year-old now. This has gone downhill quickly.
Depth chart series