PST U.S. Men’s National Team Depth Chart: Forward

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This isn’t about who we think should be at the top of the pecking order. These lists are fun, but as we discovered yesterday, Jurgen Klinsmann’s actual pecking order can be just as entertaining.

That’s the premise behind ProSoccerTalk’s U.S. Men’s National Team depth charts, which we’ll be rolling out over the next few days. If you were able to break into his office in Carson, pop the lock on his file cabinet, and find the folder that says “DEPTH CHARTS” you’d (a) say “whoa, he keeps actual depth charts,” and (b) have something similar to what we’re doing here.

We’re not trying to say where players should be. We’re trying to give our views on where they are.

Given the Jozy-ness of the news cycle, we have to start with the forwards.

1. Clint Dempsey, 29, Tottenham Hotspur (England)

We saw Dempsey’s importance last break. Lacking form after missing action with Fulham, Dempsey wasn’t himself. That didn’t dissuade Jurgen Klinsmann from selecting him. Dempsey went right into the starting XI, assuming his normal, middle-of-everything role. At the end of the match in Kingston, when the U.S. needed a goal, it was Dempsey, rust and all, who was tasked with leading the charge.

2. Herculez Gomez, 30, Santos Laguna (Mexico)

Is Gomez’s emergence the worst thing that’s happened to Jozy Altidore? The veteran attacker doesn’t have Altidore’s physical gifts, yet he’s made the greater impact in the Klinsmann era, his movement and work rate examples of what the boss is asking of from all his forwards.

Gomex has one other key advantage over Altidore: versatility. He can play wide in an attacking three, any role in an attacking two, or he can play up top on his own.

And lest we forget: He was the key player on both U.S. goals last break.

3. Jozy Altidore, 22, AZ Alkmaar (Netherlands)

The current controversy needs to play out before we drop Altidore. Klinsmann certainly wants Altidore to be back in the team as soon as possible. In the interim, coach and player need to get on the same page before Klinsmann can trust Altidore with a regular place. That may happen before the team leaves for Russia in November (if the friendly with Fabio Capello’s team gets confirmed). But if the divide between player and coach isn’t resolved by November, Altidore’s place outside the team may become the new status quo.

4. Terrence Boyd, 21, Rapid Wien (Austria)

The same logic we applied to Altidore holds here. We’re not set to drop Boyd based on one omission; at least, we won’t until another player steps up. Boyd’s been called in too many times to think he’s suddenly fallen out of favor. Unlike Altidore, he’s on the stand-by list. We should trust Klinsmann when he says the Johnson and Gordon callups are about matchups. Boyd should be back in November.

5. Eddie Johnson, 28, Seattle Sounders

Given how Johnson’s played for Seattle, it would be surprising if he wasn’t higher the next time we publish this list, even if he doesn’t score this week. Everything Jozy Altidore was not doing for Klinsmann, Johnson has been doing for Sigi Schmid. His hold up play has been excellent. His off the ball movement tests defenses when he’s not in possession. Over the last month, his work defensively has been as good as any forward in Major League Soccer, including on set pieces, where he’s valuable coming back to defend on corners. If Johnson brings those qualities to the national team, he’ll win a permanent spot.

6. Alan Gordon, 30, San Jose Earthquakes

If this was Gordon’s first callup, this ranking would be unjustifiable. But he was in camp for Mexico, and although he didn’t play at Azteca, Klinsmann must have liked what Gordon brought to the squad. His aerial ability has been much-discussed since yesterday’s announcement, but Gordon’s movement and work rate are also play into his favor. And if there are two themes to this international break, they’re movement and work rate.

7. Chris Wondolowski, 29, San Jose Earthquakes

Many fans are wondering why Gordon was called in and not Wondolowski. Wondolowski is clearly close, but as Klinsmann explained, his preference for a aerial presence led him to choose Gordon. Wondolowski is good in the air, but he’s good in the same way Clint Dempsey is good. Against the opposition’s third or fourth-best aerial defender, he can do some damage. Against one of the primary markers, he’s not going to win many battles.

What Klinsmann didn’t say on Monday: Because of the makeup of the national team, it’s hard to see where Wondolowski fits anytime soon. He’s most likely to be used off the bench when the States need a goal, but in those situations, his play would clash with Clint Dempsey’s.

Wondo as a starter – as the forward that plays highest – would be different, but that means he’d have to beat out Herculez Gomez. And Eddie Johnson. And Terrence Boyd, and even Jozy Altidore.

Wondo could very well be called in, especially in January, but it’s going to be difficult for him to earn a consistent role.

8. Chris Pontius, 25, D.C. United

This is where the field starts to even out a bit, but among the many candidates for these last three spots, Pontius has the most to offer. Work rate, positional flexibility and recent results are all in his favor.

9. C.J. Sapong, 23, Sporting Kansas City

Sapong’s up to eight goals this season (after scoring five as a rookie) and brings all the characteristics that don’t make the scoresheet: size, strength, hard work, and holdup play that’s progressing.

10. Juan Agudelo, 19, Chivas USA / Teal Bunbury, 21, Sporting Kansas City

Without his injury, Bunbury would have this spot. With it, we take a wait-and-see.

Agudelo’s stock has plummeted over the last year, but he had an injury issue of his own, hurting his knee during Olympic qualifying. Still only 19, Agudelo needs a better platform at club-level. Right now, the situation at Chivas USA is doing nothing to help his national team hopes.

Big changes are expected in Carson. They might get Agudelo’s young career back on track.

Arsenal sends Gabriel Paulista to Valencia

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Arsenal has a thin defense, but that hasn’t stopped Arsene Wenger from thinning the squad even further.

Gabriel Paulista is headed back to the Spanish top flight after the completion of his transfer to Valencia. The Brazilian was sold for a reported $12.8 million, just below the $14 million price tag Arsenal coughed up to Villareal back in January, 2015. He will partner with Manchester City loanee Eliaquim Mangala at Valencia.

The 26-year-old made 64 appearances for the Gunners across all competitions, including 46 in the Premier League. His only goal for the club was Arsenal’s first of a 2-0 win over Bournemouth in December, 2015. His high-water mark with the club was a 120-minute performance against Manchester City in the FA Cup semifinals where Arsenal came back to win 2-1 on an Alexis Sanchez goal in extra time.

“We would like to thank Gabriel for his contribution to the club and to wish him well for his return to La Liga with Valencia,” Arsenal said in its confirmation of the deal.

Paulista was utilized more than expected last season thanks to an injury crisis at the back, and still the Arsenal squad doesn’t seem fat enough to offload defenders, but Gabriel’s over-aggressive nature and tackling inaccuracy led him to an early exit.

With Arsene Wenger now deploying a back-three, the only natural central defenders currently on the roster are Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Shkodran Mustafi, and Rob Holding. Koscielny is suspended from a red card at the end of last season, and Mertesacker is battling a head injury. Sead Kolasinac, Nacho Monreal, and Calum Chambers have played CB for the Gunners in the recent past, but it is not their natural position.

Fabian Johnson misses Gladbach training with injury

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With John Brooks already out long-term due to a thigh injury, the United States may have another key injury to work around.

According to Borussia Monchengladbach manager Dieter Hecking, full-back/winger Fabian Johnson missed training on Friday due to an unspecified injury, and is now a question mark for Gladbach’s home match on Sunday against FC Koln. It could be nothing, but even the scare is cause for concern among U.S. fans.

Johnson has battled a few injuries the past couple of seasons, including a hamstring problem last spring that kept him out for nearly two months, including a pair of World Cup qualifiers in March.

Johnson’s absence would leave a hole at right-back for the United States. The 29-year-old has been deployed some at right wing for the USMNT, but he has been relatively poor at that position in the national setup, looking better when pushed further back where he is given more defensive duties, roaming forward with less frequency but more intent.

In place of Johnson, another converted winger in Graham Zusi has been seeing more time at right-back, but he offers less in the attack and lacks Johnson’s recovery speed, meaning mistakes by the Sporting KC veteran are punished more often.

Falcao scores again to extend red hot start

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Monaco is hoping to ride out the final two weeks of the transfer window with 18-year-old wonderkid Kylian Mbappe still in tow.

While they wait, they aren’t missing a beat.

With Mbappe out of the squad, Radamel Falcao has begun the 2017/18 Ligue 1 season as Europe’s hottest goalscorer. He bagged a hat-trick last weekend with Mbappe on the bench to give him four goals in the first two league matches. Then, with Mbappe out of the squad entirely, Falcao netted the winner in a 1-0 road win over FC Metz.

Falcao has scored five goals so far this year, and his club has a +5 goal differential. In a way, Falcao has already been worth six points thus far.

Thanks in part to Ligue 1’s early start, Falcao’s five league goals are by far more than anyone else in the major European leagues. Four players have scored a pair of Premier League goals, nobody in La Liga or the Bundesliga have scored more than one, and the Serie A season has yet to start.

The Colombian did the same thing last season. After eventually coming off the shelf from to hamstring and concussion problems to start the season, Falcao scored 10 goals in 10 Ligue 1 matches leading up to the new calendar year.

At 31 years old, Falcao isn’t a long-term solution and the club will clearly look to retain Mbappe despite Falcao’s hot start, but should they lose the young Frenchman, the club will be in good hands while they search for a replacement over the next year.

Arena should give Ream a look in Brooks’ absence

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With John Brooks out three months thanks to a horribly timed thigh injury, the United States yet again has to scramble to fill a void at the back. It’s not the first time an injury to Brooks has left the USMNT scrambling for cover at a thin position.

In the successful Gold Cup this past summer, with a largely domestic squad in place, Omar Gonzalez saw the bulk of the time at central defender, with Matt Besler his partner through the final two matches. However, with European-based players now in contention for spots with the early September international break, those two are unlikely to continue, at least not together.

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The most obvious choice to start September 1st against Costa Rica and likely shoo-in should he remain healthy for the next two weeks is Geoff Cameron. The 32-year-old has been back and forth between defense and midfield with club and country, and although he has publicly acknowledged his preference for a spot higher up the pitch, he was used in a back-three in Stoke City’s Premier League opener last weekend and is steadiest at the back.

But with a spot next to Cameron up for grabs in Brooks’ absence, a player who should get serious consideration is United States fill-in extraordinaire Tim Ream.

Ream has had to work hard to earn his place with the U.S., and while he’s seen time of late, he’s not been a first-choice pick. The 29-year-old has four caps so far in 2017, with two of those starts, including one in the impressive 1-1 draw against Mexico at the Azteca with the US still clawing its way back up the Hex standings. Even then, Ream would likely not have earned that spot had Arena not chosen to rotate nearly the entire squad between the pair of qualifiers in that window. His other start this year, the 1-1 draw at Panama, only came after Cameron pulled out of the squad the day of the game with a late injury. The last time Ream started back-to-back matches for the U.S. came back in 2015 when he was somewhat of a regular through the second half of the calendar year.

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But now, with Brooks out, Ream looks like the perfect man to fill in again. The 29-year-old defender finished last season in top form as Fulham narrowly missed out on promotion, earning the official website’s Man of the Match award in a May 2nd draw with Brentford, and won it again in the club’s final match of the season.

Without missing a beat, Ream has picked up where he left off last campaign in the first few matches this month. Last weekend against Reading at the Madjeski Stadium, Ream’s center-back partner Tomas Kalas was sent off 36 seconds into the match, forcing Fulham to play a man down for 89 minutes. Ream and company solidified the back, conceding just once in the 61st minute en route to a 1-1 draw.

The club still likely requires reinforcements at the CB position – Ream was forced to partner with right-back Denis Odoi against Reading with Kalas suspended and Michael Madl injured – meaning Ream could see an influx of competition in the coming weeks. However, as it stands, the American is far and away the best (and most improved) central defender on a club favored for promotion.

Gonzalez performed well in the Gold Cup, and Matt Besler was serviceable, but with few other options in the heart of defense to take Brooks’ place, Bruce Arena could yet again look to Ream for an in-form replacement.