U.S. World Cup roster examination – Who is going to Brazil?: MIDFIELDERS

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Sometimes the choices can be confusing … and sometimes they can get downright dizzying.

When it comes to the U.S. midfield, there are so man moving parts at work here, easily more than any other position in the U.S player pool, so many ways Jurgen Klinsmann can configure his midfield personnel.

For starters, does he want to go back to something that looks more like a modified 4-3-3, which seems to be the U.S. manager’s preferred structure? That might mean trying to “force” a winger or two onto the roster, even if they haven’t exactly shined consistently.

Then he has a handful of midfield figures with talent, but also with flaws affixed to their games; so which flaws are less flawed than others? And how does that choic tie back into the formation discussion?

Similarly, he has several versatile men, Mix Diskerud and Sacha Kljestan as the best examples. Does he arrange a system more friendly to interchangeable parts or rely more on the specialists? How do these other choices affect whether Klinsmann takes an extra defensive midfield specialist (Kyle Beckerman?) or perhaps an extra attacking midfield type (Jose Torres or Joe Corona?).

Speaking of specialists, what about Brek Shea, a real wild card here, one of the few men in the U.S. pool who can motor past someone on the flanks. But wouldn’t Shea, still languishing on Mark Hughes’ bench at Stoke, come with his own issues?

And then there are the ‘tweeners, Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey. At some point, this is just an academic exercise; what does it really matter whether Donovan or Dempsey are listed as “midfielders” or “forwards?”

Then again, how these guys are ultimately used (more than their technical roster designation) does begin impacting the fates of others.

It’s all quite interesting, not to mention a big overwhelming, no?

MIDFIELDERS

(Estimated number of spot available: 8-9)

Start making plans, guys … you’re going to Brazil!: Graham Zusi, Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, Landon Donovan

Truly, those are the only figures who can tell their friends and families to start looking for good flight deals. Everyone else (and there’s a lot of “everyone else” here) is wading around in the mire of Klinsmann’s ample wiggle room.

Bradley (pictured) is this team’s most irreplaceable part. Period.

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Jones is on the charter – whether you like it or not. His turnovers are maddening. He’s a bad foul waiting to happen. He cannot be trusted to faithfully, consistently keep that screening position, sometimes bursting forward imprudently and forcing Bradley to make the fierce recovery run. We all know that. So does Klinsmann.

But the manager has long adjudged Jones’ leadership and contagious fearlessness as highly worthwhile, so he tolerates the man’s flaws.

Zusi? The only debate is whether he’s a starter; the creativity and speed of thoughts at international level can sometimes suffer, but his technical work is so usefully smooth. Some of that choice (starter or backup?) depends on how Klinsmann uses Donovan.

Speaking of “using Donovan:” His best spot is second forward, running off the target striker. But who can provide a little speed on the flank? Because Zusi just doesn’t have that one-on-one burner pace. Not that Donovan has much of it, not anymore, but he does have that signature burst.

Klinsmann has perhaps10-plus options for four or five spots, based on the men called into matches this year. (Remember, he has said there “aren’t many surprises coming around the corner.” Translation: If someone is healthy but wasn’t called for any of the recent qualifiers, his World Cup hopes would be better aimed toward 2014.)

Bedoya’s usage over the last five days is pretty interesting. If you look at the guy’s body of work, his best days were against that jayvee level Gold Cup opposition. He doesn’t really scream “international caliber,” does he? And yet, Klinsmann’s decision to give Bedoya two starts seems to underscore the manager’s desperation to find some flank play.

Same probably goes for Brad Davis, one of the few professional who seem to be finding their place internationally as he drifts past 30. Again, it’s about the lack of options – and trying hard to find them.

Torres or Corona? Klinsmann will probably take one of them.

Kljestan or Diskerud? Same thing – one goes, and Diskerud is slightly ahead, although Kljestan kept himself in the argument with a decent night in Panama.

Danny Williams, now a lineup fixture at Reading? He was a U.S. starter just one year ago, remember. Injuries and a bad spell allowed Beckerman to lap him in the pool. But what now?

On the bubble: Alejandro Bedoya, Kyle Beckerman, Joe Corona, Brad Davis, Mix Diskerud, Joshua Gatt, Sacha Kljestan, Brek Shea, Jose Torres, Danny Williams

Still in the conversation … but just barely: Maurice Edu

(MORE: Where the goalkeepers of the U.S. player pool stand) 

(MORE: Where the defenders in the U.S. player pool stand)

Arsenal sends Gabriel Paulista to Valencia

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Arsenal has a thin defense, but that hasn’t stopped Arsene Wenger from thinning the squad even further.

Gabriel Paulista is headed back to the Spanish top flight after the completion of his transfer to Valencia. The Brazilian was sold for a reported $12.8 million, just below the $14 million price tag Arsenal coughed up to Villareal back in January, 2015. He will partner with Manchester City loanee Eliaquim Mangala at Valencia.

The 26-year-old made 64 appearances for the Gunners across all competitions, including 46 in the Premier League. His only goal for the club was Arsenal’s first of a 2-0 win over Bournemouth in December, 2015. His high-water mark with the club was a 120-minute performance against Manchester City in the FA Cup semifinals where Arsenal came back to win 2-1 on an Alexis Sanchez goal in extra time.

“We would like to thank Gabriel for his contribution to the club and to wish him well for his return to La Liga with Valencia,” Arsenal said in its confirmation of the deal.

Paulista was utilized more than expected last season thanks to an injury crisis at the back, and still the Arsenal squad doesn’t seem fat enough to offload defenders, but Gabriel’s over-aggressive nature and tackling inaccuracy led him to an early exit.

With Arsene Wenger now deploying a back-three, the only natural central defenders currently on the roster are Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Shkodran Mustafi, and Rob Holding. Koscielny is suspended from a red card at the end of last season, and Mertesacker is battling a head injury. Sead Kolasinac, Nacho Monreal, and Calum Chambers have played CB for the Gunners in the recent past, but it is not their natural position.

Fabian Johnson misses Gladbach training with injury

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With John Brooks already out long-term due to a thigh injury, the United States may have another key injury to work around.

According to Borussia Monchengladbach manager Dieter Hecking, full-back/winger Fabian Johnson missed training on Friday due to an unspecified injury, and is now a question mark for Gladbach’s home match on Sunday against FC Koln. It could be nothing, but even the scare is cause for concern among U.S. fans.

Johnson has battled a few injuries the past couple of seasons, including a hamstring problem last spring that kept him out for nearly two months, including a pair of World Cup qualifiers in March.

Johnson’s absence would leave a hole at right-back for the United States. The 29-year-old has been deployed some at right wing for the USMNT, but he has been relatively poor at that position in the national setup, looking better when pushed further back where he is given more defensive duties, roaming forward with less frequency but more intent.

In place of Johnson, another converted winger in Graham Zusi has been seeing more time at right-back, but he offers less in the attack and lacks Johnson’s recovery speed, meaning mistakes by the Sporting KC veteran are punished more often.

Falcao scores again to extend red hot start

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Monaco is hoping to ride out the final two weeks of the transfer window with 18-year-old wonderkid Kylian Mbappe still in tow.

While they wait, they aren’t missing a beat.

With Mbappe out of the squad, Radamel Falcao has begun the 2017/18 Ligue 1 season as Europe’s hottest goalscorer. He bagged a hat-trick last weekend with Mbappe on the bench to give him four goals in the first two league matches. Then, with Mbappe out of the squad entirely, Falcao netted the winner in a 1-0 road win over FC Metz.

Falcao has scored five goals so far this year, and his club has a +5 goal differential. In a way, Falcao has already been worth six points thus far.

Thanks in part to Ligue 1’s early start, Falcao’s five league goals are by far more than anyone else in the major European leagues. Four players have scored a pair of Premier League goals, nobody in La Liga or the Bundesliga have scored more than one, and the Serie A season has yet to start.

The Colombian did the same thing last season. After eventually coming off the shelf from to hamstring and concussion problems to start the season, Falcao scored 10 goals in 10 Ligue 1 matches leading up to the new calendar year.

At 31 years old, Falcao isn’t a long-term solution and the club will clearly look to retain Mbappe despite Falcao’s hot start, but should they lose the young Frenchman, the club will be in good hands while they search for a replacement over the next year.

Arena should give Ream a look in Brooks’ absence

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With John Brooks out three months thanks to a horribly timed thigh injury, the United States yet again has to scramble to fill a void at the back. It’s not the first time an injury to Brooks has left the USMNT scrambling for cover at a thin position.

In the successful Gold Cup this past summer, with a largely domestic squad in place, Omar Gonzalez saw the bulk of the time at central defender, with Matt Besler his partner through the final two matches. However, with European-based players now in contention for spots with the early September international break, those two are unlikely to continue, at least not together.

[ MORE: Liverpool holds all the cards in Coutinho transfer ]

The most obvious choice to start September 1st against Costa Rica and likely shoo-in should he remain healthy for the next two weeks is Geoff Cameron. The 32-year-old has been back and forth between defense and midfield with club and country, and although he has publicly acknowledged his preference for a spot higher up the pitch, he was used in a back-three in Stoke City’s Premier League opener last weekend and is steadiest at the back.

But with a spot next to Cameron up for grabs in Brooks’ absence, a player who should get serious consideration is United States fill-in extraordinaire Tim Ream.

Ream has had to work hard to earn his place with the U.S., and while he’s seen time of late, he’s not been a first-choice pick. The 29-year-old has four caps so far in 2017, with two of those starts, including one in the impressive 1-1 draw against Mexico at the Azteca with the US still clawing its way back up the Hex standings. Even then, Ream would likely not have earned that spot had Arena not chosen to rotate nearly the entire squad between the pair of qualifiers in that window. His other start this year, the 1-1 draw at Panama, only came after Cameron pulled out of the squad the day of the game with a late injury. The last time Ream started back-to-back matches for the U.S. came back in 2015 when he was somewhat of a regular through the second half of the calendar year.

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But now, with Brooks out, Ream looks like the perfect man to fill in again. The 29-year-old defender finished last season in top form as Fulham narrowly missed out on promotion, earning the official website’s Man of the Match award in a May 2nd draw with Brentford, and won it again in the club’s final match of the season.

Without missing a beat, Ream has picked up where he left off last campaign in the first few matches this month. Last weekend against Reading at the Madjeski Stadium, Ream’s center-back partner Tomas Kalas was sent off 36 seconds into the match, forcing Fulham to play a man down for 89 minutes. Ream and company solidified the back, conceding just once in the 61st minute en route to a 1-1 draw.

The club still likely requires reinforcements at the CB position – Ream was forced to partner with right-back Denis Odoi against Reading with Kalas suspended and Michael Madl injured – meaning Ream could see an influx of competition in the coming weeks. However, as it stands, the American is far and away the best (and most improved) central defender on a club favored for promotion.

Gonzalez performed well in the Gold Cup, and Matt Besler was serviceable, but with few other options in the heart of defense to take Brooks’ place, Bruce Arena could yet again look to Ream for an in-form replacement.