By Ridge Mahoney
The German Bundesliga players championed by U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann during his tenure have drawn mixed reviews, yet the consensus on one of them is mostly favorable.
Since Danny Williams debuted against Honduras in October, 2011, his pace and strength and poise have stamped him as a player who will be hard to keep out of the lineup. The rest of the field consists of mostly MLS players at various stages of their careers as well as a player searching for a stable club situation and his place on the field.
Jermaine Jones plays an attacking role in the absence of a better attacking option, a la Michael Bradley, yet he’s also served as the holding player in several games. He’s been included among the attacking midfielders in this series of rankings, which are based on national team appearances, future prospects, and other factors such as club performance.
Soccer America's Top 6 U.S. Holding Midfielders
1. Danny Williams (Hoffenheim), 11 caps.
2. Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), 23.
3. Ricardo Clark (Houston Dynamo), 34.
4. Maurice Edu (Stoke City), 42.
5. Dax McCarty (New York Red Bulls), 5.
6T. Perry Kitchen (D.C. United), 0.
6T. Sam Cronin (San Jose Earthquakes), 2.
Williams has been tried out wide but his confidence and consistency in the middle is one reason Klinsmann has tinkered with his formations. When Williams has played with Jones and Bradley, the U.S. has lacked width, yet the coach sees him as a vital complement to a pair of more experienced players. The fact that Williams can step in for either one of them, either as a sub or a starter, gives the coach a young (22) but talented option. He played the last four games of 2011 and seven more last year.
Beckerman played six of Klinsmann’s first seven games in charge during 2011, and despite his perceived role as a coach’s favorite made just five appearances (two starts) last year. He always produces aggressiveness and workrate, and while his unforced errors and questionable decisions can be costly, his energy can push the team through languid spells. In the last World Cup cycle, he played just one Hexagonal game as a but saw a lot of time in the Gold Cup; will the formula be similar in 2013?
Clark’s return to MLS last summer helped steer Houston into its second straight MLS Cup; just as notably, in 16 regular-season playoff games he incurred zero cards. In his previous stint with Houston (2006-09), he didn’t pick up a lot of cautions but was red-carded three times, including the infamous kick to a prostrate Carlos Ruiz during the 2007 season that earned him a nine-game suspension.
Clark played the two January friendlies last year against Venezuela and Panama -- and scored the only goal of the first game -- but since then hasn’t been called up. He’s definitely on the bubble in a crowded midfield pool, and fans won’t forget his shaky outings at the 2010 World Cup. Clark still has his wheels, however, and perhaps his temperament has cooled enough to handle the international level.
Edu is stranded on the bench at Stoke and seems stranded without a position for the U.S., having played centerback as well as center mid. In his last three appearances, he replaced Graham Zusi twice and Williams once; in his last start he played 72 minutes in midfield against Jamaica. He started and played the full 90 at centerback in the historic Azteca win.
So who knows?
New York’s annual playoff fizzle didn’t diminish the contributions of McCarty, who stabilized the center for much of the season and also got the job done at right mid. He captained the USA in his only start but that was two years ago against Chile. He may lack a few of the physical tools for this level but he sees the game well and never slacks off.
In his 63 games for United since turning pro in 2011 Kitchen’s has shown the same intensity and poise he did while helping Akron win an NCAA title as a freshman and anchoring the middle for the U.S. U-23s. He’s strong enough defensively to have played in the back for United as a rookie and is coming off a very solid second pro season. Oh, and he's only 20.
Cronin earned two caps as a rookie with Toronto FC in 2009 and since being traded has blossomed into a key component of San Jose’s fluid, potent midfield. Aggressive and quick with good feet, he committed 37 fouls last year yet also logged six assists, showing he can use the ball as well as challenge for it.