United States national team depth chart: Finding a second choice behind Clint Dempsey at attacking midfield

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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: SECOND FORWARD / ATTACKING MIDFIELDER

Looking for a reason the upcoming Gold Cup could be important, why the tournament could be quite influential in next year’s selection of a World Cup roster? Just look at the United States’ “second forward” spot, what could also be the attacking midfielder position with a minor tweaking of roles.

This is Clint Dempsey’s spot. We all know that. The current U.S. midfield construction in is largely about putting a couple of individuals in their best roles, namely Michael Bradley and Dempsey. (We talked about Bradley and his linking midfield role here.)

Dempsey is not a classic creator; he’s closer to a second forward who is licensed to freelance, to find the spaces on a given day, sometimes further out wide, sometimes closer to Bradley or sometimes closer to first-pick striker Jozy Altidore. Largely, it’s all about Dempsey being hard to find so that his slashing and dashing and arrival into goal-scoring position lands with maximum offensive impact.

How someone else might attack the role is presumably up for interpretation.  And there’s the rub: there is no clear “someone else,” although there are certainly some intriguing choices.

So many U.S. supporters badly want to see Stuart Holden folded into the attacking mix, and he might indeed become a legitimate second option here. But …

Holden still must demonstrate progress in this long recover process. That’s where the Gold Cup comes in, obviously. Besides the obvious opportunity for assessment, a healthy and productive Holden could be better served coming in from wide areas. Or he could become the ultimate, utility midfield substitute, capable of effective function at any of the interior or exterior roles.

Either way, a “change of pace” man would be nice, eh? Someone who could provide something different in midfield if Dempsey needs to move further upfield, closer still to Altidore.

So, bring on the Gold Cup!

(MORE: Gold Cup notes ahead of Thursday’s roster announcement)

Is Joe Corona ready? Can Graham Zusi create from those central areas? (Although we are less likely to see that in the Gold Cup.) Can Jose Torres re-shape his image in the national shirt? Klinsmann keeps asking Torres to be more assertive, to kind more ways to impact the game, but the Tigres has continually fallen short.

Is Benny Feilhaber still any kind of option? Can Sacha Kljestan be useful in that specific midfield position, himself a “utility knife” type.

(MORE: Benny Feilhaber left off SKC’s latest 18-man squad)

And, yes, there is the Landon Donovan factor. Reports are out now that Donovan will, as we all expected, be part of the Gold Cup roster. Left to be seen is whether Klinsmann wants Donovan to work the wings or the interior – the national team’s all-time leading scorer has toggled successfully between both spots throughout his long career, in league play and internationally.

Best guess: Donovan’s role is tied to Holden’s progress and where Klinsmann sees the Bolton man’s best fit.

Can we just say it again … Bring on the Gold Cup! Important questions are begging to be answered.

U.S. SECOND STRIKER / ATTACKING MIDFIELD ordering

  • 1. Clint Dempsey
  • 2. Landon Donovan
  • 3. Stuart Holden
  • 4. Joe Corona
  • 5. Graham Zusi
  • 6. Jose Torres

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

U.S. right-sided attackers

U.S. left-sided attackers

Coming up later today: strikers

 

Giovinco strikes twice to lift Toronto FC to Canadian Championship (video)

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Sebastian Giovinco scored twice including in stoppage time as Toronto FC overcame Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla’s fantastic strike to win 2-1 in the second leg of the Canadian Championship at BMO Field on Tuesday.

TFC held the advantage after a 1-1 first leg in Montreal. The Reds advance to the CONCACAF Champions League.

Tabla, who just turned 18 in March, is an Ivorian-born Canadian youth international who now has four senior goals for the Impact.

Montreal veteran Patrice Bernier saw red in the 89th minute, putting the Impact’s chances behind the 8-ball.

[ MORE: USMNT Gold Cup questions ]

Toronto FC entered the match with a road goal advantage, which was undone in the quick flash of a left-foot, as Tabla dug a ball from underneath him and past a flying Clint Irwin to make it 2-1 on aggregate.

The goal was a double whammy for Toronto, which went to the break knowing it would need to score twice (or win in penalty kicks) to advance to the CONCACAF Champions League.

Yet TFC came back after a horrendous pass from Montreal, as Michael Bradley pinged a gorgeous diagonal ball to Sebastian Giovinco. The Atomic Ant recovered from a tough opening touch to bury his chance. 1-1.

And, oh yeah, watch this man work for his second…

Who is Kenny Saief, and other USMNT Gold Cup personnel questions

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Kenny Saief is an 23-year-old American left-sided player with UEFA Champions League experience.

So why do we know so little about the Miami-born man?

The answer is pretty straight-forward: Saief’s entire career has been under-the-radar. After coming up through a series of Israeli teams, he moved to KAA Gent in Belgium. None of those matches, even adding in his representing the full Israel national team twice, got a ton of play on American soil.

[ MORE: Saul scores stunner for Spain U-21s ]

So when Saief filed his one-time switch to represent the United States, paving the way for a USMNT call-up for this summer’s Gold Cup, even those of us who’d followed his career from afar had put a limited amount of actual observation on match footage.

So here’s the long-and-short:

  • Saief turns 24 in December.
  • He moved to Gent from Israeli second tier side Ramat haSharon in 2014.
  • Played a total of 35 minutes in friendlies versus Serbia and Croatia.
  • Saief has 20 total appearances between the Europa and Champions Leagues.
  • Posted a UCL assist versus Wolfsburg in the 2015-16 Round of 16.
  • Had goal, 2 assists in UEL this season, played 180 mins vs. Spurs.
  • Has 15 goals, 9 assists in 107 apps for Gent.

Saief should get an opportunity to make an impact for Bruce Arena’s USMNT, perhaps as soon as Saturday’s friendly against Ghana in East Hartford.

Who else stands a chance to gain the most from this tournament?

Joe Corona — The 26-year-old made his thirst-inducing name in American soccer circles by scoring a pair of goals in the 2013 Gold Cup, but has just 17 caps to his name. His call-up over veterans like Benny Feilhaber and Sacha Kljestan either shows how high he’s risen or how far those veterans have fallen.

Cristian Roldan — Seattle’s hard-nosed midfielder was playing college ball at Washington just three years ago, and it’s not crazy to think strong performances could boost him onto the radar of bigger clubs abroad (let alone make him a mainstay along Kellyn Acosta with the USMNT).

Dom Dwyer — If Roldan’s rise is surprising, Dwyer’s really is astounding. It’s easy to forget that the Sporting KC star forward was playing junior college soccer in 2010 before spending one season of Division I soccer with South Florida. Now he has 57 MLS goals and a look at becoming the clinical finisher the American side has wanted for some time.

Justin Morrow and Eric Lichaj — The 29- and 28-year-old fullbacks would love to prove their mettle is as good if not better than Jorge Villafana, the current front-runner to start at left back should the Yanks complete their revitalized run to the World Cup. Lichaj, a Nottingham Forest veteran, is also adept at right back.

This isn’t to say that Juan Agudelo and Kelyn Rowe won’t benefit from strong tournaments, but the names above have either been rescued from soccer’s scrap heap or at least Jurgen Klinsmann’s prison.

PODCAST: Bob Bradley talks MLS past, USMNT

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Scott Nicholls and Otis Earle welcomed Bob Bradley to their “Beyond The Pitch” podcast to discuss his time coaching the Chicago Fire, the Fire’s current squad, how MLS has evolved, the new generation of players coming into the USMNT and more.

Perhaps most interesting is Bradley talking about previous losses with stinging emotion that sounds like they happened yesterday, including the 2000 MLS Cup.

[ MORE: Latest Men In Blazers pod ]

Since being fired from Swansea City after less than 100 days, Bradley has been linked with the Norway national team gig as well as a return to Los Angeles. Keep up with the U.S. coach here, and check out the podcast here:

U.S. Open Cup preview: Which underdog has best odds?

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Every dog has its day, and the three lower-tier clubs remaining in the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup are hoping for a second.

Miami FC, Sacramento Republic, and FC Cincinnati enjoyed wins over Major League Soccer sides in the fourth round, and now get further MLS tests in this week’s fifth round.

[ MORE: Lampard linked with manager opening ]

Once FC Dallas and Colorado Rapids tangle on Tuesday, attention turns to the underdogs on Wednesday. Who has the best chance to advance?

  1. Miami FC vs. Atlanta United — Playing an MLS expansion side at Riccardo Silva Stadium will give Miami a bit of confidence, and this is also a side with some good experience in pressure spots. Whether it’s manager Alessandro Nesta or MLS vets Michel, Gabriel Farfan, and Michael Lahoud, MFC won’t shy away. Upset chance: Solid.
  2. FC Cincinnati vs. Chicago Fire — The visitors are having a heck of a season in MLS and don’t have a group which will be worried by a huge crowd, but there’s no debating that 25,000-plus in Southern Ohio give FCC more than a puncher’s chance. Upset chance: Improbable, but possible
  3. LA Galaxy vs. Sacramento Republic — If LA puts something close to its best side out there, Sacramento will struggle to stop its attack.  Upset chance: Long shot.

Elsewhere on Wednesday, New England hosts DC United, Philadelphia visits the Red Bulls, Seattle is off to San Jose, and Houston hosts Sporting KC.