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USMNT depth chart: Attacking midfield

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The U.S. has never been great at developing attacking midfielders. They still aren't and it shows in the current team.

Harry How/Getty Images

The United States' 2015 was a disaster, from a failed Gold Cup to a CONCACAF Cup loss. But things start anew this year. 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 more qualifying and Copa America, 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.

1 Michael Bradley
2 Clint Dempsey
3 Darlington Nagbe
4 Lee Nguyen
5 Alejandro Bedoya
6 Mix Diskerud
7 Christian Pulisic

Ryan: Attacking midfielders have to be skillful, savvy, creative and have great vision. Unsurprisingly, the U.S. has done a terrible job developing them. It’s why Michael Bradley plays the position some. He’s the team’s best option there, even though it’s not where he is best.

Rob: It's probably safe to say it's the team's biggest weakness. Poor Bradley doesn't even like playing there but is forced to by default. It's not an ideal situation, but you have to have someone in the spot who has some sort of creativity. He at least has the quality to create chances even if they are few and far between. The options behind him aren't any more effective.

Ryan: And yet he’s pretty clearly the best option, while Clint Dempsey is the second best and he’s better closer to goal. But as Bruce Arena said, "he tries shit" and not only is that a perfect description of Dempsey, but also something the U.S. needs more of. Ideally, a natural attacking midfielder would grab hold of the spot so Dempsey can play at striker and Bradley deeper.

Rob: Dempsey is a nightmare positionally and tactically for any manager, but he's too good not to be on the field somewhere. It's a no-brainer that he's this high on our list. If he's ideally playing up top and Bradley is sitting back that leaves a whole group of players fighting for the next spot. We have Darlington Nagbe at No. 3, but realistically all of the next three names are interchangeable and don't stand out from the rest. I do believe that Nagbe has the best skillset out of the three, but as far as actual production goes, it's probably a wash.

Ryan: Nagbe definitely has the best skillset and should have the highest ceiling. If anyone is going to be the guy pulling the strings for the U.S., it will probably be him. Bedoya is more of an active runner, but like he is everywhere else, he's dependable and responsible. Nguyen would be a great option if he plays like he does in MLS, but a seamless transition is rare. He's certainly earned continued chances, though.

Rob: All three have their place in the fold and probably fit in different styles and formations. I don't think you'll find many people who will groan about seeing any of their names in a starting lineup.

That brings us to Mix. We love Mix. We want him to be so much more than he really is, but it's just not going to happen. He's an above-average player that possesses technical quality, but he just doesn't put his stamp on matches like he needs to and that's been his detriment as a USMNT player.

Ryan: He's not going to be a creative force or pull the strings. He's just not, no matter how badly we want him to or how much we thought he develop into that kind of player. But he can keep the ball, recycle it and maybe even help dictate tempo. That's not ideal, but it's not something to completely dismiss considering how much the U.S. struggles with all of those things.

Rob: We go from player that struggles to be dynamic to possibly the most dynamic prospect in the player pool. Christian Pulisic is all the rage these days. Obviously he's only 17 and patience must be preached, but it's very hard not to get excited about this young player. He has all the tools to become an impact player, but we've said this before about several players in the past. Is this finally the time one pans out or are we getting ahead of ourselves once again?

Ryan: He's a legitimate first team player now. Does that mean he's going to be a star? No. Does that mean he's even going to be a U.S. regular? No. But he's actually auditioning for the senior team week in, week out. That makes his situation entirely different than most others. Get excited, and be prepared to justify or temper that excitement every weekend when he plays against real adults.

Rob: That's completely fair and logical. I'll try to refrain from buying his kit and getting his named tattooed on my person a little while longer.

It's not an inspiring group of "attacking" midfielders, but there is some talent on the list, so that's a positive, I suppose.

Ryan: People will undoubtedly wonder where Benny Feilhaber is. Apparently we side with Jurgen Klinsmann (/ducks).

Rob: Without getting too philosophical about it, he's had attitude issues for years and it wasn't just under Klinsmann. There's no questioning his talent as his production over the last two years proves. There's too much bad blood in the water now that it's probably best for both parties to just forget about one another and move on at this point.

Ryan: Yeah, he didn’t get along perfectly with Bob Bradley and let’s not forget Peter Vermes had to start him on the bench in a key late season match just last year. He’s talented and if Klinsmann wanted to call him in, fine, but let’s not pretend as if this is simply a Feilhaber vs. Klinsmann thing or that he’s so good the manager has to put up with whatever it is to make sure he’s in the team.

Depth chart series

Goalkeeper
Left back
Centerback
Right back
Defensive midfield
Left wing
Right wing