United States v Antigua & Barbuda - World Cup Qualifier

United States national team depth chart: Looking at Graham Zusi and other right-sided attackers

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Five U.S. matches over the last month has generated significant movement on the U.S. depth chart – perhaps more shuffling than in any month-long stretch in Jurgen Klinsmann’s time in charge, which is now approaching two years.

Over A few days we’ll continue to examine the U.S. depth chart, making our best educated guesses at how things stack up on Jurgen Klinsmann’s big board inside the manager’s Southern California offices.

Next up: RIGHT-SIDED ATTACKER

If we identify a couple of positions where some movement in the depth chart is not only possible but likely over the coming 12 months – before the big list of names bound for Brazil is revealed, that is – it surely is the outside attacker spots.

First off, we have to say “outside attacker” because Klinsmann’s teams lately haven’t really had “wingers,” nor are they the domain of outside midfielders, per se. Under Klinsmann, the tactical deployments appear to be something more like “positional suggestions,” with players assigned general positions and then set free to make of them what they will (on the attack, that is – there seem to be more specific defensive duties).

Herculez Gomez, who started on the left earlier this year, and right-sided installment Graham Zusi patrol their sides differently, for example. The disparate choices may combine more with the overlapping back, or may prefer to cut inside more frequently to hook up with Clint Dempsey. They may be more aggressive in taking on defenders or just generally look to create chances in varying areas of the field. Among guys like Eddie Johnson, Brad Davis, Brek Shea and Fabian Johnson, those most often chosen under Klinsmann to pull flank duty, there is ample stylistic variation afoot.

Further complicating the picture is which men are stationed behind the outside attackers? Are they more offensively or defensively inclined? (Because the answer affects team, defensive balance.) Are they more comfortable crossing from the end line, or better at the centering efforts from that 20- to 25-yard range? (Because the answer affects offensive balance.)

All that said, nobody has laid claim to one of these positions (on either side) the way Zusi (pictured) has. He started a bit slowly, less accustomed to receiving balls and creating in wider areas. But Klinsmann’s deployment of Zusi out wide coincided roughly with his shift to the wider channels at Sporting Kansas City, and it has all served to put the 26-year-old midfielder in wonderful shape in the U.S. pool.

Past that, this thing is a real mish-mash. Quick, who is ideally behind Zusi along the right?

See?

Is it Eddie Johnson, who performed the role adequately when Zusi was suspended two weeks ago? (“Adequately” will cut it for a home qualifier versus CONCACAF competition, but may look quite pedestrian when the quality of opposition rises in Brazil. And ultimately, isn’t that what we are talking about?)

Is it Fabian Johnson, who could only shift over to the right if the left-sided options became more plentiful? Is it Sacha Kljestan, who has mostly been a flank man (although one who leans significantly inside) under Klinsmann?

If Zusi falls to injury, does the pull to re-introduce Landon Donovan into first-team graces reach critical mass?

Or what about the up-and-comers in the pool, the likes of Alejandro Bedoya or Josh Gatt, who hope to move up the ordering with bright Gold Cup performance, assuming they are named to the final roster later this week.

And can we talk about any midfield or attacking position without mentioning Stuart Holden, who could certainly play along the right? No, we can’t. That would be silly. Of course he is an option – and we’ll know more about how much or one once the Gold Cup games begin in July.

U.S. RIGHT-SIDED ATTACKER ordering

  • 1. Graham Zusi
  • 2. Eddie Johnson
  • 3. Herculez Gomez
  • 4. Landon Donovan
  • 5. Stuart Holden
  • 6. Fabian Johnson
  • 7. Sacha Kljestan
  • 8. Jose Torres
  • 9. Josh Gatt
  • 10. Alejandro Bedoya

In review:

U.S. goalkeepers

U.S. right backs

U.S. left backs

U.S. center backs

U.S. holding midfielders

U.S. linking midfielders

Coming up later today: left-sided attackers

 

Mancini reportedly not interested in Leicester City, De Boer says no

GENOA, ITALY - APRIL 20:  Head Coach of FC Internazionale Roberto Mancini looks during the Serie A match between Genoa CFC and FC Internazionale Milano at Stadio Luigi Ferraris on April 20, 2016 in Genoa, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
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Two top candidates to replace Claudio Ranieri at Leicester City have reportedly turned down any interest in the job.

Roberto Mancini, the heavy favorite out of the gates after Ranieri’s dismissal, tweeted his support for Ranieri after the news broke. “I am sorry for my friend Ranieri,” Mancini said. “He will be in the history of LCFC, in the hearts of Leicester fans and all football lovers.”

However, the fellow Italian has rebuffed Leicester’s informal advances towards his services. According to Sky Sports, Leicester sent “intermediaries” to “sound out” Mancini’s feelings towards the position, but came back empty-handed. The report states Mancini was turned off to the club after a short and unsuccessful spell there as a player in 2001.

That leaves a host of other names who have been linked to the job, with no clear favorite. One person mentioned was Dutch legend Frank de Boer, who is unemployed after an unusually short stint in charge of Inter Milan. However, De Boer’s agent went public to say he was not ever in the running.

“There is zero possibility that Frank could go to Leicester,” agent Guido Albers told Italian publication Tuttomercatoweb. “I too heard these rumors, but that’s all they are – rumors. I can affirm without doubt that Frank will not become the Leicester City manager. This will 100 per cent not happen.”

Albers explained that De Boer is only interested in joining a club in the offseason, preferring to enter a project with a blank slate rather than joining midseason with particular goals already clearly laid out. With Leicester, it seems De Boer is turned off by the notion of a relegation battle.

Win over Las Palmas again has La Real on edge of CL spot

GETAFE, SPAIN - DECEMBER 11:  Xavi Prieto of Real Sociedad in action during the La Liga match between Getafe CF and Real Sociedad de Futbol at Coliseum Alfonso Perez stadium on December 11, 2015 in Getafe, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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All it took was one mistake. Real Sociedad’s Xabi Prieto capitalized, and has La Real once again on the verge of next year’s Champions League.

La Real finished 7th in 2013/14, and 9th in 2015/16, and this year, they’re closer than ever. Preito’s goal on the mistake by Las Palmas goalkeeper Javi Varas gave Real Sociedad the 1-0 road win and has them just a point off a Champions League place.

[ MORE: Antonio Conte pulling from experience to keep Chelsea on top ]

That could be even closer next week, as fourth-placed Atletico Madrid has to welcome Barcelona to the Calderon tomorrow, leaving the door open for La Real to make another move next weekend.

The goal down the stretch is not just to win the games they should, but make the teams above them work. La Real has won seven of their last ten matches, but the three losses came to Real Madrid, Villareal, and Sevilla, all teams fighting at the top of the table. They still have chances down the stretch, with matches against Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla, and Eibar coming up, with the latter on the docket next weekend.

Conte pulling from prior experience as title race pushes on

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18: Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea looks on during The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Chelsea at Molineux on February 18, 2017 in Wolverhampton, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Antonio Conte has recalled some painful memories to push himself and his players forward despite their commanding lead at the top of the Premier League table.

Chelsea sits eight points clear of Manchester City, and has the chance to go even further in front with many of the top teams off this weekend, but that won’t give the Italian any better sleep at night.

In the 1999/2000 season, Conte was nearing the end of his 13-year Juventus tenure. He’d won three league titles already, plus two league cup trophies and a Champions League title with the Serie A giants. With a comfortable nine point lead after 26 matches, the club became complacent. They would lose four of their final eight matches, collapsing on the final day in the pouring rain, allowing Lazio to come roaring back to win the title.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks for Week 26 ]

“I was captain of the team,” Conte said. “I remember after this game I must go to the European Championships with the national team. I didn’t sleep for six days because it was a shock for me to lose the title.”

Clearly, that still haunts him. “I have experienced this,” Conte continued. “When I continue to repeat that there are 13 games, there are 39 points… there is a long time before we can say we won the title. We must be focused, we must go step by step.”

The Blues host Swansea City at Stamford Bridge on Saturday before a trip to West Ham next weekend. If anyone believes the Chelsea players are complacent holding such a significant lead with 13 matches to go, it’s clear that’s not nearly the case. Anything can happen in three months.

Sean Dyche says Joey Barton should have a TV show

BURNLEY, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18: Joey Barton of Burnley (L) and Matt Rhead of Lincoln City (R) exchange words during The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Burnley and Lincoln City at Turf Moor on February 18, 2017 in Burnley, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Burnley manager Sean Dyche says Joey Barton‘s life is chock full of fascinating moments, so much so that he should have his own TV show.

Except when he’s behind closed doors at Burnley, of course. Then he’s a stand up individual. Right, sure.

“It could be a TV series,” Dyche said in his pre-match press conference ahead of an away tilt with Hull City. “Being Joey. It’d be interesting. Never a dull moment.”

But of course, immediately after that, Dyche switched gears. “Unless he’s in here, training with me,” he backtracked. “I think it’s pantomime stuff. I’ve seen a lot more controversy around Joey than that. If that’s as far as it goes, I’ll be a happy man.”

“That” referred to Barton’s embarrassing dive in the FA Cup loss to non-league opponents Lincoln City where the midfielder play-acted after nothing more than a brush of the elbow from Matt Rhead, falling to the ground and clutching his head. Barton was involved in a number of heated moments during that match, adding to his already massive list of controversial moments in a mercurial career.

“Joey’s been terrific,” Dyche said. “I thought by a mile, by an absolute mile, he was the best player on the pitch last weekend. So he’s been absolutely fine. He’s in good nick – as you can see – and he’s definitely up for the challenges that come in front of us.”

But word of Joey Barton apparently hasn’t reached London. A few weeks ago, ahead of Chelsea’s 1-1 draw at Burnley on February 12th, Blues manager Antonio Conte was asked if he was familiar with Burnley’s squad and Barton in particular – an admittedly leading question – and Conte was unable to give an immediate answer. He instead asked his press officer muttering, “Joey Barton?” under his breath. The press officer embarrassingly tried to save face before Conte stepped back in giving a generic answer that they had already played once and he was familiar with the squad.