Gold Cup success breeds fierce midfield competition

[HEXAGONAL COUNTDOWN] Nowhere has the USA made more improvement in its play in recent months than in midfield, where U.S. national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann has some very difficult choices to make about whom to bring into camp in Miami Monday, let alone whom to start against Costa Rica and Mexico.

Klinsmann has played 16 different players in midfield though he's only started the same quartet twice -- in the two March qualifiers against Costa Rica and Mexico.

If you add in Landon Donovan, Alejandro Bedoya, Jose Torres and Mix Diskerud, who have yet to play in any Hexagonal games this year, that gives Klinsmann a starting base of 20 midfielders to choose from.

If you exclude Brek Shea, Herculez Gomez (who started on the left side of midfield in the two March qualifiers) and Maurice Edu, who are all coming off injuries and have yet to suit up for their clubs in the new seasons, plus the injured Stuart Holden, that leaves Klinsmann with 16 players to choice from for the September qualifiers. (Update: Shea is starting Wednesday in Stoke City's League Cuo match.)

If you allocate midfield spots to Graham Zusi, Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley and Fabian Johnson -- Klinsmann's favored lineup when everyone was available in June -- plus Geoff Cameron, who played all or part of three games in Jones' place in the June qualifiers, and designate Eddie Johnson as one of four forwards, that gives Klinsmann five midfielders and a pool of 10 players to choose from to add four more players, for a likely total of nine midfielders to go along with three goalies, seven defenders and four forwards.

The increasingly competitive midfield picture underscores just how important it was for the USA to have played in the Gold Cup -- however inconvenient -- as players like Kyle Beckerman, Joe Corona, Edgar Castillo, Torres, Bedoya, Diskerud, Holden (injured in the final), Shea (injured shortly afterward) and Donovan (playing as a forward but likely to find a spot in any full-strength team in midfield) all made cases for inclusion -- rather than exclusion -- based on their play at the Gold Cup.

That leaves three other midfielders: Danny Williams, Brad Davis and Sacha Kljestan. You would have penciled in Williams as a starter at the beginning of the Hexagonal, but he's now probably the easiest to scratch off the list of midfield possibilities. Davis has been used more frequently off the bench during the Hexagonal than any other midfielder, but age -- he turns 32 in November -- will soon begin to work against him. Kljestan, who has scored goals in back-to-back games for Anderlecht, has remained on the fringes of the national team for most of Klinsmann's tenure.

Of these 10 remaining players likely battling for four midfield spots, only Donovan would be considered a lock, though Beckerman (as a back-up to Jones and Bradley both carrying yellow cards) would come close.

After that and assuming injuries don't become an issue the next few days, it would basically be a toss-up, though one would not be surprised if Bedoya (starting at Nantes) and Kljestan were called up.

On to the question of who'll start, Klinsmann will first have to decide whether to start Donovan and if so where to play him and whom to move out of midfield. Of Klinsmann's favored quartet, the biggest question mark concerns Zusi, who was injured in the MLS All-Star Game and only returned to action on Friday in Sporting Kansas City's 1-0 loss to Chicago.

Hexagonal Appearances:
Right Midfield
4+1 Graham Zusi
1+1 Eddie Johnson
1 *Jermaine Jones
0+1 Joe Corona
0+1 Brek Shea

Holding Midfield
4 *Jermaine Jones
1+2 *Geoff Cameron
1 Danny Williams
0+2 Maurice Edu
0+1 Stuart Holden

Attacking Midfield
6 *Michael Bradley

Left Midfield
2 Herculez Gomez
2 *Fabian Johnson
2 Eddie Johnson
0+3 *Brad Davis
0+2 Edgar Castillo
0+1 Sacha Kljestan
0+1 Kyle Beckerman
*carrying yellow card.
+appearances as sub.
11 comments about "Gold Cup success breeds fierce midfield competition".
  1. Kent James, August 28, 2013 at 9:04 a.m.

    Donovan on one side, Bradley offensive CM, Cameron or Beckerman Defensive CM, with Zusi, F. Johnson, Castillo, Corona or Gomez (yeah, that's a tough one) at the other outside mid. Jozy up high, Dempsey just behind him (with EJ coming off the bench in a forward slot).

  2. Walt Pericciuoli, August 28, 2013 at 9:35 a.m.

    It would seem to me, all things being equal, Klinsi should go with youth.

  3. Albert Harris, August 28, 2013 at 10:40 a.m.

    I see where you're going, Walt, with trying to get younger players who might be reaching maturity next year around world cup time meaningful playing time in competitive games, but ,although our lead looks comfortable now, we have 2 very competitive games in September and I'd think I'd wait to go with the wholesale youth movement until after those 2 matches when we have a better idea of where we are in qualifying which is always the primary goal,

  4. StrikerBob Norman, August 28, 2013 at 10:53 a.m.

    I'll admit to being a baised Sounder fron the start, but I do feel performances warrant the following: Landon on the left, EJ on the right, Bradley attacking mid with Kyle Beckerman holding. Jozy and Duece up front and we'll see about the back line. Ozzie Alonso should get a look on the left side. Besler is a lock. Omar has his spot to loose. Brad has done a great job and smarts count, but if he gets caught upfield he won't recover like DeAndre who will only get better making decisions. One thing is for certain. We have more quality than ever! Go USA!

  5. Dan Phillips, August 28, 2013 at 11:03 a.m.

    When is Stuart Holden coming back?

  6. Carlos Sanchez, August 28, 2013 at 11:44 a.m.

    Has an announcement been made yet as to who is getting called up for September's qualifiers?

  7. Chris Hasbrouck, August 28, 2013 at 11:51 a.m.

    I like some of the suggested line ups on the comments. I do lean toward giving Diskerud a shot at a CM position. The only thing I'm sure of is that Jermaine Jones has played himself off the team, or at least out of the starting line up. He loses the ball on half of his passes and is a foul machine. Not sure why he's still listed as a starter with all the other holding midfield options we have.

  8. Allan Lindh, August 28, 2013 at 2:02 p.m.

    Jones and Bradley are the only two US midfielders who start every week in a Tier One league. That's why Jones is a presumptive starter. Brains, strength and experience count in the central midfield, those two have it. However Jone's inability to back off on the reckless tackles, even when carrying yellow, raises a question on the brains component. Time for JK to tell him straight up that he cleans up his act this year in Germany, or his position on US squad is in question.

  9. Chris Sapien , August 28, 2013 at 3 p.m.

    Up for your consideration........let's lose the defensive mid mentality!! Aren't we beyond that yet with the midfield depth Klinns has helped produce? Eddie and Jozy up top in a real 4-4-2, Deuce, Donovan/Bradley & Zusi (if fit) from left to right with Landon/General Mike alternating their attacking forays, and Fabian, Besler, Gonzo (Goodson, if Omar slips-up) and Evans across the back for now. Howard & Guzan both can be #1s. We lose Donovan's full creative potential when he is asked to play wide mid (he diagonal attacks when he is there anyway), and both Landon and Michael can benefit from not feeling obligated to run 6yd to 6yd and end up gassed by the 70'. Also believe Zusi's service is key until proven otherwise, and Deuce has more room to take on a defender on the left and cut in for his shot. Just can't see Jones/Beckerman providing enough if we are going to CR to win, and if we are to keep possession away from mexico in Columbus by playing attacking football.

  10. Daniel Clifton, August 28, 2013 at 5:34 p.m.

    There are some interesting suggestions here. I think Zusi has earned the right midfield spot if he is healthy. His service has been instrumental, along with Fabian Johnson, in setting up Altidore to score. I think Fabian Johnson should be moved back to left back with Donovan positioned at the left midfield spot. That is the only spot I see available for him and he should start. The better position for him would be Deuce's position, but that is not going to happen. I just watched Jones pick up a second yellow card in a UEFA Champions League qualifying match, forcing Shalke to play with ten men. The yellow card was questionable, but Jones' tackle was clumsy. Klinsmann seems to be totally committed to Jones, who plays well at times, but his decision making can be questionable. A better match for Bradley would be Cameron or Beckerman. I think EJ comes off the bench, not as a starter in the midfield when everyone's available.

  11. Thomas Brannan, August 29, 2013 at 2:59 a.m.

    JK says everyone has a shot at making the World Cup team. But do some already have it made. I can't help but think that JK has already penciled in Jones. JK may have a chink in his armor here. He may have committed to Jones confidentially to early. I can see how one can fall into this trap given that American Soccer etc. isn't really producing players unless they are Hispanic. (Yea, I know there are some) But then is American Soccer really producing players? Or is it the sub-culture that is producing the players? Concerning Jones: yellow cards, runs up peoples backs and can't pass the ball very well consistently. Is this JK's play nasty commitment? Or however he put it. In the Gold Cup Beckerman was an excellent passer of the ball and held his position very well. For those that think you don't need a Holding Mid Fielder read some UEFA Technical Reports. Diskerud also passed the ball well. We have a feeling, don't we, that Jones will be in the starting line up come the World Cup. We also know that he is potential disaster. Come on JK this may be a mistake that could be your undoing.

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