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U.S. Positional Rankings: Bradley leads attacking midfielders
by Ridge Mahoney, January 22nd, 2013 12:40PM

TAGS:  men's national team


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:
Holding Midfielders
Left Midfielders
Right Midfielders
Left Backs
Center Backs
Right Backs

  1. James Hardern
    commented on: January 22, 2013 at 3:45 p.m.
    I honestly don't think Jones and Bradley can be considered "attacking" midfielders. Jones is a holding mid - he's a destroyer. And on the rare occasion when Klinsmann has played him further up the pitch he looks like a fish out of water. And Bradley to me is box-to-box mid, a classic center mid. He covers way too much ground in both halves of the pitch to classify as an attacking mid. And when Dempsey plays, isn't he typically inhabiting that attacking mid/withdrawn forward role? I think this list begins and ends with Dempsey. Diskerud get played out wide so he should be on the left or right mid list. Feilhaber and Davis - I don't recall seeing them in this role for the national team lately.
  1. Alex G. Sicre
    commented on: January 22, 2013 at 5:14 p.m.
    I usually agree with you Ric, pero esta vez no.
  1. Allan Lindh
    commented on: January 22, 2013 at 7:51 p.m.
    Quite incredible that Stu Holden seems to never be mentioned. During his periods at Bolton when he wasn't injured he was by all odds the best Center Mid the US has had in the EPL since Claudio Reyna. He's smarter, better on the ball, better vision, better soccer player. And not such a head case -- comes to play with a smile every day. He should stabilize the show in the middle, move Bradley to Center Full to team with Cameron. Have an axis of a real team, from Howard through to the front line, where we're still waiting for Godot.
  1. R2 Dad
    commented on: January 22, 2013 at 9:05 p.m.
    I don't know the first thing about Silva, so I wiki'd him: Played for Pateadores, Saleseian, UC Santa Barbara, Chivas. Skilled, but hasn't networked within the US club system. Sounds like atypical progression, since it's outside of the college system player pool we're used to, though this one was lucky to get through to MLS. This probably should have happened 5 years ago, if our scouts/scouting systems worked properly. Hopefully JK will give him a chance and not hold his other-ness against him. I've got news for people in this country: there are hundreds of Luis Silvas out there waiting to be incorporated into our national team setups, if we only give them a chance. They look different, shorter, slighter, but you put a ball at their feet and there is magic. Magic is what is missing from our player pool. Everyone complains about the lack of it, but which US boys NT coach has the cahones to stock his team with a bunch of guys like this? There are too many primadonna coaches out there who aren't interested in putting out the best team; they're interested in furthering their careers, making life easy for themselves. I'd like to see more Luis Silvas getting caps.
  1. Daniel Clifton
    commented on: January 22, 2013 at 10:47 p.m.
    I don't understand how you include Bradley and Jones as attacking midfielders. Bradley comes closest because at times he does get into the attack. I just don't see either one of these guys as attacking mid's even if that is the position they are supposed to play. I don't know how anyone has seen enough of Diskerud to tell what kind of mid he is. The few times I have seen him on the national team he has been impressive. I don't know how that translates to number 2 on the attacking mid list. I am surprised Feilhaber stuggled at New England. I am glad he has new life with KC. He played well at the 2010 World Cup. I would like to see more of him on the national team level. I am not sure why Klinsmann waited until now to give him a look.
  1. Kent James
    commented on: January 23, 2013 at 12:21 a.m.
    Bradley is one of the best players we have, but I like him more has a holding midfielder who occasionally comes forward to attack, rather than an attacking midfielder. Feilhaber was a promising player a few years ago, but seems to have fallen out of form; if he can get his mojo back, I'd like to see him (or a healthy Stuart Holden) in the attacking mid role. I haven't seen Diskerud or Silva enough to know how much they can help, but certainly give them a shot. If Jermaine Jones is playing attacking mid, we're in trouble....
  1. Luis Arreola
    commented on: January 23, 2013 at 9:52 a.m.
    R2 agree 100% with you. MLS need to follow NBA's model of scouting players which has given them great success. Majority of fans come to watch the exiting creative players that have the dribbles, windmill dunks, no look passes, unique style and personalities. They dont come out to watch unskilled players as much. Not even close. NBA fans also like to watch "Homegrown" players that maybe came out of their neigborhood that many times are poor. Those are great stories that people get behind 100%. Why would it be any different with MLS? Not everybody picks Basketball first in USA. There are a strong number of people that pick sooccer first in USA. If we are producing the best in every sport including Olympics, surely we have great soccer players.
  1. Albert Harris
    commented on: January 23, 2013 at 3:21 p.m.
    Some thoughts: The reason Holden isn't usually mentioned is that he has been injured since March 2011 and until he shows he has returned to pre-injury form, including him is just wishful thinking. And if he is included, he is not an attacking midfielder in the mold of Donovan, Ramos, Reyna or Perez. He, like Bradly is more of your box to box central midfielder as are Diskerud and Feilhaber for my money. Jones should have been listed as a holding/defensive midfielder. The list od attacking midfielders in the tradition that Ridge has cited are a small group: Corona, Donovan, Dempsey, Zusi. That's not a ranking, just a listing of players who have the skill to be a classic #10 or trequartista. Klinsi hasn't settled on a default formation yet so maybe that's why Mahoney is trying to give braod definitions of holding and attacking mids but he would have been better served to list them as holding, central, and attacking I think. PS: Davis and Silva can play the a-mid postion too although Davis would be more to my taste on the left.
  1. Luis Arreola
    commented on: January 24, 2013 at 11:58 p.m.
    R2, I have noticed the same. It makes sense career wise. If you are National Scout or Coach, you take care of the clubs that will maybe later employ you. Financial Security. N0 accountability will do that.

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