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: Judging wingers is tough because there are so many different roles for the position. There’s the outright, traditional winger, the left-sided shuttler in a diamond midfielder and even the inverted winger, who can attack the goal as another forward.
Let’s just start at the top. This is the third position where Fabian Johnson is No. 1.
Rob: He's the ultimate utility man and has been since his arrival on the USMNT scene. LW is where he plays the majority of his club minutes, but he hasn't seen much time there at the international level. The main cause for this is that he's needed in more important positions and the depth behind him at LW is much stronger than at either fullback spot. The question then becomes: Do you play him in his best and most familiar position or where he helps the team the most?
Ryan: You always go with the position that helps the team most and, in Johnson's case, that is probably going to mean fullback. The team doesn't have much in the way of fullbacks, with Tim Ream and DeAndre Yedlin probably the next best options on each side, while Alejandro Bedoya is very good on the left wing. Johnson is better, but Bedoya is a much better left winger than Ream is a left back or Yedlin is a right back.
Bedoya isn't flashy and has never been Man of the Match for the U.S. He's not that kind of player who will blow you away, but has he ever had a bad match for the U.S. (when not playing as a defensive midfielder)? Every single time Bedoya is thrown out there, you're going to get an above average performance. Having that certainty is spectacularly valuable.
Rob: Bedoya's consistency and tireless work rate are very valuable and does well to cover up some of the deficiencies he does have. He'll obviously continue to be a stalwart in the U.S. lineup throughout this cycle.
How refreshing is it to finally have some new faces in the USMNT picture to talk about? Especially talented attacking players? We bumped up Sebastian Lletget up to third on our depth chart even though he's never been capped by the senior side. He's shown tremendous potential this season with the Galaxy. What's so intriguing about him are the mixture of skills he possesses. Not only is his technical quality above average, he's got the final product to go along with it. Not to mention he even shows a little flair from time-to-time, something USMNT desperately needs in their flank play.
Ryan: If Lletget had speed, he might be at the top of this list before long. He's that good and is only held back by his lack of pace, but he doesn't need to be fast. He's plenty good on the ball, he's creative and he's responsible defensively. Maybe most impressively, he does a brilliant job reading the game so he pops up near the touchline, all the way inside, forward, backward and anywhere in between. He's a threat from all over and he has a knack for getting the ball in dangerous places. Get him the ball with runners around him and the U.S. can thrive.
Lletget has only been playing first team soccer for about six months so we're going to need to see if he can maintain this level of play, but damn is he tantalizing. He's not a traditional winger, but his skill and technical quality outstrips any other U.S. player on either wing. He’ll be in Camp Cupcake and that could be the start of a long international career.
Rob: I can't wait to see him get his chance.
One guy that we all thought wouldn't get his chance until January is Darlington Nagbe. He's finally a U.S. citizen and Jurgen wasted no time in calling him into the national team setup. I, for one, couldn't be any happier. I've been a Nagbe fan since his rookie season in MLS. Even though his statistical production dropped off the last two seasons, for me he possesses the highest individual technical quality in the player pool. He's going to improve the team's overall play with his composure on the ball, I'm quite sure of it. Everyone will complain about his lack of goals, but I'll be here screaming from the mountain top that I'm thrilled to have Nagbe with the USMNT.
Ryan: He deserves a chance, no doubt, and I think he'll be a part of the team for a while, but I'd caution against getting too excited. We've been mesmerized by Nagbe's potential since he joined the Timbers in 2011, but he's never played up to it for an extended period of time. Maybe it finally clicks for him and he shows the type of intelligent ambition on the pitch to go with his considerable skill. I hope so, and even if he doesn't, he's good enough to get in the team, but the bar, expectation and even perception of him has always been higher than that.
Rob: Expectations will be high, but we need to learn what to expect and how to appreciate these types of players. He's not going to come and score a goal every game or make some amazing passes. He's a facilitator, a complimentary player. We need to learn to start accepting players like this into the national team without wanting them to be game changers.
Ryan: I don’t think it’s a matter of accepting these type of players. We accept Bedoya just fine. It’s that Nagbe has the skill to be so much more. Hopefully he makes good on that because most American players don’t have that potential. But at the very least he's a contributor, which is fine.
Miguel Ibarra fits into the fine category as well, albeit with less potential. He's a very different kind of player from Nagbe, which is fine and even useful on the wing. He's also progressing well with Club Leon so odds are that he'll be in the team more and more going forward.
Rob: He's still a bit of an unknown at this point. We've seen flashes from him in his first caps, but we just don't have a big enough sample size to really know what to expect. Having players playing first team minutes in good leagues is never a bad thing, though.
That brings us to the last name on the depth chart, Rubio Rubin. One of the few youngsters still over in Europe grinding it out. He had a good first season at Utrecht and followed it up with an impressive U-20 World Cup. I'm a Rubin fan. He, like Lletget, has the technical quality but lacks the pace. Unfortunately, this season has been a bit of a lost cause so far with inconsistent minutes and a foot injury. He's still very promising and one to watch out for in the next few years.
Ryan: Rubin looks like the best youngster coming up right now, even if injuries have slowed him, but he should have competition from Kekuta Manneh in that spot by next fall when he's expected to get U.S. citizenship. Manneh would be another exciting addition to the crop, especially since Rubin is probably better as a striker, but in reality, this team doesn't need a ton more. There are a lot of good options in here already and none of them are older than 28. Plus, if a couple fullbacks establish themselves, Johnson can actually play on the wing.
Rob: It feels nice to be optimistic about a USMNT position for once.
Depth chart series