Wow, haven’t graphed out one of these charts in awhile.
What a difference a year makes. No, it hasn’t been that long, but a review of last year’s depth charts showed just how far in many cases–and not far in others–the USMNT has come under Klinsmann in his year and a quarter tenure.
For qualifications sake, this depth chart is an amalgamation how we expect Jurgen Klinsmann and his staff see the depth charts, interspersed with some selections from TSG. Hopefully it doesn’t make it confusing.
Doubt it. Let’s go.
G: (1) Tim Howard, (2) Brad Guzan, (3) Nick Rimando
Peering in: Bill Hamid, Sean Johnson, Tally Hall
The skinny: For the first time since, since he was made king in 2007 there is a legitimate challenge to Tim Howard’s throne. Though that’s where the it ends…at the challenge stage, less the battle.
Howard has been somewhat pedestrian this year for Everton, while Brad Guzan is by any account the most in-form, uninjured keeper in the Premiership.
For Howard it’s been a case of maturation that seems to have bred some of his troubles.
The book on Howard is that he’s always been a fantastic keeper when facing a high volume of shots (USMNT and Everton fans know this very well), but his main foible was he was too aggressive coming off his line. Howard’s aggressive positioning has typically served him well for the States as the USMNT used to play on the counter and Howard would typically see a swarm of the opponent coming back at him.
As Howard has aged, he’s gotten a little bit more conservative about his line and that’s allowed him to make a few extra saves here and there, but it’s come at the tradeoff of Howard being even more tentative at commanding his box and coming out.
He’s allowed in a few more of “those Kuyt goals” (you know what I’m talking about) and he’s also had a little bit more difficulty on set pieces.
Guzan–who many thought was erring on the side of lunacy in re-upping with an Aston Villa club that had nary gave him a shot in the Premiership during his lengthy tenure there–is on course for most improved player in the Barclays.
He too has come up big this season in match after match–most notably and recently a stonewalling of Liverpool in early December–to see his Villains to victory at Anfield. (Let’s chalk up recent sha….lackings by Chelsea and Liverpool as 3-man-in-the-back-bonehead-move-mulligan.)
Guzan is working behind a newer, less mature but speedier backline at Villa. His leitenant ahead of him this year was thought to be veteran plodder Richard Dunne, instead it’s been young Cieran Clark who presides with fellow youngster Aussie Chris Herd–Eric Lichaj’s good friend–and Nathan Baker. All in their early 20′s.
Guzan by fan and teammate account has been the team’s MVP to date and his showing is starting to make USMNT fans confident that the royal lineage of US goalkeepers is in good stead.
And Guzan will come after Howard.
For Howard, 2014 is his World Cup. He’s the veteran and a cleat to the chest by Emile Heskey in Game 1 of World Cup 2010 ransacked him of being tip-top for the US stretch of games. Howard is the recognized leader on the pitch. He knows the competition and his veteran presence will be sorely needed to keep the defense disciplined.
Nick Rimando is the emergency keeper. Good with his feet and keeping the seat warm until Bill Hamid, Steve Clarke, Tally Hall or Sean Johnson shows they’re the real thing or until Jurgen Klinsmann gives a player like Dan Kennedy a shot.
LCB: (1) Carlos Bocanegra, (2*) Geoff Cameron*, (3) Matt Besler, (4) Michael Orozco-Fiscal
RCB: (1) Geoff Cameron, (2) Clarence Goodson (3) Omar Gonzalez
Peering in: Oguchi Onyewu, Maurice Edu, Seb Hines, John Anthony Brooks, Tim Ream, Austin Berry
The skinny: The US’s muddled centerback position is just like an onion. It’s full of many layers of intrigue and the more issues you peel back the more it makes you cry.
As with his predecessor Bob Bradley–who was so flummoxed in his selection process that he choose a not-fully-healed Oguchi Onyewu to start to World Cup group stage games in 2010–Jurgen Klinsmann has some serious work and contemplation to do here.
It starts with Carlos Bocanegra and the US situation would be solved if the States could turn back the clock on Bocanegra by about five years. The veteran keeps himself in shape, is aggressive in the box on both sides, and–perhaps his best, but least-cited trait–knows when to inflict a foul to disrupt tempo or send a message.
No one–no one–uses fouls as wisely as Bocanegra.
That said, as the mileage piles on, the captain’s lack of speed and challenges with the ball at his feet, in possession or clearance, has made him a near-liability. Why near? Bocanegra’s still smart enough to outfox B-level strikers, many of whom the US will face during qualifying. It’s his resume against slick moving players (Dos Santos, Ruiz) that leaves him wanting.
The parallels to Dutchman Johnny Heitinga are precise.
The US needs to replace Bocanegra; the changes and data of the global game beg that.
Where once the centerback position was dominated by more mature players who stayed at home for the entire game and owned their tuft of land and that was that, now centerbacks are tasked with a lot more as more and more teams are attempting to challenge for the ball on defense up the field and as more teams have went to pushing more players forward, 4-3-3.
Centerbacks must initiate attacks, must occasionally support the flanks–as a CDM drops deep–and have to cover more ground behind them when defending the counter–especially in Klinsmann’s desired system. It’s no wonder that the average age of a centerback at Euro 2012 was one year less than that of a central midfielder and no centerback at Euro 2012 was as old as Bocanegra will be in 2014.
Lump in that Bocanegra once impeccable record in the air is starting to creak by strikers with size–Asamoah Gyan for example–and the US is facing a situation where there most experienced and perhaps smartest player is a liability.
It doesn’t end there.
Bocanegra’s selection, or lack thereof, has a ripple effect in the back–and its likely why you see Clarence Goodson still being mercilessly trotted out.
Through some excellent camera work by ESPN during the USA-Jamaica game in Columbus back in October, Bocanegra could be seen loudly telling his backcourt mate Geoff Cameron to “Settle down, Geoff.”
Cameron is a right fullback now at Stoke City and Klinsmann should count his lucky stars that Dom Kinnear in Houston at least gave him observations of Cameron at centerback.
Cameron has been well to above average by just about any standard playing in the middle of defense for the US. His angles are mostly solid, his footwork good and his ability to turn upfield with the ball without hoofing excellent and keenly valued.
However, what Cameron lacks and what he won’t get now that he’s at rightback for Stoke is experience in the middle, specifically an education in calling his line.
It’s a big task to ask Cameron in the next year and a half to come up to that level and it’s why Tim Howard in the back–if Bocanegra is sacrificed–is so vital as well. Cameron is just not that guy. He’s your “chaseback,” your Cannavaro cliche. He’s needed for other things.
The CB who Klinsmann is looking for is the oak tree, the Oguchi Onyewu to pair with Cameron and he’s got 500 days to find it.
Clarence Goodson seems to be the first reliever these days–only he’s awful at keeping a line himself and has battles with concentration and confidence. With Goodson’s reps against better competition, it’s easy to see why Bob Bradley kept him on the bench in South Africa two years ago despite Gooch’s bad wheel.
The two best US hope for a pairing with Cameron are Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez and recent commentary by Klinsmann has his begging for Gonzalez to show himself as that player.
Besler is a terrific organizer and he plays the back line a little bit like Chris Paul plays point guard. He covers for his teammates, instructs them on where to go as his first order of defense while make the play himself as a secondary order.
He’s also comfortable playing on the left–unlike Goodson or Gonzalez.
Why is this important? The US typically plays a two-man game up the right or works the ball through the central midfielders to the left.
Most of the time, the US leftback–through design or ability–is tasked with remaining at home. Keeping Cameron on the right–as Bocanegra allows him to do currently–puts Cameron on his strongest foot to manage possession and ignite attacks. It’s a subtle, but still key point.
Beyond Besler, Gonzalez is the next hope for a vintage Cameron pairing, but he absolutely must improve him organizational and positioning skills to challenge. It was both a compliment and a challenge that Jurgen Klinsmann singled out his selection of Gonzalez coming into January camp. A compliment in that he needs Gonzalez’s unparalleled-in-the-pool aerial strength and line anchoring desperately. Its’ Gonzalez or bust (Goodson?).
If you’re Gonzo, your time is now. Like, right now. It’s going to take a full year if Boca is going to be replaced. So the understudy better be ready now with reps to gel. Not reps to get ready.
A return to form sees George John in the fold as could a return to form of Oguchi Onyewu who just doesn’t seem to have the same defensive prowess after his knee surgery. You just can’t count out Onyewu if he starts humming. 2014 could be his 3rd World Cup starting in Game 1 and nobody beats him in the air.
John Anthony Brooks. If you’re looking for any player to sparking out of the woodwork for World Cup 2014, it’s Brooks, alas he’s not that backline communicator either.
PREDICTION: John Anthony Brooks will get a senior team runout before September.
RB: (1) Steve Cherundolo, (*2*) Tim Chandler, (2) Michael Parkhurst,
LB: (1) Fabian Johnson, (2) Edgar Castillo, (3) Jonathan Spector
Peering in: Eric Lichaj, Justin Morrow, Alfredo Morales, Steven Beitashour
The skinny: Let’s start in leftfield.
Or leftback rather.
Let’s start with Edgar Castillo. While US fans have made Jose Torres–and by many accounts, Jose Torres has earned–the label of “Klinsmann’s pet project,” unjustifiably receiving playing time, continued reps for back-up Edgar Castillo have unearthed a mostly unflappable fullback.
Castillo of course is backing up Fabian Johnson who by his accord has solved the Yanks’ long painful left fullback problem though there is much work done to make the German-American World Cup competition-ready.
Johnson has looked extremely prolific when licensed with forward attack, but on defense his penchant to over-react and his general lack of fullback instincts puts the rest of the backline under duress on far too many occasions over the course of 90 minutes.
Johnson is nearly inked in for Brazil, but some coaching needs to be done to make him watertight.
At rightback is Mr. Vintage. The Mayor of Hannover. The Head Flankmaster. Steve Cherundolo.
Cherundolo is perhaps the US’s smartest player and where his star dims a bit is the speed he’s given up with age and what are–for him–customary ebbs in form.
That said, Dolo might be off–2010′s friendly against Ecuador–the Tim Ream game–comes to mind–but when the game is on the line–2010 World Cup vs. England, 2013 WCQ vs. Jamaica, Dolo is at his highest wattage.
Can he make it to one more World Cup and be a difference maker? Big question. Big question.
His back-up may be Tim Chandler who will vy for starting spots on both flanks if he stops his daisy-picking and firmly plants roots in the US. Chandler’s best asset is his defense. Going forward, the Nurnberg product has shown flashes, but only flashes.
Jonathan Spector is a current back-up while players like Justin Morrow or Steven Beitashour are lengths from the top of the depth chart, but may have some of the physical chops to compete at the international level.
Michael Parkhurst is the across the backline back-up and has proved cerebral enough to stymy top competition on the right. It’s perplexing that Eric Lichaj hasn’t been dealt into the fold, whether at fullback or even with a runout at CB. His club team Aston Villa is leaking goals like an 8th grader in juvenile detention, but Lichaj still has the big body and is a nails-for-breakfast player.
Up the field, the complexion of the USMNT front six is actually more muddled than the back four due to player growth, opponent, injury and fit.
CDM: (1) Danny Williams, (2) Maurice Edu, (3) Kyle Beckerman
Peering in: …
The skinny: The CDM pecking order seems to be a fairly easy one to call and it can easily be summed up as, “Waiting for Danny Williams and if not, best fit.”
After suffering through pitch purgatory on the right flank, Klinsmann moved Williams centrally and has found a player who, if he develops over the next year, could very well be the perfect complement to box-to-boxers Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones.
Williams is “quick like bunny” and has a clean first touch. He switches the ball more quickly than any other US option. Where he lacks is his reading of the game and occasional erraticism when faced with on-ball pressure. (Don’t we all?)
At times you’ll see the best of Williams–when US pressure against Jamaica gave Williams acres of space and flankers scooting forward to receive passess–or the worst–when a late Fall friendly in Russia saw a lack of patience with Williams and some poor reads. Williams, though, does have a good international ceiling for the role.
And probably the most important thing: Just about every way you cut it Williams is the perfect Tubbs to Bradley’s Crockett. Williams is young; Bradley seasoned. Williams doesn’t need the ball to be effective; Bradley drops deep often to control the tempo. Bradley has gotten more conservative in his positioning and tackling as he’s aged; Williams superior speed allows his to snuff out counters like free safety picking off
Mark Sanchez quarterbacks.
Maurice Edu–currently and continually–serves as a good complement to the maturing Williams.
Isn’t it funny that it seems Edu seems to be settling into the same role he occupied at World Cup 2010 while Williams–a near spitting image of Ricardo Clark in terms of attributes and superior across them–seems to be moving into the starting nod. (Pause: For those that thought Ricardo Clark never had the goods watch this absolutely precise pass to Landon Donovan to start what we here at TSG call “The Counterattack heard around the world”)
Edu is currently lacking for club playing time and has looked sloppy on the ball in his recent US tests. He’ll come around, but it appears–with his inability to crack the first-18 at Stoke City–that the cap on his potential is being abutted against…harshly.
Kyle Beckerman is a worthy number three on the depth chart. Able to slot in any match in a pinch, the Real Salt Lake captain just does not possess the international speed necessary to play the game at the highest level on a consistent basis. He’s not far from it–a reminder to take a look at the France friendly from earlier this year where Beckerman held his own–but he’s not getting any younger either.
There are those who say a player like DC United Perry Kitchen, who stood out in his first year in MLS, is deserving of a call-up to the senior national team stage. Nothing could be further from the truth. Kitchen may have potential, but as a player like Danny Williams shows, the maturation to understand the different formations, tactics and movement at international speed takes time.
In fact as the game itself has changed to fullbacks making runs, the central midfielders–more in groups of three these days–get older–average age older than the CBs at Euro 2012–and do less running, serving more as a fulcrum than as the overal engine.
CM1/CM2: (1) Michael Bradley, (2) Jermaine Jones, (3) Maurice Edu, (4) Graham Zusi*, (5) Sacha Kljestan
(Note: The CM2 role oscillates with the RM/FW role or the CAM role if Dempsey is not there.)
Peering in: Stu Holden, Benny Feilhaber, Alejandro Bedoya
The skinny: Jurgen Klinsmann’s central midfield planning is no secret either and rather simple to figure out.
And US fans can thank or lament one Michael Ballack.
It was Ballack with Joachim Low at his hip who prodded Klinsmann to depart his diamond midfield heading into World Cup 2006 when Klinsmann skippered the Germans.
Ballack–dropped from the top of that diamond–was given more box-to-box duties coupling with CDM Torsten Frings and the nascent Bastian Schweinsteiger who’s powerful right foot in-cutting from the left and precise passing served to make the triumvirate the backbone of the attack and rock steady in defense.
The change also thrust the flanks open as the opponents drew in to cover the trio and Phillip Lahm define the phrase “marauding fullback” on the left. (Note, the change to three effectively central midfields bore out a challenge that Klinsmann didn’t solve then and appears to be faltering in solving now. Hold that thought.)
In Klinsmann’s system and for his team’s stability, it is imperative that as few players as possible inhabit as many reps in the middle to build consistency. The US essentially has five men in the middle (looking back to our CDM section as well): Bradley, Jones, Williams, Zusi & Edu.
If any of those three are there, the only reason they are not starting is that someone else from the group is ahead of them in the pecking order.
Michael Bradley of course leads the team sheet. His presence allows quite a bit of flexibility as Bradley can be tasked with dropping deep when the team is under duress or pushing forward–where he continues to improve–when the team is searching for a goal. The last thing an opponent wants to see these days is a trailing Bradley with a clean look at goal and the ball coming somewhere near his right peg.
Jermaine Jones, manufacturer of yellow cards, is next up and has become a controversial figure in the US fans’ eyes. Once lauded as the potential midfield savior for World Cup 2010, Jones’s age, penchant to rack up silly-to-the-point-of-embarrassing fouls, and his inability to connect passes upfield with consistencies, Jones has drawn quite a bit of ire recently.
If Jones could drop the fouls from his routine and make a simpler pass here and there, he’d arguably get the benefit of the doubt. Even without solving his transgressions, no player brings the resume and “hard tackling” that Jones does.
He’s “felt” in the middle and until a player like Sacha Kljestan gets a nasty streak, until Maurice Edu gets some club time and some consistency, or a player like Alfredo Morales possibly blossoms, Jones is your guy. Jones might play some ugly ball, but he brings the lumber.
Beyond Jones, Graham Zusi has made his presence felt by toggling effectively between the #7 role and the tucked-in RFW role that’s generally inhabited by Landon Donovan.
Zusi needs to add some bite to his game, but his decision making has been impeccable when in possession of the ball. It appears that Zusi will likely be used as that retrenched RW of the first “3″ meaning that…
Sacha Kljestan and Benny Feilhaber might be closer to the midfield mix with Donovan’s waffling.
Stu Holden still needs to get on the field before he should even enter conversations for a camp (see: Davies, Charlie; O’Brien, John or Onyewu, Oguchi before commenting here) while Dax McCarty hasn’t been given a sniff by Klinsmann but it says here he’s earned one, multiple times over.
(Note: Since Klinsmann typically favors an unbalanced formation with the “swing player” high up on the left (Brek Shea, Eddie Johnson, Herculez Gomez) we will break down this section as follows:
» One FW who typically plays RM
» One FW who typically as a CAM–we will label it CAM, and
» One FW who oscillates between a LM and a STR2.
» STR1 will be the target and pivot forward
[This represents 12 positional locations though Klinsmann will sometimes drop a CM and move the CAM back]
[Any dialogue in the commentary claiming that this person isn't a LB, but a second striker will be verbally tarred-and-feathered. Carry on.]
FW/RM: (1) Graham Zusi, (2) Landon Donovan, (3) Josh Gatt
Peering in: Alejandro Bedoya
The skinny: Can’t not start with Donovan here.
Klinsmann–see this year’s Brazil friendly–wants to task the uncommitted Donovan as the difference-maker but the Californian seems ill-suited for the job this late in his career. Landon might have crushed versus Scotland in June, but he wilted against quality competition, the aforementioned Brazil and Guatemala on the road.
There’s also a little thing about desire with Donovan. And it says here that if Donovan doesn’t get the same dominator role that he’s gotten previously, he’ll posture some more or fully lose that remaining will. Just this past week Klinsmann’s words on Donovan seemed to suggest the player wouldn’t be there for the beginning of the Hex.
Right now, for all intents and purposes, Donovan is second on the depth chart.
Graham Zusi is the up-and-comer and we’ll toot our own horn as it was last Janaury camp that nearly every mediahead gave him poor marks for his first USMNT Cupcake runout. TSG did not. We countered with this comment after the January game vs. Venezuela when he played for the USMNT “B” team:
Differing opinions on Graham Zusi, but the Sporting KC man was adept at one thing. Two-touching and moving the ball quickly. Zusi’s rate of play was good. Many will say he missed passes tonight, but the opinion here is that he was proactive and making passes where his more reactive teammates *should have been.
Well, the thought has proven itself out Zusi is showing a great ability to play within himself and be a Joe Dumars (or maybe OJ Mayo if you will) so to speak on the pitch, driving to the hole when called or flipping in a cross when space is granted.
Josh Gatt is the frisky frosh of the group and he’s oozing with potential. Word on the street is that Gatt went into Russian friendly with a serious amount of bravado and confidence, but also a respect that resonated with his teammates.
CAM/CM2: (1) Clint Dempsey, (2) Mix Diskerud, (3) Joe Corona
Peering in: Benny Feilhaber, Chris Pontius, Sebastian Lletget, Michael Farfan
The skinny: Clint Dempsey is the undisputed focal point of the attack, but he almost seem ill-suited to this tresquartista role that Klinsmann keeps trying to jam him in. Dempsey is best choosing his spots to come back and help possession, but then getting the ball off a corner–not out wide–and attacking the net.
There’s a carriage need with the CAM role that Klinsmann and Vasquez has developed and it seems Dempsey can’t balance that with his will and role to score. When Deuce comes back to help possession, he typically always comes back during a game, leaving a void up top.
Either way, if the supporting cast can solidify around Dempsey, the Texan will make it work.
The battle for the back-up role is a competitive one and hazy like a coffee shop near AZ Alkmaar.
Mix Diskerud has proven silky on the ball when he’s been brought in to the USMNT fold. He’s still an average defender and he–like the entire MLS contingent–needs better competition on a daily basis.
Joe Corona seems to on the verge of making his first leap. The beginning of 2013 will tell.
Feilhaber has his lifeline in this year’s January camp. Chris Pontius needs to show he can be fit while Sebastian Lletget is close to being a squad player at West Ham (unless Zusi usurps him.) Michael Farfan is a true wild card, but deserves a look.
LM/STR2: (1) Eddie Johnson, (2) Jose Torres, (3) Brek Shea
Peering in: Joe Gyau
The skinny: The most flexible position on the field has also seen the most diverse skillsets come through and perhaps the “best stories” of 2011-2012. Brek Shea manned the flank early and in many ways is the ideal winger for Klinsmann’s unbalanced formation. Shea can come back in possession to help linking, he can get on the end of crosses by Cherundolo (a skillset he needs to improve on though) and he can also take his man one-vs-one.
Jose Torres was hidden here to compensate for his continued struggles in one-on-one duels. The move–through it compromised the width of the flank–had and has some merit as it allows Fabian Johnson to overlap and provides Torres as a linking option. Alas, Torres was more than too tentative in checking back and helping the attack.
The aforementioned Fabian Johnson got a run out while Joe Corona has deputized late game.
And of course there was probably the best narrative of 2012 Eddie Johnson. It says here though that Johnson should get a runout at the tip of the spear–the striker role–because of his ability to hold up the ball and run off it.
(Note: Jay DeMerit calls Eddie Johnson one of his toughest covers of all-time.)
Johnson grabbed the advanced winger role for the past two USMNT WCQs and while his meandering inland into Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley was poor–more because it is and way poorly designed–his true forward play was pristine. Johnson made the smart play, he took people on using his physical strength and he was dangerous in the box.
The correct fit for the role is Brek Shea if he can get his game together in 2012, improve in his speed of play and be aggressive for ninety minutes. If not EJ’s the fallback, but US fans should really be hoping to see Dempsey’s brother from another up top.
STR1: (1) Herculez Gomez, (2) Jozy Altidore, (3) Alan Gordon, (4) Juan Agudelo, (5) Terrence Boyd
Peering in: Will Bruin, Edson Buddle
The skinny: The striker position, since Brian McBride ceremoniously bowed out of the target role has been typically defined as Jozy Altidore and everyone else over the past four years. Eddie Johnson was red-hot in CONCACAF in 2007 while Charlie Davies paired with Altidore in 2009 to provide Bob Bradley’s ideal combo only for some poor judgement by Davies to do it in.
For Klinsmann’s team, the striker has to do three things in his system to be effective and none of them are scoring. Klinsmann’s top needs to hold the ball, continually move off the ball and play defense.
It’s the latter two that Altidore through fitness and desire has been challenged in while Herculez Gomez has does all three but struggles mightily in the hold-up component. Terrence Boyd does the hold-up and defense well, but needs more seasoning on the runs while Juan Agudelo is probably the ideal Klinsmann forward–in fact Agudelo’s passing overall for the national team has been tremendous in his tenure–although he’s rarely been healthy.
What’s interesting is that both Klinsmann and Bob Bradley think similarly about the striker role in terms of game management, just with different tactics. Jurgen Klinsmann wants to pound in to a hold-up guy. When that hold-up guy gets tired, he brings in another hold-up guy (Edson Buddle, Alan Gordon) to pound some more. Again, not a scoring focus.
Bob Bradley used to wear down the backline too, but he did it with speed. He’d put a Charlie Davies or Robbie Findley up top–once that player had run his mark ragged–he’d sacrifice the forward for a midfielder–typically Benny Feilhaber–and push and defend further up the field bringing more pressure on a tired backline.
Best guess at the 2014 roster given the observations of Klinsmann’s tenure:
(3) GOALIE: Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson
(7) DEFENSE: Geoff Cameron, Steve Cherundolo, Fabian Johnson, Carlos Bocanegra, Tim Chandler, Michael Parkhurst, Omar Gonzalez, John Anthony Brooks
(5) HUB: Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Danny Williams, Maurice Edu, Graham Zusi
(6) MF/AM/W: Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Eddie Johnson, Josh Gatt, Brek Shea
(2) STR: Herculez Gomez, Jozy Altidore
Final battle: Omar Gonzalez over Matt Besler
Wild card: Stu Holden
Crazy prediction (1): Jozy Altidore is beat out by Alan Gordon or Terrence Boyd for a spot up top as Eddie Johnson moves into the target striker role fulltime and makes Altidore less relevant.
Crazy prediction (2): Josh Gatt will start in the first group game for the US.