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There was a time not too long ago when the U.S. national team enjoyed a wealth of midfield options and a lack of forwards. As the team heads into Tuesday's must-win World Cup qualifier, the Americans are faced with the opposite problem.
Injuries to Michael Bradley and Landon Donovan have exposed a lack of midfield depth and left Jurgen Klinsmann's team lacking attacking punch and stability. He is now forced to consider a variety of midfield options from a group of players who all, save for Clint Dempsey, have failed to taken hold of opportunities to establish themselves as indipensible or even reliable.
The biggest issue facing the American midfield now is how to generate enough possession and chances to feed a stable of forwards that is capable of finishing them off if they ever receive service. Dempsey isn't a pure playmaker, and is also working his way into full sharpness. Without Donovan, and with some other options not battle-tested, Klinsmann could struggle to find a combination that jump-starts the U.S. attack.
Brek Shea's inclusion in the starting lineup feels like a foregone conclusion. His recent efforts off the bench have been encouraging, and he provides a speed element and wing threat that no other player on the roster provides.
Aside from Shea, the options for Klinsmann are limited. Let's take a look at some midfield/forward variations we could see on Tuesday:
No, Torres is not a classic playmaker, but Klinsmann likes the way he circulates the ball, and playing on a smooth field at Crew Stadium means the U.S. midfield should be able to knock the ball around more crisply, and force Jamaica to chase the game. This quartet can easily drop into a 4-4-2 with Torres sliding deeper if the U.S. takes a lead. Jones hasn't really been asked to play the deep-lying defensive midfield role for the U.S., but he does it for Schalke and does it well. If he's asked to clean things up in front of the defense he can handle that role. So could Edu.
The Skilled 4-3-3
This defensive midfield tandem could knock the ball around well, and potentially keep possession. Edu works better playing in a deeper role. When he has been deployed in more advanced roles he has struggled, but he is a skilled passer who can
The Pit Bull 4-3-3
If Klinsmann wants a pair of defensive midfielders who are going to swarm Jamaica's dangerous creators and allow Dempsey the freedom to operate, he could go with this German-American tandem.
You can call this a speed 4-3-3 or a standard 4-2-3-1, but what this group would provide is speed, width and service. Zusi hasn't played in a game of this magnitude for the national team, but he has developed into an outstanding playmaker for Sporting KC and Klinsmann has tried him out on the flank before. It would be harsh to bench Altidore after a game when the midfield gave him no service, but if Klinsmann goes with just one forward he would have an interesting decision to make choosing between Gomez and Altidore. Gomez has been more active and has done well since becoming a regular, but Altidore would provide a better target for the potential service from Shea and Zusi.
Torres would be an interesting player in this system. He would need to do some dirty work in front of the defense, but he does that for Pachuca so it's not exactly a foreign concept.
Players that weren't included in this lineups include Kyle Beckerman, who struggled badly on Friday, and Joe Corona, who seems more suited to be a bench option than starter at this point. There is also no Terrence Boyd, who also looks to be more of a second-half option, particularly if Altidore or Gomez are struggling.
You see more Jones in these formations not because he was good against Jamaica on Friday, but because of his experience and tenacity. It will be up to Klinsmann to decide whether he wants a more technical option like Edu or if he can really do without Jones' bite in the middle.
Which lineup do I prefer? I would like to see the 4-1-3-2, though the Skilled 4-3-3 is also an intriguing combination.
What do you think of the current state of the U.S. midfield? Which attacking combination would you go with? Who are you hoping gets a start on Tuesday?
Share your thoughts below.