Going into the Mexico camp, all us smart guys thought we had a pretty good handle on Jurgen Klinsmann’s midfield pecking order. Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones were the central pair, Graham Zusi was the obvious choice out right, while Landon Donovan and Fabian Johnson appeared to be competing for a spot on the left.
That description alone should have been a warning sign. Trying to describe Klinsmann as having a set anything is precarious, even if he has picked out players like Tim Howard, Bradley, and Clint Dempsey as being part of his core. But at left midfield? Klinsmann may not be looking for answers as much as he’s trying to find options.
Just because the way we write boils discussions down to starters, first choices, and best XIs doesn’t mean a coach thinks that way. At some point, we need to do a better job of saying “we don’t know.” We need to become better writers.
Last week, Brad Davis emerged as one of Klinsmann’s options. At least, he emerged as a more viable option than we’d previously thought. Before Mexico, the Dynamo star was seen as somebody fighting for his place on the plane, but after he got the start ahead of Landon Donovan, his spot needs to be reevaluated.
Donovan’s does, too, though we should tread lightly. The final arguments will be made in next month. For those on the bubble, making it to May’s camp gives you a shot. You don’t need to be in the 23 right now.
Two months before the 2014 World Cup, here’s how we see the midfield:
Michael Bradley is the obvious starter, and while Kyle Beckerman’s role seemed to free up the Toronto FC star last week, we’ll have to see how Klinsmann uses the Real Salt Lake anchor when Jermaine Jones is an option. While, in theory, the U.S. could use both Bradley and Jones on top of Beckerman, the U.S.’s three-man midfields have tended to leverage Clint Dempsey’s ability to drop back. Jones may not be a fan favorite, but Klinsmann has consistently put him in the starting lineup.
Elsewhere, Sporting Kansas City’s Graham Zusi has the only guarantee, with the rest of the slots open to competition. In theory, Klinsmann needs one more option on the left to provide an alternative to Fabian Johnson (and, potentially, Eddie Johnson). He needs cover for Zusi on the right, and he needs somebody who can work more centrally, likely somebody who can play higher (since all of Beckerman, Bradley, and Jones can play deeper roles).
How many spots that leaves may depend on the forward situation. If Chris Wondolowski goes to Brazil, there are only three open spots in midfield. If “Wondo” (or, potentially Eddie Johnson) gets squeezed out, a fourth spot opens up in the middle.
With so many defenders able to play midfield roles (Beasley, Cameron, Evans, Johnson), Klinsmann can afford to take that extra forward. So who ends up going out of Alejandro Bedoya and Joe Corona (edge: Bedoya)? Does the battle between Mix Diskerud and Sacha Kljestan claim another spot (edge: Diskerud)? And are we really at the point where Brad Davis and Landon Donovan’s an either-or?
Probably not, but that may be the direction we’re headed. All of these players may need to make a claim in May.
- Going to Brazil: Kyle Beckerman, Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Graham Zusi
- On the bubble (three-to-four spots available): Alejandro Bedoya, Joe Corona, Brad Davis, Landon Donovan, Mix Diskerud, Maurice Edu, Julian Green, Sacha Kljestan, Brek Shea, Danny Williams