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

 

Spartak and Zenit fined in latest Russia fan racism cases

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MOSCOW (AP) Spartak Moscow and Zenit St. Petersburg have both been fined for racist chants by their fans, the latest such incident in World Cup host nation Russia.

Spartak’s fans were accused of aiming monkey chants at FC Tosno player Nuno Rocha, who is black, while some Zenit supporters allegedly chanted a Nazi slogan during a league game.

[ MORE: Bayern 1-2 Real Madrid ]

The clubs must each pay a 100,000-ruble ($1,600) fine, and Spartak has been hit with a partial stadium closure for its next cup game, state news agency RIA Novosti quotes Russian Football Union disciplinary committee head Artur Grigoryants as saying.

The verdict comes after FIFA charged Russia with racist abuse of France players during last month’s friendly.

Zenit has also faced two racism charges from UEFA this season.

Europa League: Arsenal, Marseille host semifinal 1st legs

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Arsenal’s Champions League dreams could be in for a rude awakening against tournament-tested Atletico Madrid.

The Premier League vs. La Liga match-up is one of two Europa League semifinal first legs set to be served up Sunday, with Marseille and Red Bull Salzburg meeting in the other.

[ MORE: Bayern 1-2 Real Madrid ]

There’s something romantic about Arsene Wenger closing out his time at Arsenal against French opposition in Lyon, but Atleti and Salzburg won’t step aside for poetics.

Both matches kickoff ay 3:05 p.m. ET

Arsenal vs. Atletico Madrid

It’s a bit stunning that this tie has no history considering both club’s statures in their leagues and Europe, but that’s what we’ll se when Arsenal welcomes Atleti for the first leg.

Arsenal boasts two of the top 10 performers in the UEL this season — it would be three had the Gunners not sold Theo Walcott — and are paced by Aaron Ramsey, who has four goals and an assist. Mesut Ozil, who’s ready to return to the pitch, has the reverse with a goal and four helpers.

The Gunners have outscored UEL opposition 29-10 this season.

It’s no surprise that Antoine Griezmann has been Atleti’s best attacker since the Madrid side dropped out of the UCL to run rampant through the UEL knockout rounds. Atleti beat Copenhagen 5-1, Lokomotiv Moscow 8-1, and Sporting Lisbon 2-1 for an aggregate score line of 15-3.

Marseille vs. Red Bull Salzburg

Don’t expect this to be a simple case of Ligue 1 bossing inferior opposition: This pair met in the group stage, with the Austrian side winning at home and drawing 0-0 in France.

Salzburg has shown its mettle in various ways during the UEL. After allowing just one goal in an unbeaten group stage, they’ve won 4-3 over Real Sociedad, 2-1 against Borussia Dortmund, and 6-5 versus Lazio. That’s no easy road, and Marseille represents another big challenge.

Marseille is bidding to make its first European final since 2004, and has been led by Dimitri Payet‘s three goals and four assists, and Lucas Ocampos’ four goals and one assist. Marseille has knocked off RB Leipzig, Athletic Bilbao, and Braga after the group stage.

Names you’ll need to know from Salzburg: defenders Stefan Lainer and Paulo Miranda have been spectacular, and Munas Dabbur and Valon Berisha have each scored five times in the tournament.

Mourinho on longtime nemesis Wenger: ‘We can be friends in future’

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Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger have had a poor relationship, but the former thinks he’s soon to get along with the latter.

[ MORE: Bayern 1-2 Real Madrid ]

Manchester United boss Mourinho, 55, heaped praise on the departing Arsenal manager ahead of the two sides’ Sunday meeting at Old Trafford (Watch live at 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com), saying the Frenchman has earned much respect.

Branding Wenger “iconic,” Mourinho says his fiery rivalry with Wenger stemmed from Arsenal’s stature in the Premier League when the Portuguese took over Chelsea.

“If he respects me even 50 percent of what I respect him we can even be friends in the future,” Mourinho told Sky Sports News. “I have lots of respect for him. But the reality is that he was at Arsenal, he was the champion and I came to the country in 2004 and wanted to steal his title. That’s football.”

Mourinho said he’s tried to show his respect for Wenger, 68, over the past few seasons. It may become a passable relationship, but we find it hard to believe the pair will be dining together on a regular basis as the sun sets on their managerial careers (Mou has a while to go, we think).

Real’s Modric on Bayern feeling unlucky: “That’s their problem”

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Bayern Munich produced far more chances than visiting Real Madrid in Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg in Germany, but lost 2-1 at the Allianz Arena.

Franck Ribery butchered an open shot at goal, Robert Lewandowski beat Keylor Navas but didn’t score late, and Thomas Mueller missed getting contact on a shot inside the six.

[ MORE: Bayern 1-2 Real Madrid ]

It was that kind of day, and Mueller is baffled that his team did not finish more than Joshua Kimmich’s opener.

“Everybody is wondering why this game is 1-2 for Madrid,” Mueller reportedly said. “We still cannot believe it.”

The quote comes from BeIN Sport’s Tancredi Palmeri, who has a stinging rebuke from Real Madrid maestro Luka Modric.

Real wasn’t great on Wednesday, but also limited their big mistakes to one: Marcelo’s lapse of judgment which helped Kimmich to open the scoring for Bayern Munich.

The hosts had a huge giveaway from Rafinha on the match-winner, and backup backstop Sven Ulreich didn’t have a phenomenal day on either goal. Throw in Arjen Robben’s injury requiring an 8th minute substitution, and Bayern did not have much good fortune on the day.

This one, though, doesn’t seem over, even with the tie moving to the Bernabeu.