Tennessee is not recruiting well just because they got 18 dudes
Last time out. Facing the suspension of Deandre Yedlin, Klinsmann flipped Fabian Johnson to the right and brought in Matt Besler as a left-back-type-substance. This looked weird on the surface. When soccer folk attempt to describe an overall tactical approach with a formation those formations are invariably symmetrical and identical in attack and on defense; neither of these things are true in practice. Besler barely ventured forward when the US had the ball; Fabian Johnson bombed up the right sideline all game. Both of these decisions were suited to their play, and the US played their best first half of the tournament. It was predictable but it put people in roles they were good at.
Things went nuts in the second half after red cards to each team. Jermaine Jones put a fist in the vicinity of an Ecuador player to even things up after Antonio Valencia got a second yellow card, turning what should have been a comfortable exercise in seeing out a game a man and a goal up into a frenetic finish. Klinsmann left Clint Dempsey on the field an inordinately long time, leaving the US with just seven guys trying to defend. This paid off with a goal, and then bit the US when Dempsey continued afterwards. Klinsmann also left on a number of US players on yellow cards and got his just desserts for doing so when an exhausted Alejandro Bedoya pulled an opponent back after getting beaten. He was issued a yellow that suspends him for this game. Steve Birnbaum would come on in the 93rd minute as a middle finger to common sense.
But they're here, in a semi-final against Argentina. This is an opportunity for history.
This dude 1) scores 2/3rds of a goal per game in the EPL, 2) comes off Argentina's bench
So… Argentina. The problem is that they're not just Messi. Throw a rock at the attacking players on Argentina's team and you will hit a cornerstone of one of the elite clubs in the world. A dude with 102 goals in 150 appearances for Manchester City comes off their bench. FIFA rankings blah blah blah; #1 does mean something.
After years of frustration they've finally figured out how to deploy Messi in the context of the national team: they tell him to do whatever he wants and try to run into useful places. Messi roams from sideline to sideline, from front to back, and is extremely difficult to mark out of a game as a result.
Their defense looks elite but is part a creation of their possession; they had a shaky period against Venezuela where the Rio Tinto outside backs were bombing forward and unsettling the D's organization. Venezuela hit a post, missed a penalty, and forced a couple excellent saves out of the Argentina keeper.
Argentina's back four is not to the standard of the rest of the team. They start Gabriel Mercado, a 29-year-old Liga MX player with just six caps, at one outside back spot. The other outside back spot is a Man U player who has trouble getting league appearances; Everton center back Ramio Funes Mori has been a bit iffy in this tournament. This is still Argentina we're talking about here but they're not overwhelming back to front like a Germany is. Those center backs are generally regarded as the weak links of the team, and a quick counter attack or successful overload could stake the US to a lead. Argentina is vulnerable to the kind of goals the US scored against Ecuador. The US can have a period of similar productivity, and maybe they have better luck.
Just one problem.
Wood is the man, and he's on the bench. Wood is a brutal loss since he's been maybe the USA's best player in this tournament not named John Brooks—he is capable of runs behind the defense and hold-up play, a complete forward the US hasn't seen since the brief moment when Charlie Davies was reaching his peak. While it came to little, Wood's tenacity and speed were most apparent on a run early in the Ecuador game that had no business turning into a shot but did nonetheless:
That is a guy who puts the fear of God into center backs.
Woods had two hockey assists in that game as his runs drove the opposition back to the mouth of their own goal and opened up space for crosses against a defense that had already spent a center back chasing him.* Davies was the last US forward to threaten like this. His activity became so integral to the USA's gameplan under Bob Bradley that Bradley not only brought but started Robbie Findley during the 2010 World Cup. Since Findley was a version of Davies with cement blocks for feet this was a mistake; it demonstrates just how dangerous and difficult to find a guy like Wood is for the US. (Except they've got another one playing in Seattle, but that's another post.)
Everyone assumes that the US will slide Zardes up top and try to get the same production. Zardes does match Wood's speed and endurance but Wood is super productive at finding space, something Zardes is erratic at. His first touch has been discussed to death for good reason; he's not likely to replicate Wood's production. The US is hoping he has a moment or two where it works out and he can apply his physical gifts. The other option is Chris Wondolowski, which: no.
*[Fancy talk for this is "running the channels." To execute this a center forward runs diagonally to the edge of the field, usually when the outside back is up the field. A center back generally gets pulled into an uncomfortable spot and the defense has to rotate to cover. Just like in basketball, a rotating defense is a vulnerable one. The second goal is a quintessential example of that activity.]
What now? Wood, Jones, and Bedoya are suspended for the semifinal. Losing the two central midfielders at the same time is rough but survivable since there are reasonable replacements; losing Wood is probably fatal for the USA's chances in a game where they don't figure to have much of the ball.
I'm operating under the following assumptions:
- The US will continue using Dempsey as a second forward under a true #9
- They will not be averse to asymmetry in the formation
- Darlington Nagbe made fun of Klinsmann's hair
Klinsmann has gone with all the old guys for his substitutions so far, frustratingly. Continuing that would be a major mistake. The Argentina back line had a lot of trouble with Venezuela's outside speed. Beckerman has just about reached his expiration date. I'd rather roll with a more athletic player there.
I would stick with the unbalanced formation the US used against Ecuador and slide Fabian Johnson up. You're going to need a moment of brilliance or two and Johnson is one of the likeliest candidates to provide that if he's allowed to play on the wing. It could look like this:
You could flip Pusilic in for Zusi but the chances of that seem very low.
FWIW, this is the formation most of the USA internet has arrived at. It lets Yedlin fly up the wing like Fabian Johnson did in the previous game and puts Johnson back at the spot that he excelled in this season for Gladbach. With Argentina down Angel Di Maria and Nicholas Gaitan they don't have a ton of width. Their outside backs don't get forward much; they don't do a whole lot of crossing. They had only 12 in the Venezuela game, and one of those was the ridiculous Messi assist from 40 yards out. All this means the US would do well to replicate their gameplan against Spain in the Confederations Cup: load up the middle and clear the crosses.
The gameplan with Beckerman looks something like this:
Nagbe has been more effective in the center of midfield in the last couple years of MLS play but this would be more or less fine. Other exotic options include dumping Dempsey for a 100% bunker, bringing in DM Perry Kitchen, and deploying Pusilic. None of these seem at all likely, but Klinsmann might Klinsmann.
Nagbe is critical because he is the USA's best bet to relieve pressure and get more of the ball. His exclusion has been somewhat reasonable to date; leaving him out in this game means both Zusi and Beckerman are playing and means the US is playing to survive a 90 minute onslaught and hope for the best in penalties. Given the situation Nagbe is a better defensive player than Beckerman. He would not fare as well in a defensive mid role but he doesn't have to play it, and Nagbe is a huge upgrade in both athleticism and ability to possess the ball.
This tournament is already a success. It's hard to imagine that the continual changes in both personnel and formation will persist going forward. The back five are just about set. Wood and Dempsey are your first choice forward pairing. Jones, Bedoya, Zardes, and Nagbe will battle for midfield spots. There's one slot in the first-choice 11 that is up for grabs based on performance (Zardes) and two that may have to be revisited due to age or continued problems with red mist (Dempsey and Jones). For a team that didn't start the same center back pairing since the assassination of Franz Ferdinand until the run up to this tournament that's a quantum leap forward.
Most of the questions concern backup spots now and even a couple of those (Jordan Morris, for one) have reasonable answers going forward. Outside back, as always, is the main area of concern.
Klinsmann still behaves like a man who's petrified people will see through the emperor's new clothes and is replacement-level at best, but… hey, replacement level! I can dig that!
The US came out of a reasonably difficult group at the Copa America and now faces Ecuador, a team they just beat 1-0 in a pre-Copa friendly, in the quarterfinal. Assorted items. Nobody cares if you don't like soccer, sports talk radio enthusiast.
Klinsmann wasn't entirely wrong after Colombia… The opener against Colombia was a 2-0 loss but far less dispiriting than a lot of victories over the past couple years, and because everyone's on edge about how Klinsmann is a bad coach there was a ton of pushback/panic/etc. Klinsmann in the aftermath:
Despite the loss, USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann declared himself generally pleased with how his team performed in what he termed “a totally even game.”
“We were absolutely OK with the team performance,” Klinsmann told reporters in his postgame press conference. “Obviously we got punished for two set pieces in the first half, and then against such a quality team [it’s] very, very difficult if you don’t force one goal to get back into the game and equalize it. But overall, we were completely even. We didn’t give them anything.”
This was sort of correct and sort of the same product Klinsmann's self-serving excuse factory has been dumping into the river for a couple years now. (Please do not try to compare the above statements to anything Klinsmann said during or after the 2015 Gold Cup. If they touch each other they will explode.) Colombia generated little from the run of play. The fancystat Expected Goals more or less thought the game was a wash:
xG map for USA - Colombia. Not much in this one between the goal and the Bacca big chance. pic.twitter.com/RZWb2NhG7O
— Michael Caley (@MC_of_A) June 7, 2016
That more or less corresponds to what I saw, except the one big Colombia chance it sees is overrated by the formula because it doesn't take the difficulty of Bacca's attempt into account. I'll take that against the #3 team in the world. One missed mark on a corner and a fluke PK were about it for Rodriguez, Cuadrado, Bacca, and company. That's the bit where Klinsmann was right. The bit where he was wrong was a game state thing. Colombia scored within ten minutes and were happy to sit back and see what happened, especially once it seemed like the US was no threat. It wasn't a threat, and a large part of that goes back to the manager.
[After THE JUMP: soccer content that will probably revoke your man card or something]
FOR THOSE WHO HAVEN'T PAID ATTENTION IN A YEAR OR TWO
If you're just joining us after the World Cup, hoo boy. The US has alternated impressive friendly victories over world powers with dismal performances against the likes of Jamaica and Guatemala in competitive matchups. The US had its worst-ever Gold Cup, limping through the group stage and getting bashed out of the competition by the Reggae Boys in the semi, then losing in the third-place match. Since then the USA has careened wildly from one thing to another; they're now in slight danger of missing out on the World Cup after a first-ever loss to the aforementioned Guatemalans.
Even Aussies writing for the Guardian have noticed:
Jurgen Klinsmann is …
… an average coach whose motivational abilities can’t disguise his tactical shortcomings. JW
… stretched too thin. The technical director of US soccer keeps interfering with the head coach in trying out new personnel to bring through, with a perpetual eye on a distant event horizon. The coach is unable to settle on a side with all this going on, and should maybe take that up with the technical director, but the technical director … etc etc. GP
… still unsure of his best team and tactics and surely ripe for replacement if the Copa is a catastrophe. TD
… relying on new blood. Pulisic, Brooks, Nagbe and Wood have excited in recent matches. Will they finally fulfill Klinsmann’s promise of proactive soccer? DM
… always a motivator, never a tactician. Klinsmann’s Achilles heel is that he doesn’t have a plan B. LME
For Michigan fans the parallels to Brady Hoke are many. Good recruiter; tactically deficient, in over his head, tends to clap a lot.
Some good things have occurred. Klinsmann was ahead of the curve on both Jordan Morris and Bobby Wood, and did call up Darlington Nagbe the instant he was eligible. (Starting him seems to be a bridge too far at the moment.) Along with the aforementioned three, the emergence of Deandre Yedlin as a legit EPL right back and John Brooks's continued development give the USA a player pool that is at least on par with the best they've ever had—even without Jozy Altidore, who will miss the tournament with another hamstring injury.
Meanwhile, there appears to be a light at the end of a long dark tactical tunnel. But first…
A BRIEF RANT ABOUT AVAILABLE TALENT
If any eurosnob you come across attempts to defend Klinsmann by trashing the USA's current talent level, please stab them. The USA got out of a World Cup group in 2010 with a striker corps of Altidore, Robbie Findlay, Edson Bubble, and Herculez Gomez. Fringe EPL defender Jay DeMerit, Belgian-league star Oguchi Onyewu, and either Jonathan Bornstein or an out-of-position Carlos Bocanegra were most of the defense. Ricardo Clark and Maurice Edu split time in the midfield; neither of those guys ever made it in a top league. (Edu did have a good run at Rangers.)
This USA team figures to feature:
- More or less the same goalies, Bradley, and Dempsey
- Two regular Bundesliga starters (Johnson, Brooks) and a guy just signed by Hamburg after scoring 17 in the German second flight(Wood)
- Two regular EPL starters (Cameron, Yedlin)
- A regular for Nantes (Bedoya)
- A former Schalke captain (Jones)
- aaaand Gyasi Zardes
Off the bench they'll bring Christian Pulisic and Darlington Nagbe instead of one the aforementioned strikers and Edu/Clark. Maybe the talent isn't better, but for it not to be the dropoff from Landon Donovan to Not Landon Donovan would have to be stunning.
Anyone who tries to tell you the USA doesn't have the talent to get out of this group or not get massively outshot at the Gold Cup last summer is the kind of soccer hipster who should be deported.
AT LONG LAST, A PLAN
The USMNT's long-standing lack of commitment to any approach, lineup, or even center-back pairing finally appeared to resolve itself into a formation and even a starting 11 over the past few friendlies. It looks like the US is set to deploy a 4-3-3 close to this:
This more or less makes sense. Without Altidore the US does not have a traditional burly center forward. They do have a couple of fast buggers and one ornery Texan with a nose for goal and sweet moves. The 4-3-3 accommodates these gents.
A lot of commenters hate Dempsey as a "lone forward" up top, including MLSsoccer.com's Matt Doyle. His desired formation inserts Wood up top and has Dempsey as a highly nominal right winger.* Doyle is an excellent analyst who I agree with most of the time, but not here. While Dempsey is without question the USA's most skilled and dangerous attacker, he's never been an industrious player. Now that he's into his 30s, expecting him to cover on defense is foolhardy. Putting him (again, nominally) up top allows him to marshal his energy reserves and allows a much more spry player to provide cover when the game demands it. Zardes, for all his flaws, runs his ass off to support on D.
Dempsey's best as a striker when the US is out of possession. When the US gets the ball his natural tendency to drop deep provides center backs with a dilemma: allow Dempsey time and space to turn in or near the final third, or challenge him and hope the space you're leaving doesn't bite your ass. Bolivia chose the latter and gave up chance after chance, including the opening goal:
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) May 29, 2016
In fancy talk this is Dempsey operating as a "false nine." (Fancy people will refer to the lead striker as the 9.) Dempsey facilitated several dangerous opportunities by playing like this; in addition to the goal you can catch him playing Wood in at around 1:30 on US Soccer's highlights of the game.
Dempsey is well suited to this kind of play. He's crafty, he's skilled with the ball at his feet, opponents are generally wary about getting too close because he has the ability to smoke 'em. This makes sense. Maybe. Probably.
We don't know it makes sense because Klinsmann has spent every friendly he's had on something that is not this. Whether the US can sustain this in a competitive match against a good opponent is unknown. Whether Klinsmann will even stick with this setup is unknown. He has rumbled about going with Beckerman when opponents deploy an attacking midfielder, ominously.
But still, I'll take something that looks like it makes sense, and might remain the same for a few danged games consecutively.
*[You may have heard me describe a 4-3 under in football as a defense halfway between the 3-4 and the under's 4-3 predecessor, the 4-3 even. Positional designations in soccer are far less rigid but the same principle applies here: a 4-3-3 often turns into a system that is a hybrid between one- and two-striker systems. If Dempsey is deployed on the "right wing" he is going to function like a slightly right-biased underneath striker.]
possible future employment?
The message boards have a good deal of speculation about Hoke's job security. At what point will Dave Brandon's job security come into question? A while back you outlined a number of failures during Brandon's tenure. To me, the fact that ticket sales are so slow, that even the students seem to have had enough of this BS, has to raise some eyebrows with people in power. Or is Brandon firmly entrenched as long as wants to be here?
As Brady said, "This is Michigan, fergodsakes." It's not feeling much like Michigan lately.
Class of '93
I don't think Brandon is particularly entrenched.
I've heard chatter that certain people in positions of power would be happy to see a change… a lot of chatter. But I've heard that chatter for over a year now, and predictions that Brandon would be replaced have come and gone. At this point I'm skeptical that the people are inclined to do much, or have the power to do so.
That said, Brandon's now in the same situation Rich Rodriguez (and big swathes of the department he replaced) was: his boss did not hire him, and his performance is in the range where replacing him wouldn't raise eyebrows. It's quite a trick to get the entire student body to hate you.
Gents of MGoBlog -
In these recent times of hardship for the football program, Dave Brandon has taken a lot of heat for his cardboard cutout marketing/branding efforts when it comes to the team and other University athletic programs. There seems to be a large and growing consensus of fans (at least on the MGoBoard) that point out every misstep they believe he makes - there have been quite a few dud ploys he and the AD have rolled out.
However, i'm curious to know if there are any decisions or moves he's made as AD that the MGoPolitburo or wider UofM community have received positively. Have any of the AD's ideas under his leadership had a direct positive impact on any or even one of the school's athletic programs? Whatever the case may be, who are some Athletic Directors who "get it" at their respective institution who you would like to see in charge at Michigan?
The main thing people point to in Brandon's favor is the pile of cash. I'm not that impressed, because you or I could have been appointed AD and sat there wibble-wobbling our lips and Michigan would have seen an enormous uptick in revenue. Brandon's first official day on the job was the UConn game when the luxury boxes opened. The Big Ten Network and the expiration of the Big Ten rights deal provided another large bump.
What revenue that is attributable to Brandon comes from piling a bunch of rights together and selling them in a pile to IMG and testing the outer limits of what people will pay for Michigan football tickets. That's good if you're running a public company and your stock options are about to vest, but there are indicators everywhere that the fanbase has finally been worn down. Brandon is chipping away at fan goodwill constantly, and I worry about the long term impact of the clear divide between big chunks of the fanbase (and all of the students) and Brandon.
Meanwhile, what do I care about the amount of money flowing into Michigan's pockets? It does me no good. It doesn't seem to do anyone any good. The Big Ten has been the nation's best money extraction device for some years now and they still end up hiring Tim Beckmann. Meanwhile, every athletic department in the Big Ten is trying to find ways to launder their piles of cash by plowing it into minor sports that hold the same interest for me no matter how well they're supported.
I do like the legends patches (if only they'd stop screwing with people's numbers), but the rest of the changes he's made to the Michigan gameday experience have been negative.
As for potential replacements, there are a couple of Michigan alums at prominent schools: Jeff Long is at Arkansas and Warde Manuel at UConn. Long got handed a poop sandwich when Bobby Petrino had his motorcycle sexytime accident, but recovered impressively by pirating Bret Bielema away from Wisconsin. Whatever your personal opinion of Bielema, that is a coup of a hire for a school like Arkansas. He was just named the chair of the CoFoPoff's selection committee, as well, so he's respected within the AD community.
Manuel hired Turner Gill at Buffalo, who briefly made Buffalo not the worst team in D-I, and then ended up hiring Kevin Ollie at UConn, though that was not much of a decision. Paul Pasqualoni was already in place when he was hired at UConn; he fired him and replaced him with ND DC Bob Diaco after taking a swing at MSU DC Pat Narduzzi. That may or may not work out but that process seems pretty sensible to me.
Importantly, both of these guys have experience in the job they'd have at Michigan.
Could you give odds/estimates on the likelihood of all six freshmen redshirting next year? At the end of the regular season we expected Doyle and probably Wilson to redshirt. Now they're both potentially heavy rotation players while two unheralded wing players signed up that may play key roles or may redshirt. Help us sort out the situation.
Doyle, Wilson, and Chatman are all going to play. I don't expect Hatch to. MAAR/Dawkins is where it gets interesting. Michigan has tried to redshirt guys who are young and need some polishing, but both MAAR and Dawkins are older than average freshmen. For MAAR that's just because he's older; for Dawkins it's because he took a prep year.
It would make sense for one to redshirt with Michigan looking at a small (one member?) 2015 class, but with the NBA attrition these days you might want to play both in an effort to see which guy can help you more down the stretch and prepare both to take over for LeVert and possibly Irvin. I'm guessing everyone plays.
There have been three high level recruits who have decommitted this recruiting season. My question relates to the bagman article mgoblog referred to a couple months back: is there a possibility that there are Michigan bagmen who disapprove Brady Hoke and have pulled their resources from high level recruits in an effort to more quickly dump Hoke? I realize there are many factors that play in, I just can't help but wonder after reading the bagman article.
No. While I imagine bagmen play into the recruitment of one of the guys who has decommitted, the situation there was more local guys getting involved with family members than anything Michigan did or did not do.
I don't know if Michigan actually has bagmen per se. It doesn't seem like their style, and it doesn't really seem like their style to remove support even if they do exist.
Occam's Razor suggests that the guys who have decommitted have done so because they saw last season's football team and are a little leery of signing on with a program that might be seeing a coaching change in the near future.
[After the JUMP: some soccer stuff.]
The Beas is finally at ease. Probably. I don't think the USA will have to resort to Beasley in 2018, but 1) left back is a difficult spot to fill for anyone and 2) if anyone is going to have a Frankie Hedjuk zombie USA career it is the Beas.
Demonstrating this: there's not a lot in the pipeline here.
FABIAN JOHNSON – Borussia Monchengladbach (Germany) – 30 in 2018 -
Yedlin's emergence should kick Johnson back over to left back, where he was just as much of a dynamic attacking force for the Nats during qualification and the like. Hopefully he retains his speed at 30; hopefully another four years at outside back will let him work on some of the mental errors that saw players get in behind him late in games—his guy scored in both the Ghana and Portugal games after the 80th minute.
If things are going very well at outside back you could see Johnson slide up into a wing midfield spot. What are the chances of that? Not great. But I'm saying there's a chance because of…
CHRIS KLUTE – Colorado Rapids – 28 in 2018 – 0 caps
Klute appeared from nowhere in 2012 after his career had seemingly fizzled out. He lasted just one year at Furman and was idling in the reserves of the NASL's Atlanta Silverbacks; a year later he was Colorado's defensive player of the year.
He's a lightning bolt like Yedlin and is capable of playing either side, a versatility that will help him get on the roster. He is in fact more natural on the left—his crosses from there have generated a number of Rapids goals—and is thus a treasure. Already called into a USA training camp with his teammate Shane O'Neill. He is the most likely uncapped player to make the 2018 23. Because left back, yes. But also guy has talent.
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GREG GARZA – Tijuana (Mexico) – 26 in 2018 – 0 caps
soundtrack is rad, totally tubular, bitchin' yo
Garza is an on and off starter for Tijuana, having seemingly pushed Edgar Castillo out of favor there. It's been difficult to figure out just how much he's playing for the Xolos; it appears he's made 34 appearances since his 2012 arrival. So not exactly first name on the team sheet. Since I can't say I've seen him I'm going by what's out there on the internet and it's a bit confused as to whether he is a clear first choice riser or not.
But as a guy seeing time at left back for a good Mexican side you can be sure the USMNT takes a look.
JUAN PABLO OCEGUEDA – UANL Tigres (Mexio) – 24 in 2018 – 0 caps
Ocegueda was a hotly contested recruitment battle between the US and Mexico that the US won. Unfortunately for Ocegueda, he made this decision at the same time he went on a loan to Chivas. Chivas only plays Mexican nationals, so he was frozen out. Why they didn't just terminate the loan is unknown.
Ocegueda's stuck behind Jorge Torres Nilo, a Mexico international, at Tigres and will have to find a loan or move to get the playing time necessary to become a part of the full national team picture. He should be first choice for the U23 2016 Olympics, for a start.
ERIC LICHAJ – Nottingham Forest (England 2nd) – 29 in 2018 – 10 caps
Lichaj is a natural right back who's been trying to diversify his game and become, like Johnson, comfortable with both feet. He played fairly regularly for EPL side Aston Villa after coming through their academy; last year he signed with Forest on a two-year deal and saw plenty of playing time before a hip issue knocked him out of the lineup and any potential consideration for a World Cup spot. (Not that Klinsmann seemed to give him any notice when he was healthy.)
Lichaj has not appeared under Klinsmann when even Edgar Castillo was given multiple chances, so it's a bit grim for him. If he can add that versatility, though, and play regularly for a solid team he'll be in the picture.
LONGSHOTS: Edgar Castillo has 16 caps to his name but has looked like a defensive disaster in almost all of them; he'd be 31 and on the downside in Russia. Also, Garza forced his way into the starting lineup past Castillo. It's almost certainly curtains for him.
And don't ever count out DaMarcus Beasley.
Meep meep, y'all.
DEANDRE YEDLIN – (probably) Roma (Italy) – 24 in 2018 – 7 caps
Yedlin's breakout World Cup demonstrated he was one of the fastest players in the world, and his crossing was consistently dangerous. It took under a week for AS Roma to swoop in on him and complete a transfer that will see him finish the year with Seattle, then move to Italy midseason. From there he'll be loaned out to a mid-table Seria A team (Italy allows only one non-EU player to come in per year, and Roma's used theirs) and then attempt to replace Maicon, the 32-year-old Brazilian international. So… yeah. Big shoes.
He's supposedly a little deficient when it comes to reading the game, but I mean, nits. He is 20. If he continues improving he's a holy lock… and probably even if he doesn't. But let's hope for the former.
ANDREW FARRELL – New England Revolution – 26 in 2018 – 0 caps
Farrell was the first pick in the 2013 draft after a formative period in Peru(!)—his parents were missionaries there for ten years—and three years at Louisville and has established himself one of the top young outside backs in MLS already. Bonus points for growing a beard until he scores.
Also bonus: depending on how he develops, Farrell may add enough positional flexibility to only bring seven defenders, as he was a center-back in college and has seen time there in MLS when injury has forced him to. He is technical:
"When he has the ball at his feet, he’s willing to do things in the back that defenders like me never did," Heaps said. "He’s so strong, good in the air, but for me the thing that makes Andrew as good as he is, his feet are so quick. I've never seen it before on a player his size. He’ll dribble. He can get himself out of a tough situation by passing out of the back. That’s just his nature. ‘I can do this. I can get by this guy, make a move here, get by one player and open it up for a [teammate]."
That'll help him, broken record about technical defenders being a must, etc., etc.
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TIM CHANDLER – Eintracht Frankfurt (Germany) - 28 in 2018 – 13 caps
Chandler's indifferent-to-miserable form after a promising start and wavering dedication to the US cause puts his place in question. At 24 he's probably not going to make a great leap forward, either. Nonetheless, he is a regular Bundesliga starter at a spot where the US doesn't currently have a lot of options.
Chandler will have plenty of opportunities to confirm or dis-confirm his ability and desire before 2018, and if he's into it he does have the most impressive career to date. I just don't know if Klinsmann's going to play ball here—he cut Donovan ruthlessly over dedication issues.
KELLYN ACOSTA – FC Dallas – 22 in 2018 – 0 caps
Acosta skipped college entirely to become a homegrown signing for Dallas and ended up moving to right back for the bulk of this season. He's having some troubles staying on the field and picked up an injury recently, as will happen to 18-year-old pros. Dallas fans seem to think his long-term future is in the midfield; we'll see. At an international level the opportunity is greater at outside back. Like it always is.
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Never count out DaMarcus Beasley, I guess? It's tough to find other reasonable options. This list already has a converted CB and converted mid. Plus Tim Chandler.
Besler and Cameron will be 31 and 32, respectively, when 2018 rolls around. Gonzalez will be 28, Brooks 25. It is a possibility the US rolls with the same four central defenders they did in 2018.
MATT BESLER – Sporting KC – 31 in 2018 – 21 caps
Besler is not likely to be in MLS for much longer after a terrific World Cup. Yeah, Romelu Lukaku ran through him. That'll happen in the 93rd minute against one of the most athletic strikers in the world fresh off the bench. In just about every other situation Besler found himself in, he was terrific. Dude's going to get paid, and any theories about the USA back line for the next cycle should start with Besler.
Now, if we could just incorporate his long throws…
JOHN BROOKS – Hertha Berlin (Germany) – 25 in 2018 – 5 caps
Corner hero and celebration expert. As of early June a pile of EPL teams were readying runs at him after a standout final half-season with Hertha, one that came after he infuriated his manager by getting a back tattoo so large he had to miss time because of inflammation. Getting back in the manager's good graces after that is perhaps the best sign of his talent yet.
Brooks was stuck behind Besler this World Cup as Klinsmann stuck to a strict left/right CB pairing. Odds are by 2018 they will make a serious attempt to use Brooks, a Bundesliga starter at 21, and Besler together.
GEOFF CAMERON – Stoke (England) – 32 in 2018 – 30 caps
Cameron's lack of Beckerman-ness was ruthlessly exposed by Belgium. However: other than a couple of scuffed clearances, one of which fell directly to Nani, he was otherwise excellent as a centerback. (I don't put much blame on him for the Portugal equalizer, as Varela was Johnson's man and Cameron slowed up in anticipation of having to check one of two runners coming from his zone.) I know that is a bit "but how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln" but if Cameron's mishit clearance goes two yards further in any direction, we're talking about him as one of the revelations of the tournament, along with Besler.
Can he maintain through 32? I don't see why not. Centerbacks generally endure longer than other outfield players because positioning and anticipation are ever-burgeoning attributes.
Cameron's positional flexibility has to be considered hypothetical after Belgium, and Brooks is going to come after his job hard. Even so it's unlikely he gets bashed off the roster.
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OMAR GONZALEZ – LA Galaxy – 29 in 2018 – 23 caps
everybody checks Chicharito
Gonzalez was surprisingly able when called upon for the USA's last two games, and that counts for quite a bit. The "surprising" part is something built upon a good six months of Gonzalez making goofy decisions and being obviously culpable for goals, though, and he's still the guy under the most threat for the next cycle.
One major reason: compare him to cultured CBs like Kompany and David Luiz and the difference is obvious. Hell, compare him to Cameron. Gonzalez has his uses. Unfortunately for him, they do not extend to his feet, and a US team that desires to possess the ball against elite teams may look elsewhere.
TIM REAM – Bolton (England 2nd) – 30 in 2018 – 8 caps
Ream was horrible when provided the opportunity to start at the beginning of the 2011 Gold Cup. He ceded a penalty to Blaz Perez in a 2-1 loss to Panama and was benched for the remainder. A few months later he came on as a substitute against Ecuador and was beaten for the winner in a 1-0 loss*. He faded from the national team picture, then surprisingly transferred to then-EPL side Bolton.
Bolton got relegated, with Ream a peripheral player. But Ream hung on to become a first-choice defender and occasional midfielder, appearing in 41 of Bolton's 42 league matches in 2013-14. He was named the player of the year by the club and the fans after.
Ream's best asset as a central defender is his technical ability on the ball, something that the US can really use if they're going to survive high pressing and have more of the ball. Ream's also spent some time as a defensive midfielder, a spot that's going to open up for the next cycle. He should get another look. I won't be surprised if he ends up on the roster somewhere.
*[Should be noted that this may have been the weirdest USA lineup of the past four years, as the US played a diamond with Maurice Edu in front of Kyle Beckerman, flanked by Danny Williams and Brek Shea. Okay! The D that day was the last-gasp crew: Chandler, Bocanegra, Onyewu, Cherundolo.]
WILL PACKWOOD – Birmingham City (England 2nd) - 25 in 2018 – 0 caps
Packwood debuted with Championship side Birmingham City at just 19, whereupon he almost immediately suffered a severe leg injury. He made his recovery and resumed playing on loan in the fourth tier of English football late last season; after injuries struck Birmingham he was recalled, immediately securing a place in Birmingham's starting lineup. He was named the Football League Young Player of The Month in February.
Packwood got called up for the weird game against the Ukraine that had to be played in Cyprus, though he didn't get in.
ERIK PALMER-BROWN – Sporting Kansas City – 21 in 2018 – 0 caps
At just 17, Palmer-Brown is probably one for 2022, not 2018, but he is starting in MLS right now thanks to Kansas City's injury misfortune and Besler's World Cup absence—an absence that figures to become permanent soon. Before that, Juventus came in with a 1 million dollar offer that SKC rejected. He should be a key figure in the Olympic campaign, with all eyes on him as he attempts to be the first bonafide OMG center-back prospect the USA's had.
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Should be noted that while I included Shane O'Neill as a defensive mid, he is a center back for Colorado and may figure in on the back line.
Traffic Sports is finally done wrecking Gale Agbossoumonde's career, so if he can latch onto the right MLS team and see the field he could start living up to his potential, once considered vast. After 14 appearances in MLS last year, he has yet to play in 2014.
German-American Alfredo Morales has a cap to his name and will be 28 in 2018. He's playing in the German second division.
No need to belabor it: it'll be Brad Guzan unless Tim Howard wants to hang on until 39, and probably even if he does. The third option is unclear right now, but also irrelevant.
ONE MAN'S 23
Note that this doesn't exactly match up with the lines above, as my thinking has changed, man.
Goalie: Guzan, Howard, Hamid
Howard passes the crown to Guzan for this cycle but remains available for tournaments and as a backup; DCU's Hamid is your current leader for ceremonial third keeper.
Central D: Besler, Brooks, Cameron
Dropping down to three because three other guys on the roster can play CB. Top challengers here: Gonzalez, Ream.
Outside back: Johnson, Yedlin, Farrell, Klute
I actually feel confident about this. Disaster is around the corner, then. Top challengers: Chandler, Garza.
Defensive mid: Bradley, Trapp, O'Neill, Stanko
Bradley is obvious, and then it might depend on matchups. Trapp might have a slight edge now. Challengers: Edu, Williams.
Wing: Green, Gatt, Gyau
Speed and attacking verve here is an absolute must. The USA was playing quad-A players here this cycle and that was viciously exposed by the World Cup. I'm only including two guys here because Agudelo, Yedlin, and Johnson are good backup options. Challengers: Pelosi.
Attacking mid: Nagbe, Diskerud, Dempsey
Forgot to even mention Dempsey in the attackers category, which was an oversight. Even at 35 he should be worth dragging along to put on the field at 70'. Main competitors here: Gil, Zelalem if he does go with the US.
Striker: Altidore, Boyd, Agudelo
A like for like with Altidore and here's a dollar that says Agudelo finds a home in the Bundesliga and plays like he belongs. Competitors: Johannsson, Zardes.
This concludes the three weeks every four years where I flip out and soccer blog. Normal service resumes currently.
Previously: Strikers and attacking mids.
Brad Davis is gone. Zusi and Bedoya will be 31, plausible but perhaps not ideal. Since neither is exactly the first name on the team sheet it's 50/50 whether they hang on for the entirety of another cycle. The guess here is no.
I won't be splitting the wings into different bins, because these days so many of them play inverted. Oddly, most of the available talent for the next cycle is more comfortable on the left, but especially here take right/left with a grain of salt. The US projects to have a couple of bombers at fullback, so cutting in will be at least as important as crossing.
JULIAN GREEN – left wing – Bayern Munich (Germany) – 23 in 2018 – 3 caps:
The USA's most hyped prospect ever already has as many World Cup goals as Wayne Rooney, even if it doesn't seem like he's quite ready yet. Ideally he'll break through into the Bayern first team. Pep Guardiola says they want him on the first team this year, FWIW. That would be terrific if he actually sees time; more likely perhaps is that he gets loaned out to a mid-table Bundesliga team.
Whatever happens on a club level, US will integrate him with the players he'll be combining with over the next four years as early as possible. One dollar he gets his first start against the Czechs in September. (It is a FIFA date.)
JOSH GATT – right wing - Molde (Norway) – 26 in 2018 – 2 caps
Lightning quick, Gatt was gathering attention from big clubs after a stellar introduction at Molde. Then back-to-back ACL tears hacked him down. He is on the shelf until 2015 (like the US, Norway plays over the summer). Multiple serious injuries are always a concern, but the latest one was a 'clean' ACL tear that he's projected to recover from fully.
A fixture in the Norwegian champions' side when healthy, the best case for Gatt is that he recovers from his ACL, has a strong 2015, and transfers to a second-tier European league like Holland. As long as he maintains his speed he's a good bet for the US, as he's ahead of his competitors in age and experience.
After Green this is all a WAG, but the prospect of the US starting Green/Johnson/Gatt/Yedlin would give the US the fastest flanks in the 2018 World Cup unless Holland has an army of Arjen Robben clones on the way.
MARC PELOSI – left wing – Liverpool (England) – 24 in 2018 – 0 caps
Pelosi skipped the US system for a youth contract with Liverpool and was promising enough to ink a long-term contract despite a nasty broken leg. Pelosi is also a prospect at left back and potentially in the center of midfield, a versatility that gives him the nod here, for what little that's worth right now.
He returned to the field for Liverpool's U21 side in April; before the injury he was named to the 18 for one of Liverpool's Europa League matches.
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JOE GYAU – left wing – Borussia Dortmund(Germany) – 25 in 2018 – 0 caps
enjoys a dance
Gyau just moved to Borussia Dortmund, a Champions League regular, despite a lack of playing time so far. He is explicitly in their U23 reserves. Even so, that's a good sign, as Dortmund has a habit of scooping up talented young guys and making them stars.
Gyau is one slippery little bugger who immediately caught my eye when I saw him play for the US on some youth level or another, an excellent example of the what-if-slot-receivers-played-soccer thing. He has produced in buckets in the lower German leagues (in Germany there isn't a separate reserve league; instead there's a Dortmund II that plays in the third or fourth tier).
BREK SHEA – left wing – Stoke (England) – 28 in 2018 – 26 caps
The enigmatic Shea has proven he's got the ability to turn games around as a substitute, and at 6'3" with wheels he has a tantalizing physical package. Unfortunately he hasn't been able to do anything with that package since his move to Stoke, with just three appearances in the EPL.
Shea's departure from Dallas was acrimonious and a brief loan into the Championship was terminated after a blow up between Shea and some opposing fans, so he may not be a great fit on the USMNT. If he finds a club, establishes himself a regular starter, and performs then we can start talking. Now that seems a long long way off. Shea should in fact be in the next section but I wrote this up so here he is.
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Graham Zusi and Alejandro Bedoya should feature on and off for the next couple years as the young guys mature. You wouldn't go amiss predicting one makes the roster, if you're pessimistic. Fabian Johnson could also figure in here if the situation at outside back looks suddenly rosy—his existence is why I'm projecting only three winger types on the roster.
Younger fringe options include DC's Nick DeLeon, who had a great rookie year in 2012 before hamstring issues submarined his sophomore year. If he doesn't get a look pretty soon he'll probably play for Trinidad & Tobago. He'll be 27 at the next World Cup, time to decide.
The brutal physical demands of defensive midfielder will excise Jones and Beckerman, who will be 36 in 2018. Either might hang on for a year or two as the US tries to lock down a Confed Cup slot in next year's Gold Cup and prepares for the Super Copa America or whatever they're calling it in 2016, but the US should start blooding a new generation immediately.
MICHAEL BRADLEY – Toronto FC – 30 in 2018 -
I think this: Bradley needs a guy with him if he's going to play at the top of a diamond. The US's possession got much better when Wondolowksi came in and Dempsey dropped back to help out. Whether that's a 4-4-2 of some variety or Bradley moving back into a second D-mid slot to provide a true #10 a spot on the field I don't know.
I also think this: in the next cycle it seems like a 4-3-3 suits the US best, as they can go with one true holder and put Bradley and the next gentleman in front of him.
WIL TRAPP – Columbus Crew – 25 in 2018 – 0 caps
One sentence description: the exact opposite of Maurice Edu.
I split these into attacking and defensive mid sections for simplicity, but Trapp doesn't really fit either category. He's got Damarcus Beasley's frame but plays central midfield for the Crew, where he is a homegrown player and vice-captain. Yes, at 21. He's a key component of Gregg Berhalter's possession-based approach, popping up on a number of MLS stat leaderboards. Soccer stats never tell you the whole story, but this one is eye-popping:
American Xavi! Or Pirlo! Or something, anyway. Gonzalez being #2 on this list is bizarre; as always, take soccer stats lightly.
Even so, in April he manufactured a 90th-minute equalizer with an inch-perfect pass from his side of midfield to the 18-yard box. Trapp's technical quality will get him a look, probably as soon as September.
SHANE O'NEILL – Colorado Rapids – 24 in 2018 – 0 caps
O'Neill has been starting for his club at central defense, but with those slots likely in older hands for 2018, O'Neill should get a look in central midfield, which he has the skillset for—before breaking through in Colorado he was a midfielder and sometimes a forward.
One note: O'Neill is an inverse Johannsson, born in Ireland before moving to the US at a young age. He has suggested he would accept a call-up from the FAI if the US wasn't forthcoming. Expect him to get capped sooner rather than later as a result.
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CALEB STANKO – Freiburg (Germany) – 24 in 2018 – 0 caps
Stanko is on the verge of breaking through to the Freiburg first team at 20. He was the USA's first choice central defender in the most recent U20 World Cup, a competition in which the US gave up piles of goals as they tried to press the likes of France and Spain—not really his fault.
At Freiburg he's a defensive midfielder, sometimes captain of their reserve team, and he's made the bench for a couple of games.
MAURICE EDU – Philadelphia Union – 32 in 2018 – 46 caps
Edu should have been on this year's World Cup roster if Beckerman and Jones were going to play together, but was omitted. He's been a pure destroyer for the US for years; fast and physical with limited ability on the ball, he's a stereotypical USA D-mid. Ideally he'll get passed by younger players.
DANNY WILLIAMS – Reading (English 2nd) - 29 in 2018 – 13 caps
Williams had a run of caps in the middle of the last cycle at D-mid and sometimes in an odd right wing role that didn't fit his skillset. He's dropped from the Bundesliga to the English Championship. He is getting plenty of PT at Reading and should be in his prime in four years.
Like Edu he's not the most technical guy. His best bet is if the US is still in the market for a pure destroyer; his problem is that there are a number of promising CB/DM hybrids who seem like they can fulfill that role and do a better job of retaining possession.
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DC United mainstay Perry Kitchen was also on that Akron team. He's turned into a pretty good MLS player but not the star some were projecting he'd be. Philadelphia's Amobi Okugo is a younger version of Edu. Both will be in their mid-20s and could slide onto the roster.
There is a pile of guys who move back and forth from central D to defensive mid covered in the central defense section. O'Neill is one; there's also Will Packwood, Tim Ream, and Jeff Cameron.