PST U.S. Men’s National Team Depth Chart: “Attacking” Midfelders

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Even if we had to make a tough call on where to slot Jozy Altidore, the forwards were easy, but as we track back in through the U.S. Men’s national team formation, things get tougher.

We’re also not doing ourselves any favors with our depth charts. Because there seems to be two distinctly different classes of midfielders in Jurgen Klinsmann’s team, we’re breaking the position up. Later we’ll post the central midfielders’ depth chart, while now, we’re posting the “other” guys.

I note “other” because it’s hard to come up with a good way to describe them. They’re basically players who are less-likely to compete with the Bradleys, Joneses, and Edus for time. Sometimes they’re deployed wide while on the same level, but most of the time they’re in more advanced positions, usually (but not always) wider.

We’re calling them attackers, but expect this caveat to appear in every update: Here, “attacking” is synonymous with “other”.

But before all those caveats suck the fun out of this exercise, let’s get to the depth chart, one with a familiar name at the top.

1. Landon Donovan, 30, LA Galaxy

Graham Zusi’s performance in Columbus showed how much Landon Donovan’s been missed, if ironically so. While Zusi performed well against Jamaica (forming a nice tandem with Steve Cherundolo down the right), that’s standard fare for Donovan, who is also capable of adding a touch of the spectacular with a dash of the heroic. Jurgen Klinsmann’s rarely had Donovan and Clint Dempsey at his disposal. He won’t this week, either.

2. Graham Zusi, 26, Sporting Kansas City

So what if he’s not Donovan? He’s still somebody the program’s coming to trust. He didn’t start in Kingston, but inserted into the starting XI to provide some attacking nous in Ohio, Zusi stepped up. It’s a cliché (saying somebody “stepped up”), but it’s also something other players have failed to do – make an impact when they finally get their chance. Thanks to that impact, the U.S. should be in decent shape this week, with Zusi again filling in for Landon Donovan.

3. Brek Shea, 22, FC Dallas

Shea is the only true wide attacker regularly used by Klinsmann – somebody that wide week-in, week-out plays wide for both club and country. Like Donovan, Shea will miss this week’s qualifiers, eliminated from consideration after U.S. Soccer doctors deemed him unfit to go. Although fan opinion is mixed on the FC Dallas star’s effectiveness, he represents a meaningful way to change things should the attack falter. He will be missed.

4. Jose Torres, 24, Pachuca (Mexico)

Torres is another of Klinsmann’s “other” midfielders who’s injured, though after his performance last break, it’s unclear he’ll be missed. Torres has received plenty of chances to assert his place in the team and has consistently given lackluster performances. Klinsmann, however, may see things differently. When things needed to be changed after Kingston, Torres was one of the answers. The reviews may be mixed, but the boss’s loyalty has yet to waver.

5. Joe Corona, 22, Tijuana (Mexico)

You get the feeling Corona is inching closer to playing time, but with the senior team, he’s yet to see meaningful minutes. But by now, the Tijuana attacker is a consistent presence in Klinsmann’s squads, his strong performance for the U-23s helping to solidify his place in the setup. While he’s not a wide player in the mold of Shea, Corona often plays on the flank for Xolos. With few other options on the bench, Klinsmann may turn to Corona this week when he looks to change things up.

6. Sacha Kljestan, 27, Anderlecht (Belgium)

He may spend most of his time playing near central midfielder Lucas Biglia in Belgium, but given the U.S. squad’s strengths, if Sacha’s going to make an impact, it’s likely going to be in another spot. His versatility allows him to be used in a more attacking role – in wider areas, if need be. It’s part of the reason why many felt Kljestan should have been called up for previous qualifiers.

7. Josh Gatt, 21, Molde (Norway)

Like Eddie Johnson and Alan Gordon this week, Josh Gatt was recalled for tactical reasons against Jamaica, though an injury kept him from playing (what’s with all the injuries to U.S. attacking midfielders?). Plus speed makes it likely Gatt will be recalled for future qualifiers, depending on this opponent. This year in Norway, he’s already doubled the scoring output of last year’s Tippeligaen debut. His six goals in 16 appearances are third on Molde’s league-leading squad.

8. Mix Diskerud, 22, Rosenburg (Norway)

Diskerud’s back in Norway after an unsuccessful spell in Belgium, one that did little to help his quest to break into the senior national team. Although he was a big part of the U-23 side that failed to qualify for London, Mix has yet to appear for the senior squad in a full international. Lately, he’s flirted with the idea of playing for Norway, having been born in Oslo. While the Norwegians seem keen on getting Diskerud capped, Klinsmann ise taking a more straight-up approach. He’s not calling Diskerud in just to lock him down.

9. DaMarcus Beasley, 30, Puebla (Mexico)

If the U.S. lacks wide players, Beasley’s an option, and while it seems like the veteran would be a reach, he was called in for the win at Azteca. Being based in Mexico may have helped, but it was also a chance to get on Jurgen Klinsmann’s radar. A veteran of three World Cups, Beasley’s not completely out of the picture for a fourth.

10. Benny Feilhaber, 27, New England Revolution

Feilhaber hasn’t been called in since January’s camp, a sad step back from somebody who was automatic under Bob Bradley. Watching him for New England, it’s not hard to understand why. Feilhaber’s been good, not great, and it’s unclear where exactly he’d play for Klinsmann. As he moves to being a more central option for Jay Heaps, Feilhaber looks more and more like somebody who will be competing against some locked-in players on for the national team.

The Mendy Effect: Pep praises injured back

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Full back Benjamin Mendy cost Pep Guardiola and Manchester City $68 million, but perhaps he’ll be just as valuable as a very expensive sports psychologist.

The “Shark Team” member was amusing on social media even before his ACL injury sent him to the sidelines until at least April, but he’s become a must-follow Twitter fixture with his in-game messages (See some of his work below).

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

City faces Burnley at 10 a.m. ET Saturday (Watch live on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com).

It’s fairly clear his act has translated in private, too, as apparently Mendy is just as good in group messages (Let us in, Pep. We won’t tell anyone). From ManCity.com:

“Usually, players who are out for a long time with injury are sad. They sometimes train apart and feel isolated.

“Mendy decided to be present. He is communicating on social media, WhatsApp and he calls his teammates and messages me. He is going to be so important outside the pitch because people like him make the atmosphere much better.”

It’s not surprising for anyone who’s been following the former Le Havre, Marseille and Monaco man.

Keep in mind, these Tweets below are from the last few days alone!

Ozil to Manchester United?!? Wenger reacts to gossip

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Sometimes, even the biggest Arsene Wenger detractors have to feel for the guy.

Coming off a thrilling late win in Serbia, one that saw Olivier Giroud cap off a team goal straight out of the creative Wenger playbook, the manager should’ve been discussing how to stretch those good vibes into this weekend’s visit to Goodison Park.

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

Yet no. Instead of talking about how the Gunners would respect the struggling Toffees, Wenger had to address speculation from several outlets claiming Mesut Ozil would move to Manchester United, perhaps as soon as January.

Feeling it? No, no Wenger was not feeling it. From Arsenal.com:

“We have to deal with all kinds of speculation when the players are at the end of their contracts. On the other hand, to be professional is to give 100 per cent as long as you are somewhere. For the rest, we came out many times and said that’s the situation. It [the media] can come out tomorrow and say that he extends his contract here. It will be exactly the same, it will not change anything. When you play the next game, commit 100 per cent. … When a player plays for Arsenal Football Club, his commitment cannot be linked with the length of his contract, it has just to be linked with the responsibility and the ambition he has to win the football game.”
Of course most big clubs have to deal with such drama on a year-to-year basis and, yes, having Ozil and Alexis Sanchez still in town was completely avoidable. But the idea that Ozil could leave, for free, to Manchester United? We’re sure Gooners the world over will be thrilled with the gossip.

MLS Decision Day preview: Much at stake

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Four teams can claim a Western Conference second round berth, while four more can earn a valuable first-round bye in the East.

Yep, there’s plenty to play for beyond the West’s final playoff spot Sunday during Major League Soccer’s Decision Day, when every team will take the pitch for 4 p.m. ET kickoffs.

[ MORE: Conte feels pressure ]

Here’s what we do know regarding the playoffs:

  1. Supporters’ Shield winning Toronto FC gets a first round bye, while No. 6 seed New York Red Bulls are headed to the road for a first round playoff
  2. New England, Montreal, Philadelphia, Orlando, DC, Minnesota, Colorado, and LA will not make the playoffs
  3. Full stop.

So, yes, this will be fun.

First, let’s look at the Eastern Conference Standings ahead of Sunday’s extravaganza:

Eastern Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Toronto FC 33 20 8 5 72 35 37 13-3-1 7-5-4 68
x – New York City FC 33 16 8 9 54 41 13 10-4-2 6-4-7 56
x – Chicago 33 16 7 10 61 44 17 12-3-2 4-4-8 55
x – Atlanta 33 15 9 9 68 38 30 11-2-3 4-7-6 54
x – Columbus 33 16 5 12 51 47 4 12-2-3 4-3-9 53
x – New York 33 13 8 12 51 46 5 9-6-2 4-2-10 47

— New York City FC controls its bye destiny, though Columbus could join them on 56 points and would pass them on tiebreakers (wins).

— If that happens, Chicago could claim the second bye with a win or draw in Houston (The Fire owns the goal differential tiebreaker).

— If New York City and Chicago lose or draw, Atlanta could finish second with a home win over TFC.

— Columbus can finish second with a win and non-wins for Chicago and Atlanta.

Western Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
x – Vancouver 33 15 7 11 49 47 2 9-5-3 6-2-8 52
x – Portland 33 14 8 11 58 49 9 10-4-2 4-4-9 50
x – Seattle 33 13 11 9 49 39 10 10-5-1 3-6-8 50
x – Sporting KC 33 12 13 8 39 27 12 10-6-1 2-7-7 49
x – Houston 33 12 11 10 54 45 9 11-4-1 1-7-9 47
San Jose 33 12 7 14 36 58 -22 9-5-2 3-2-12 43
FC Dallas 33 10 13 10 43 47 -4 7-7-2 3-6-8 43
Real Salt Lake 33 12 6 15 47 54 -7 8-4-4 4-2-11 42

Byes

— Vancouver finishes first with a win or draw at Portland. The ‘Caps could finish as low as third with a loss to Portland and a Seattle win versus Colorado.

— Portland finishes first — and wins the Cascadia Cup — with a win over visiting Vancouver.

— Seattle can claim a first round bye with a win over visiting Colorado and a Vancouver win over Portland.

— Sporting KC can finish second with a win at Real Salt Lake and non-wins for Portland and Seattle.

Final playoff spot

— San Jose claims the sixth seed with a home win over Minnesota. They can also finish sixth with a draw joined by non-wins for FC Dallas at home to LA and Real Salt Lake at home versus SKC.

— FC Dallas claims the sixth seed with a win over LA and a San Jose draw or loss versus Minnesota. FCD gets sixth with a draw, and a San Jose loss coupled with a RSL loss or draw versus SKC.

—  Real Salt Lake gets sixth with a win over SKC, and non-wins from San Jose and Dallas. RSL could also get sixth with a draw and losses for San Jose and Dallas.

(Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)

Schedule
FC Dallas vs. LA Galaxy
DC United vs. New York Red Bulls
San Jose vs. Minnesota United
Real Salt Lake vs. Sporting KC
Houston vs. Chicago
Seattle vs. Colorado
Philadelphia vs. Orlando City
Portland vs. Vancouver
Montreal vs. New England
New York City vs. Columbus
Atlanta vs. Toronto

Predictions

— NYCFC hangs on for a draw against Columbus, earning a bye, leaving Chicago to host New York Red Bulls and Atlanta off to Columbus for the first round of the playoffs (We have Toronto beating Atlanta on Sunday).

— Vancouver and Portland draw, while Seattle beats Colorado. The ‘Caps and Sounders get byes, while Seattle takes back the Cascadia Cup.

— San Jose beats Minnesota, gaining the West’s sixth seed. The Quakes head to Portland for the first round, while SKC hosts Houston.

Conte feels pressure, but “most important thing is to work”

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Chelsea has sputtered a bit in its bid to repeat as Premier League champions, though this isn’t quite “stop me if you’ve heard this one before.”

The Blues sit fifth in the Premier League table with 13 points, nine behind leaders Manchester City, and tossed away a 2-0 lead before rallying to draw Roma at midweek.

The Blues host fourth-placed Watford to kick off Saturday’s Premier League action at 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday (Watch live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com)

[ MORE: West Ham 0-3 Brighton ]

And while fans are frustrated with the plan, Chelsea was in 15th at the end of October during Jose Mourinho’s ill-fated follow-up to the 2014-15 Premier League title.

Still, manager Antonio Conte feels their pain, although he’s satisfied with the effort. From Chelsea’s official site:

“Do I feel the pressure? Every manager feels pressure, but I try to give all of myself into my job, so I’m happy when I go home because I know in every moment I give all of myself for the fans, the players and the club. In football you know anything can happen, but the most important thing is to work.”

Chelsea may not look as good as Man City or Manchester United, but is still well-positioned to finish amongst the leaders and is leading a very difficult UCL group with Roma and Atletico Madrid. Things are fine, but the gossip storm just won’t leave Conte and his future at Chelsea alone (Thanks, Italian press).