With the 23-man set, how does the USMNT line up for the World Cup?

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Now that we’ve all taken a deep breath from the Landon Donovan news this evening, it’s time to look big picture with the squad.

Agree or disagree with Jurgen Klinsmann’s omissions, it is what it is, and it’s important to look at how things go forward.

Thing is, after what we saw today, it just became that much harder to figure out what’s going on in Klinsmann’s head when it comes to who he believes is the best at each position.

There are a number of positions that we thought were solidified, but now that we know the skipper’s not afraid to shake things up, may not be so easy to call after all.

In addition, given either injury or performance at any of the friendlies the USMNT has scheduled before they make their way to Brazil, things could change then as well.

Nonetheless, we’ll do our best to analyze how each position will break down as we see it now, and how the US formation could play out.  First, let’s take another look at the roster:

Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan, Tim Howard, Nick Rimando

Defenders: DeAndre Yedlin, Omar Gonzalez, Timmy Chandler, John Anthony Brooks, Matt Besler, DaMarcus Beasley, Geoff Cameron, Fabian Johnson

Midfielders: Michael Bradley, Graham Zusi, Jermaine Jones, Kyle Beckerman, Mix Diskerud, Ale Bedoya, Brad Davis

Forwards: Chris Wondolowski, Aron Johannsson, Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Julian Green

There are many questions going forward.  For example, who plays on the outside of defense? Who plays next to Besler in the middle? Is Altidore alone up front? Where does Klinsmann use Dempsey? All of those will be discussed here briefly.

But first, for a point of reference, here’s how the team lined up in their most recent competitive match that really had something riding on it, a 2-0 win over Jamaica in  World Cup qualifying:

……………………Howard……………………
Evans – Cameron – Besler – Beasley
………………Diskerud – Jones……………..
Johannsson – Donovan – Bedoya
…………………..Altidore…………………..

Remember, Michael Bradley was injured at the time.  Now, here’s what I believe to be the best lineup from this 23-man roster:

…………………..Howard…………………..
..Johnson – Cameron – Besler – Beasley..
………………Bradley – Jones……………..
……Johannsson – Dempsey – Zusi……
…………………..Altidore…………………..

There are plenty of questions that I keep asking myself with this roster. Here they are:

source: AP
Jozy Altidore struggled with a lack of service at Sunderland. Is it ok to leave him by himself up front?

1) Leaving Altidore isolated at the top is dangerous, is it really the right choice?

It’s been shown before that with Altidore as a lone striker, he will get much too isolated if the opposing midfield pegs the US back in possession.  If he doesn’t get service at the top, he’s on an island, and will get disheartened quickly.

However, I still don’t think Clint Dempsey’s best position is at the front of the attack, and with Johannsson pushing up the right and feeding the middle, the attack shouldn’t be too starved at the front.

2) Who is the best option at RB?

The question on many US fans’ minds is, who is the best person to cover Ronaldo against Portugal? He will likely be on the left wing, which means the right-back is going to be tasked with covering the winner of the Ballon d’Or.

Let’s start by saying this: nobody can cover Ronaldo. Flat out, end of, stop.  Therefore, the question may not be at RB, but at LB.

Both Fabian Johnson and Timmy Chandler are right backs by trade, and Beasley plays on the left. It follows then that to start both Chandler and Johnson, one of them (Fabian) would have to move to the left, and I don’t think Chandler is anywhere close to being able to cover a star left winger.  Therefore, I went with Beasley on the left and Fabian on the right.

Judging by how Chandler fared in the heat against Mexico (hint: not so well), I personally hope Klinsmann doesn’t pick him in the jungle climate against Cristiano Ronaldo.

3) Is it possible to find room in the midfield for Kyle Beckerman?

I still can’t get out of my mind how well Michael Bradley and Kyle Beckerman paired up in the match against Mexico. Having Beckerman at the back end of the diamond allowed Bradley to get forward and make things happen in the 18-yard box.

However, Bradley’s a lock obviously, and at this point Jermaine Jones still ranks above Beckerman in the midfield pecking order.  It’s possible Klinsmann could spot-start Beckerman in one of the matches if he chooses to play a possession game and get Bradley farther forward, but at this point Jones is the penciled-in starter. Also, ask Landon Donovan what Klinsmann thinks of pecking orders…

4) Where the heck is Clint Dempsey’s best position?

As someone who has watched Clint for years at Fulham as well as with the USMNT, I still have not figured out where he slots in best.  Clint’s put in wonderful performances from striker, from the attacking midfield, and from the left wing.

However, in my experience watching Clint, at striker he feasts mostly upon lesser talent, and in a stacked group, there will be no lesser talent to feast upon.  He’s a great feeder on the wing, but often you lose his goalscoring ability sticking him on the touchline.  Therefore, I think sitting behind Altidore is the best spot for him, where he can both dish to Jozy/Aron/Bradley, and also take feeds from those men if he wishes to have a go himself.

As the captain of this team, Dempsey needs to take charge, and slotted just behind the striker is the best spot to do that.

source: AP
Teen phenom Julian Green made the 23-man roster, but will he see the field much in Brazil?

5) Who comes off the bench?

As something not addressed above, it’s also prudent to see who is first off the bench in certain situations.

When the team needs a spark, Wondolowski appears to be first off the bench in crunch time when the team needs a goal. As one of the two lone strikers on the roster, this one is pretty obvious.

But is there game time for the others?
-Mix Diskerud and Kyle Beckerman would be first in line for central midfield legs when someone needs relief.
-Brad Davis and Ale Bedoya would appear to be the wing relievers/sparks. Hard to see Julian Green getting much time, unless Klinsmann sees something we don’t (which, admittedly, is very likely).-Gonzalez is the third CB, unless Klinsmann chooses him over Cameron to start.
-On the edge of the back line, it’s tough to see time for Yedlin or Brooks, but they’ve both made it this far, so who knows. One would imagine that whoever doesn’t start of Beasley/Chandler/F. Johnson will still see the field a decent amount, but the rest are on the outside looking in.

6) Does the diamond work with this group?

Jurgen Klinsmann’s trademark in his tenure with the United States has been the diamond midfield formation.  As you can see, the formation I put up above does not exactly follow that tactical choice, instead going with a conventional 4-2-3-1.

Things would be drastically different with a diamond.  The biggest difference would probably be figuring out what to do with Clint Dempsey.  If he moves up front alongside Altidore, then Bradley or Jones would slide into the space behind the strikers as an advanced center-mid.  If Dempsey moved to the wing, Zusi would likely sit and Wondolowski would come in as a second striker, although that is not ideal because Zusi is a winger built on possession, perfect for the diamond.

That formation complicates things a little, and he very well may decide to employ that tactic.  But for right now, there are too many unknowns involved in that decision.

How can you see the US lining up? Will Klinsmann go back to the Beckerman/Bradley diamond that worked so well against a struggling Mexico? How will he deal with Cristiano Ronaldo? Is it ok to leave Jozy Altidore by himself up front after struggling so badly at Sunderland?f

These are all questions that must be answered by the skipper, and for the time being, they’re ours to try and answer as well.

If the 2018 World Cup started today…

Photo by Pedro Vilela/Getty Images
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Another international break has passed, with fortunes rising and falling in most of FIFA’s confederations (Africa took a break during the break, having staged AFCON in January).

[ MORE: All World Cup qualifying news ]

Brazil joined hosts Russia as nations to have qualified for the 2018 World Cup, and 30 spots remain. Let’s take the opportunity to project the field for Russia.

In October, we took the projected qualifiers and simulated all the way down to the World Cup final. Germany beat Brazil. Let’s go again. Who will “win” it this time?


QUALIFICATION

We’ll again use actual qualification, as flawed and early as it is in some confederations, to be predict our combatants.

Asia (7 of 10 qualifiers played)
IN: Iran, South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia
PLAYOFF: Uzbekistan vs. Australia

PROJECTION: While Uzbekistan has been better in terms of overall form, Australia’s experience boosts it into a match-up with the USMNT.

Africa (2 of 6 qualifiers played)
IN: DR Congo, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Egypt

CONCACAF (4 of 10 qualifiers played)
IN: Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama
PLAYOFF: United States

(AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

South America (14 of 18 qualifiers played)
IN: Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay, Chile
PLAYOFF: Argentina

Oceania (4 of 6 qualifiers played)
PLAYOFF: New Zealand vs. Tahiti

UEFA (5 of 10 qualifiers played)
IN: France, Switzerland, Germany, Serbia, Poland, England, Spain, Belgium, Croatia
UEFA PLAYOFFS: Sweden, Portugal, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Slovakia, Italy, Greece, Iceland

SIMULATED PLAYOFFS (random draw):
Sweden vs. Iceland — Sweden wins
Portugal vs. Republic of Ireland — Portugal wins
Northern Ireland vs. Slovakia — Slovakia wins
Italy vs. Greece — Italy wins

Intercontinental playoffs:

Australia vs. United States — USMNT wins
Argentina vs. New Zealand — Argentina wins


FIELD (FIFA Rankings)

  1. Russia (hosts, 60)
  2. Argentina (1)
  3. Brazil (2)
  4. Germany (3)
  5. Chile (4)
  6. Belgium (5)
  7. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

    France (6)

  8. Colombia (7)
  9. Portugal (8)
  10. Uruguay (9)
  11. Spain (10)
  12. Switzerland (11)
  13. Poland (12)
  14. England (13)
  15. Italy (15)
  16. Croatia (16)
  17. Mexico (17)
  18. Costa Rica (19)
  19. Egypt (20)
  20. Slovakia (25)
  21. USA (30)
  22. Iran (33)
  23. Burkina Faso (36)
  24.  (Photo by Richard Huggard/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

    DR Congo (38)

  25. South Korea (40)
  26. Nigeria (41)
  27. Sweden (45)
  28. Ivory Coast (47)
  29. Japan (51)
  30. Serbia (52)
  31. Panama (53)
  32. Saudi Arabia (57)

THE POTS

The 10 European qualifiers mean two will have to join Pot 2. Our random selections were… Croatia and Spain.

Pot 1 (seeds): Russia, Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Chile, Belgium, France, Colombia, Brazil

Pot 2 (CAF, CONMEBOL, UEFA): DR Congo, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Uruguay, Croatia, Spain

Pot 3 (AFC & CONCACAF): Iran, South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, USMNT

Pot 4: (UEFA): Sweden, Slovakia, Italy, Switzerland, Serbia, Poland, England, Portugal


THE DRAW

Group A: Russia, DR Congo, Saudi Arabia, Sweden
Group B: Chile, Croatia, Mexico, Portugal
Group C: Brazil, Nigeria, Panama, Switzerland
Group D: Germany, Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Poland
Group E: Argentina, Spain, Japan, Slovakia
Group F: France, Ivory Coast, South Korea, Italy
Group G: Belgium, Uruguay, USMNT, England
Group H: Colombia, Egypt, Iran, Serbia

So… should we play it out? We’ll try to throw in some upsets and not just go with the chalk.

Round of 16
Mexico (B2) def. Russia (A1)
Brazil (C1) def. Poland (D2)
Spain (E1) def. Italy (F2)
Belgium (G1) def. Egypt (H2)
Portugal (B1) def. DR Congo (A2)
Germany (D1) def. Nigeria (C2)
France (F1) def. Argentina (G2)
Colombia (H1) def. England (G2)

Quarterfinals
Brazil def. Mexico
Spain def. Belgium
Germany def. Portugal
France def. Colombia

Semifinals
Brazil def. Spain
France def. Germany

Final
Brazil def. France

Dempsey leads way for MLS players during Cup qualifying

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
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The latest round of World Cup qualifying saw a major increase in the number of players from MLS called in for their national teams.

A number of those decisions paid off for their countries, perhaps no one more than Clint Dempsey.

A few months ago, Dempsey wasn’t even in consideration for the U.S. after missing the latter half of last season because of a heart issue. But the Seattle Sounders forward scored four times in two matches as the U.S. gathered four critical points in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.

[ WATCH: Schweinsteiger asked if Chicago can win World Cup ]

Dempsey was part of an influx of MLS players contributing during the latest round of qualifying for next year’s World Cup in Russia.

In all, MLS had 55 players called in for qualifying in CONCACAF, CONEMBOL (South America) and UEFA (Europe) competitions. Last September, the league saw 58 players called in to their national teams, but there were more countries still alive in qualification at that time. The 55 players selected this time was an increase of 16 from the last round of qualifying matches in November, and 40 of the 55 saw action during the two days of competition in the past week representing 12 countries.

In the three CONCACAF games last Friday, 29 of the 84 players to see the field were from MLS. That outpaced LigaMX, which had 17 players among the 84 used in the three matches.

Dempsey wasn’t the only MLS player coming up big for his country. Minnesota midfielder Kevin Molino had the only goal for Trinidad and Tobago in its 1-0 win over Panama. The Vancouver duo of Christian Bolanos and Kendall Waston teamed for the only goal in Costa Rica’s 1-1 draw with Honduras.

But not all went well for MLS players during qualifying.

Young Atlanta star Josef Martinez injured his left leg during the second half of Venezuela’s 2-2 draw with Peru in CONEMBOL qualifying. Martinez returned to Atlanta and an MRI revealed a left quadriceps injury that will keep the MLS leader in goals scored out for four to six weeks. Martinez had five goals in Atlanta’s first three games.

U.S. midfielder Sebastian Lletget was forced off early in the match against Honduras but not before scoring the opening goal for the Americans. Los Angeles announced Tuesday that Lletget suffered a Lisfranc injury that will require surgery and he will be sidelined for four to six months.

[ MORE: BWP a DP; Nephew called up to England U16 ]

MATCH OF THE WEEK: The club that set the bar for expansion debuts faces the newcomer looking to topple that standard.

The Seattle Sounders will host Atlanta United on Friday night. It’s the only regular-season matchup between the two sides, but there’s more than just the competition on the field.

Seattle’s expansion season of 2009 was regarded throughout the sports industry as arguably the best franchise launch ever, not just in MLS. Between ticket sales and fan engagement, Seattle’s start could not have gone better.

Atlanta might be setting a new standard. Atlanta drew more than 55,000 for its first match and more than 45,000 for its second home game, a win over Chicago. Atlanta seems to be following significant parts of Seattle’s blueprint, down to having an influential NFL owner highly involved from the start.

As for the on-field product, the validity of Atlanta’s promising start will be tested over the next month with four straight road matches.

“It’s definitely still an expansion team,” Atlanta defender Michael Parkhurst said. “We’ve got our bumps and bruises along the way. Off the field, everyone’s still trying to get sorted and situated to the new city.”

BEST OF THE REST: Toronto finally gets to come home after opening the season with three straight road games. The Reds will host Sporting KC on Friday night. The trade-off for opening the season on the road is that Toronto gets five of its next six league matches at home and was able to get five points out of those three road contests to start.

Also of note will be what kind of lineup Vancouver rolls out on Saturday night against Los Angeles. The Whitecaps play in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals four days later.

BACK ON THE BENCH: Real Salt Lake introduced Mike Petke as its new head coach Wednesday, less than two weeks after firing Jeff Cassar. Petke was the head coach of the New York Red Bulls for two seasons, including the 2013 season when they won the Supporters’ Shield. After two years out of coaching, Petke signed on to be the head coach of the Real Monarchs, the minor-league club associated with RSL.

OFF TARGET: The other expansion debut this season by Minnesota United is on pace to set records, but not any they want to be associated with. Simply put, Minnesota can’t play defense.

Minnesota allowed at least five goals for the third time in four matches in last week’s 5-2 loss at New England. Minnesota allowed five goals to Portland and six to Atlanta and is on pace to allow more than 150 goals this season.

LAST WORD: “I’ve been very encouraged by what I’ve seen over the last 10 days. It’s going to take some time to piece that team together.” U.S. coach Bruce Arena after the latest round of World Cup qualifying.

Messi explains actions that warranted 4-match ban

AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano
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Lionel Messi is set to miss four Argentina matches for something we arguably see every week on TV.

That doesn’t make it okay, but is anyone else scratching their head at the suspension handed down to the world’s best player for verbal abuse of an official?

[ MORE: Barca defends Messi ]

Messi, 29, shouted an obscenity at the linesman in Thursday’s 1-0 win over Chile, and was both banned and served the first match of his ban on Tuesday, as Argentina was beaten 2-0 in Bolivia.

Messi explained his actions Wednesday with the following:

“My expressions were never directed to the referee, they were said to the air,” Messi told La Nacion.

That’s pretty ridiculous, yeah? But I can’t help but feel the four matches are a bit harsh. Hardly a high-level match goes by without seeing a player clearly being derisive toward an offical, and usually lipreading proves it wasn’t G-rated.

Again, I have no problem for setting a standard, as abuse of officials is unnecessary (and even those of us who are serially offenders know it).

But if confederations and leagues want to get serious about cutting it out, this can’t be a one-off suspension; End the group upbraiding of referees during games, the wild gesticulations, so on and so forth.

Bradley Wright-Phillips gets new deal; Nephew called up to England U-16

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It’s been a big 24 hours for the Wright-Phillips family.

Bradley Wright-Phillips signed a new Designated Player deal with the New York Red Bulls, while his nephew has been called up the England U-16 national team.

D’Margio Wright-Phillips is the son of Shawn Wright-Phillips, the former RBNY player currently plying his trade with Phoenix Rising of the USL.

[ WATCH: Schweinsteiger asked if Chicago can win World Cup ]

Of course that will only serve to grow the pride of Arsenal legend Ian Wright, who adopted Bradley and Shaun.

The details:

BWP has signed a new multi-year deal with the Red Bulls which brings the 70-goal man into Designated Player status.

“I’d like to thank Denis, Jesse, and everyone at the club for the opportunity to continue wearing this shirt and playing in front of the best fans in MLS,” said Wright-Phillips. “I am very proud of what has been accomplished in my time here, but my sole focus is on trying to win MLS Cup.”

As for D’Margio, he’s in Manchester City’s academy and obviously taking the right steps toward making it three generations in the Premier League. Both Shaun and Bradley spent time in City’s academy.