By Ridge Mahoney
For much of its history, the USA has sought in vain for a true playmaking midfielder cut in the mold of a traditional No. 10.
Some very skilled and creative midfielders – Tab Ramos, Claudio Reyna, Hugo Perez, Landon Donovan – have played for the USA but rarely has the rest of the team been balanced and strong enough to deploy one player as a primary catalyst. The game has shifted to favor more athletic players and not many teams indulge in the luxury of a centrist Carlos Valderrama-type being supported and serviced on nearly every possession.
More common than traditional playmakers are attacking mids who combine different blends of physical prowess and clever instincts. Of the American contingent, Mixx Diskerud and Benny Feilhaber bring the most skill, Jermaine Jones is the most physical, and Michael Bradley displays ample doses of both attributes. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s experimentation with systems and formations has brought out the best and worst of the U.S. attacking midfield options.
The rankings, which will be updated later this year, are based on national-team performance, future prospects, and other factors, such as club form.
Soccer America's Top 6 U.S. Attacking Midfielders
1. Michael Bradley (Roma), 72 caps.
2. Mikkel Diskerud (Rosenborg), 3.
3. Jermaine Jones (Schalke 04), 26.
4. Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), 5.
5. Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City), 31.
6. Luis Silva (Toronto FC), 0.
In a perfect team, a visionary player in the mold of Ramos or Perez would function with Bradley in support. He’s not as fluid or as slick as many fans and observers would prefer, but he can cover ground, has hit some excellent goals, and is a good passer in the final third.
Last November in a 2-2 with Russia, he volleyed the first goal and played a shrewd ball that Terrence Boyd relayed to Diskerud for the second. In support of Donovan and/or Clint Dempsey with the freedom to get forward at the right time, he’s an important weapon.
In his debut against South Africa late in 2010, Diskerud’s through ball set up a goal for Juan Agudelo. Two years ago, his control in tight spaces and workrate impressed in another friendly against Chile. He scored against Russia after coming on as a sub in the 87th minute. There’s no question his feathery touch and strong engine can impact a game, but his place in the Klinsmann dynamic is very much unknown.
Jones has shouldered much of the attacking role when Bradley and others are unavailable. He can be crude and reckless defensively and is better as a holding player, but instincts honed by a decade of Bundesliga play are also valuable attacking elements. Setting aside his combustible personality, he can generate chances given the right situations.
Davis has been excluded from the national team since Klinsmann took over a year and a half ago, and seldom was called by his predecessors. Known primarily for a great left foot and accuracy on set plays, Davis -- who in the last four seasons has compiled 52 assists -- is adept with the right as well. He consistently unhinges MLS defenses by hitting balls between defenders, in behind them, or over their heads.
Feilhaber left New England after falling out of the starting lineup. An effective catalyst as a sub at the 2010 World Cup, he didn’t play for the U.S. in 2011 and got 62 minutes against Venezuela in his only appearance for Klinsmann. There’s much skill in Feilhaber’s game and at age 28, the fluid, attacking Sporting Kansas City system can sharpen his assets as he moves into his peak years.
Amid the wreckage of another poor TFC season Silva logged five goals and five assists as a rookie, displaying the vision and daring and quick feet required of an attacking player. However, he’s already 24, was arrested last year for public intoxication, and has never played for a U.S. youth team. He’s a longshot imbued with an intriguing set of skills.
A few other talented players, such as Donovan and Sacha Kljestan, have been ranked at other midfield positions.
U.S. Positional Rankings: