Photo by Michael Janosz/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
It has been no secret this cycle that the U.S. Men’s National Team’s strength lies in the midfield, particularly in the central positions. Jurgen Klinsmann has a glut of talented players cable of manning the middle of the park, but how many of them earn places on the World Cup roster this summer will be a storyline that is followed very closely in the coming weeks.
The U.S. has a deep crop of central midfielders and the pool has only seemed to grow over the past year-and-a-half. Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones and Clint Dempsey are all but guaranteed spots to Brazil, but they are essentially the only ones, leaving a number of spots up for grabs.
With the U.S. preferring the 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 systems throughout World Cup qualifying and in the months leading up to the World Cup, there will be a need for Klinsmann to bring along a strong and deep group of central midfielders to give the Americans the systemic and personnel flexibility to deal with a World Cup group consisting of some extremely tough midfield units.
How many central midfielders Klinsmann should take to the World Cup is up for debate, but it is difficult to envision any scenario in which some talented and deserving players do not miss out on the tournament. From Maurice Edu to Kyle Beckerman to Mix Diskerud, not every player on the fringes will make the team and that makes these final few weeks of preparation utterly important for their World Cup hopes.
Here is a closer look at the central midfield options Klinsmann currently has to pick from:
There is no doubt about Bradley’s role going into Brazil. The U.S. linchpin will be starting the first match vs. Ghana and the ones that follow barring any unforeseen circumstances, and how he performs at the World Cup will be a big determining factor in how far the Americans can go. The 26-year-old Bradley has enjoyed a solid start at Toronto FC this season, erasing fears that some observers had about where his form would be after leaving AS Roma.
Not necessarily a central midfielder like the others listed on here, but Klinsmann has shown a preference to deploy Dempsey in the No. 10 role in the 4-2-3-1 formation. The 31-year-old Dempsey is off to a red-hot start with the Seattle Sounders, scoring goals in bunches and setting up teammates for others. A healthy Dempsey will be in Brazil, and will be a safe bet to start no matter the system Klinsmann employs.
Some might disagree, but Jones is another lock for Brazil. Klinsmann constantly refers to the 32-year-old veteran as part of the nucleus that currently makes up the U.S., and Jones is doing himself no harm by seeing consistent minutes with Turkish powerhouse Besiktas. Jones provides some aggressiveness and bite, things that will be needed against the talented attacking teams the Americans will face in the Group Stage. He is also hungry to play in what will likely be his only World Cup, so there is added incentive for him to show how good he can be following some uneven performance for the U.S. in recent years.
The Real Salt Lake midfielder has really kicked his game into another gear over the past year. Beckerman, 32, continues to be a driving force to Real Salt Lake’s consistent success and he also showed just how valuable he can be to the U.S. midfield – he allows Bradley to roam forward a bit more than any of the other options – in the recent 2-2 draw with Mexico. His tidiness is effective and his status as a “pure giver” make him a Klinsmann favorite and lock to make the World Cup team.
The 28-year-old Edu has really come on strong with the Philadelphia Union this season, reviving his chances of playing in a second consecutive World Cup. Just as beneficial to Edu’s quest of making it to this summer’s tournament is his versatility. He has shown he can play centerback in a pinch if needed, and that could warrant a place on the final roster.
Diskerud showed in 2013 that he can make an impact at the international level, but his start to the season with Rosenborg BK has hurt his standing a bit. Diskerud has gotten the nod in just one of the club’s four games at the beginning of the new Tippeligaen campaign, and that trend is likely to impact the 23-year-old midfielder’s form if it continues. Diskerud’s passing ability and touch make him an intriguing player, but he will probably have to prove there is not much rust to his game when the U.S. begins its camp next month in order to punch his ticket to Brazil.
Another player who has enjoyed a good run of form in recent months, Williams has a strong case to be included in Klinsmann’s plans. The 25-year-old Williams has become a regular contributor for a Reading team that’s on the brink of trying to secure promotion to the English Premier League, and he has scored three goals since February to demonstrate that he is also capable of adding to the attack. Unfortunately for him, nagging knee issues have cost him playing time down the stretch and at this point he isn’t a lock to be invited to the pre-World Cup training camp, let alone be a part of the World Cup squad.
Four years after being one of the final cuts, Kljestan has seen his chances of playing in his first World Cup this summer severely hindered by inconsistent playing time at RSC Anderlecht. The 28-year-old Kljestan has not started in a match for the club in nearly a month, and has just two starts since Feb. 22. He does offer a different skillset than most of the other options in the pool, but earning an invite to next month’s camp seems far from guaranteed right now.
A year ago, Corona seemed like a good bet to make it to Brazil. Now, he is a darkhorse. Corona continues to see his role with Club Tijuana change from week to week, but his technical qualities and ability to play out wide should help his cause. Klinsmann has raved about Corona in the past, so there is still a chance the 23-year-old midfielder earns an invite to the May camp. It is far from a given though considering the competition in central midfield. He may have a better chance being called up as a wide midfield option.
Has improved his chances of making it to Brazil in recent weeks with some goal-scoring performances, but where he exactly fits in the U.S. setup is a big question. The 26-year-old veteran has been used mostly on the outside by Klinsmann, and has failed to deliver a real impactful performance. The fact that Torres did not receive a call-up to the friendly vs. Mexico earlier this month does not bode well for his chances, but he still could be called in to the U.S. camp if he continues to find the back of the net with regularity.
What do you think of the USMNT’s current pool of forwards? Which players do you think will be taken to Brazil? Who should start at the World Cup? Why?
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