Central midfield might be Jurgen Klinsmann’s deepest position. Use a different view of what depth means, you might see the States’ lacking in what you might call organizational depth – the ability to consistently produce a certain standard of player.
That characteristic is most-evident between five and six on the central midfield depth chart. Look beyond the players habitually called into camp and you’ll see options rarely considered for recalls. Given what’s happened over the last two days, it makes you wonder what would happen if central midfield was hit by an injury bug similar to what’s happened at left back.
That would have to be some injury bug to create any kind of crisis, though. With some help from attackers who can help in a pinch, the U.S.’s central midfield is deep enough to make variety a greater concern than depth. Between Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, and Maurice Edu, Jurgen Klinsmann has a lot of interchangeable, not enough ‘do something else.’ In this case, that ‘do something else’ would be creating scoring chances.
A reminder: This list is how we see Jurgen Klinsmann’s depth chart – not how you, we, or the fans at large would order the U.S.’s midfield depth.
1. Michael Bradley, 25, Roma (Italy)
A sea of injuries mean Friday can’t come fast enough, but for the United States, at least Michael Bradley will be back. For a midfield lacking creativity, Bradley’s the one player who can provide a spark, if not with his passing than with his ability to take advantage of opportunities to get forward. His goal from Roma this weekend was a perfect example.
It’s not often we stop to realize it, but it really should be said: He’s become the best central midfielder in CONCACAF.
2. Jermaine Jones, 30, Schalke (Germany)
What Jurgen Klinsman sees: A big, physical player with good range who is capable on the ball, occasionally providing an surprisingly good pass going forward.
What an increasing number of U.S. Men’s National Team fans see: Somebody who occupies space, is overly-physical to the point of being foul-prone, and doesn’t provide enough going forward.
Despite the disagreement, Jones is a lock not only to make every squad but also start, almost always going a full 90 minutes.
3. Maurice Edu, 26, Stoke City (England)
Ulimately, Edu may be the victim in the U.S.’s top-heavy midfield. He’s played central defense at the Olympics, World Cup, and Estadio Azteca, and Klinsmann admits the new Potter’s future may not be in midfield. He has all the skills to partner with Geoff Cameron into the future. In midfield, although he is a lock to be called in, Edu is often redundant.
4. Danny Williams, 23, Hoffenheim (Germany)
5. Kyle Beckerman, 30, Real Salt Lake
Whether Williams deserves the fourth spot was a tough call, but last international break may have seen the Hoffenheim star passed Beckerman on the depth chart. The contrast between his performance in Columbus (where he was one of the States’ best players) and Beckerman’s in Kingston (where he was decent if unspectacular) made it clear. Williams has a chance to be a plus-contributor on a regular basis. While Beckerman is a good option to have in the team, he doesn’t have that potential.
6. Jeff Larentowicz, 29, Colorado Rapids
Larentowicz’s national team career received a nudge when Klinsmann was appointed head coach, but central midfield is a tough nut to crack, particularly when your game doesn’t offer anything appreciably different to the players ahead of you in the pecking order.
7. Ricardo Clark, 29, Houston Dynamo
Clark was thought done with the national team after his performance against Ghana at the World Cup, but Klinsmann called him into the January camp. Back in Major League Soccer after a tour in Germany, Clark still has time to reestablish a place in the national team, even if he’s unlikely to become the regular starter he was during the last cycle. Like Larentowicz, his skills run in parallel to those of the more established central midfielders, though unlike the Rapids’ anchor, Clark can play in defense.
8. Dax McCarty, 25, New York Red Bulls
This is where the list gets thin. Although McCarty has earned accolades for his performance this year in MLS, he has yet to receive love from the new national team coach. In that way, he’s the anti-Larentowicz. Whereas the Colorado man got a new lease on national team life when Klinsmann replaced Bob Bradley, McCarty’s been unable to rekindle the attention he earned in the former coach’s final January camp. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that McCarty is still relatively young. If he continues progressing as he has this year, he’ll carve a spot for himself.
9. Sam Cronin, 25, San Jose Earthquakes
It’s been three years since Cronin was part of the B-team Bob Bradley took to the 2009 Gold Cup. Since then he’s moved from Toronto to San Jose and become one of the key (if overshadowed) components of Major League Soccer’s best team (don’t tell Steve I said that). Is there that much difference between Sam Cronin and Dax McCarty? Perhaps enough to put McCarty higher on a list, a lit they’d both be on.
10. Perry Kitchen, 20, D.C. United
A rookie year playing out of position hurt Kitchen’s development. While he was able to get valuable minutes by playing right back in 2011, switching back to defensive midfield has forced him to go through another adjustment period, something that’s reflected in his play. Too often Kitchen’s been passive in a position defined by assertiveness. Next season, Kitchen should be a more decisive player, building on what he’s learned during a second rookie season.