United States national team depth chart: It’s Michael Bradley and then everyone else at linking 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: LINKING MIDFIEDLERS

Two critical things to know before we even begin a conversation about the U.S. “linking” midfield position. It gets a bit involved, but follow along:

First, Jurgen Klinsmann has consistently maintained that he does not have a preferred formation. Rather, what the U.S. manager carries is a bag full of stylistic tenets that he wants observed: high pressure up the field, playing thoughtfully out of the back rather than hoofing balls blindly, defensive funneling toward trapping spots on the wings, etc.

All that can be accomplished in varying tactical arrangements, a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2 and so on.

So it bears mentioning that the tactical formation into which his U.S. teams have settled recently is largely based on making best use from a couple of his personnel centerpieces. Foremost is Michael Bradley (pictured above).

Bradley’s role has been defined as the “No. 8” in Klinsmann’s vernacular. That means he plays ahead of a primary holding midfielder while simultaneously tasked with sliding in alongside Jermaine Jones (or whoever occupies the holding spot) as opposition possession proceeds closer to U.S. goal. On the attack Bradley becomes the primary link between U.S. defenders and Jones, and into the attacking specialists such as Clint Dempsey or Graham Zusi or whomever.

Bradley is like an Andrea Pirlo starter kit this way. (And Italy’s gifted offensive maestro is so wonderfully influential that “starter kit” status should in no way be seen as an insult to the most important man in U.S. uniform these days, Bradley.)

The other thing to know about Bradley as it relates to this position: The United States is seriously hosed if something happens to the man. Truly, they lose their midfield controlling arm, their tempo setter, their top passer, their calming and assuring voice. More to the point here, the formation might well change dramatically if Roma’s ever-rising midfielder were to fall, injured.

So there may not be much point in going any further down the depth chart at the “No. 8” spot … but let’s make a little go, anyway.

Sacha Kljestan hardly received swell reviews recently during his turn in the Bradley role; but, truly, what did anyone expect? Kljestan can be a solid, versatile midfield man, but he’s not Bradley. No one in the U.S. player pool is.

Zusi has the technical ability to play inside, where he often patrols for Sporting Kansas City. But he certainly lacks Bradley’s high-level experience, his worldliness. Besides, this would mean finding more answers along the outside, and that means … yes, potentially bringing Landon Donovan into conversation. So, let’s not even go there for now.

Geoff Cameron and Stuart Holden are the intriguing possibilities. Cameron spent time in the attacking midfield role with Houston in MLS, with a mixed bag of results. Holden would look different than Bradley in the role but – assuming he rediscovers his pre-injury self – could potentially provide some attacking muscle, even if his contributions did not resemble Bradley’s.

Check back after the Gold Cup to see how far Holden’s efforts at recovery, steady and diligent, have allowed him to progress up the ordering.

Cameron’s emergence as a holding midfield contingency also means that Jermaine Jones could possibly scoot further ahead in the formation.

Past all that, there’s really no way of ordering a collection of semi-possibilities, the likes of Brad Evans, Jose Torres and even potentially emerging voices in the conversation like Mix Diskerud or Joe Corona. (Or even Donovan … but, again, let’s not go there for now.)

U.S. LINKING MIDFIELD ordering

  • 1. Michael Bradley
  • 2. Sacha Kljestan
  • 3. Graham Zusi
  • 4. Geoff Cameron
  • 5. Jermaine Jones
  • 6. Stuart Holden

In review:

U.S. goalkeepers

U.S. right backs

U.S. left backs

U.S. center backs

U.S. holding midfielders

Coming up tomorrow: right-sided attackers and left-sided attackers

 

Opportunistic Brighton nips sleepy Newcastle

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  • Moribund Magpies hit bottom
  • Brighton scores with only shot on target
  • Newcastle out attempts Seagulls 27-7

Newcastle United controlled the game but failed to manufacture much danger, as the woeful Magpies lost again, this time 1-0 to Brighton and Hove Albion at St. James’ Park on Saturday.

Beram Kayal scored for Brighton, who moves 12th with 11 points. Newcastle has two points, and sits dead last.

Glenn Murray was injured early after a scary head-to-head clash with Federico Fernandez and was stretchered off the pitch.

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Shelvey darted in to take the ball from Gaetan Bong, and Ayoze Perez’s low effort could’ve been a bit better but still forced a fine save out of Mathew Ryan.

Ryan was hurt trying to get around Perez for a loose ball moments later, favoring his shoulder.

There was a much scarier incident moments later, which caused a 10-minute delay in the match. Glenn Murray won an aerial challenge with Federico Fernandez, but they clashed heads and both hit the turf.

Murray appeared to be knocked cold, and players rushed to steady his neck and clear his pathway as trainers rushed to treat him. He was stretchered off the pitch.

Brighton went ahead in the 29th minute off a corner kick which should not have been given, as Jose Izquierdo’s long shot through traffic took a turn off Kayal and into the goal.

Newcastle reclaimed the driver’s seat, and Matt Ritchie headed wide in the 39th minute.

Shane Duffy then blocked a dangerous low drive from Jonjo Shelvey, and moments later Yoshinori Muto nodded a bouncing, rising Shelvey rebound over the bar.

Kenedy then came close with a laser from 25 yards, skimming the top of the bar.

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Ryan made a fine save on Shelvey just after halftime as Newcastle went right back on the front foot.

He’d later push a deflected Shelvey free kick over the bar before saving from Kenedy off the ensuing corner.

But Newcastle had no ideas and not enough desperation, handing a result to the Seagulls.

Cardiff City thrashes sorry Fulham to move out of drop zone

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  • Cardiff out of the drop zone
  • Paterson nabs winner
  • Fulham slide into 18th

Four different players scored as Cardiff City finally collected a win, moving out of the drop zone at the expense of woeful Fulham after a 4-2 win at Cardiff City Stadium on Saturday.

Bobby Reid, Josh Murphy, Callum Paterson, and Kadeem Harris scored for the Bluebirds, who move 17th with five points.

Ryan Sessegnon and Andre Schurrle scored for Fulham, who dip into the drop zone on five points and an almost absurd 25 goals allowed through nine matches.

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If you had this one as the “four goals in about 20 minutes” match of the 10 a.m. ET kickoffs, well you’ve got a sick imagination (even with Fulham’s propensity for allowing goals).

But that’s how it went down in Wales, with Andre Schurrle’s remarkable 30 yards laser opening the scoring in the 11th minute.

Cardiff claimed the leader with goals in the 15th and 20th minutes. Josh Murphy equalized with a fine solo goal, and American defender Tim Ream‘s poor touch for Fulham then allowed Bobby Reid in on goal for 2-1.

Sessegnon then became the first player born in the 2000s to score a Premier League goal when he took a flick from Aleksandar Mitrovic and beat Neil Etheridge. 2-2.

But wait: Fulham had more poor defending on offer. A Bruno Ecuele Manga missed every clearing attempt in the fray, and Paterson made it 3-2 with 25 minutes to play.

Etheridge made a strong stop on Alfie Mawson in the 84th minute. And Real Betis loanee Victor Camarasa spotted Harris at the back post for 4-2 with minutes to play.

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South Coast stalemate: Bournemouth, Southampton draw

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  • King misses big chance
  • No goal in four games for Saints
  • Bournemouth unbeaten in three

Bournemouth and Southampton drew 0-0 at the Vitality Stadium on Saturday, with the South Coast derby a tight, tense affair.

Charlie Austin spurned a good chance in the first half, while Bournemouth did plenty of probing but failed to break through.

With the point Bournemouth now have 17 for the season, while Saints have six.

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Bournemouth showed some promising moments early on but both Adam Smith and David Brooks got their efforts wrong.

At the other end Charlie Austin was the danger man for Saints, but his heavy touch took the ball out of his reach despite beating Nathan Ake and Asmir Begovic to it.

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The first half ended with no goals in a tight encounter in a South Coast derby.

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In the second half King missed a glorious chance after being picked out by Wilson as the Norwegian striker scuffed his shot.

At the other end Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg‘s dipping volley was tipped over by Begovic in a rare chance for Saints.

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In the end, both teams settled for a point in the sun and Saints will be the happier team.

Watch Live: Huddersfield Town vs. Liverpool

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Mohamed Salah and Virgil Van Dijk have passed fitness tests and will start for Huddersfield Town at Liverpool on Saturday (Watch live at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

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Roberto Firmino is on the bench, while both Naby Keita and Sadio Mane miss out. Adam Lallana gets a rare start for the Reds.

LINEUPS

Huddersfield Town: Lossl, Hogg, Schindler, Hadergjonaj, Durm, Lowe, Zanka, Billing, Mooy, Pritchard, Depoitre. Subs: Hamer, Bacuna, Diakhaby, Van La Parra, Mbenza, Mounie, Stankovic.

Liverpool: Alisson, Gomez, Lovren, Van Dijk, Robertson, Milner, Henderson, Lallana, Shaqiri, Salah, Sturridge. Subs: Mignolet, Fabinho, Wijnaldum, Firmino, Origi, Matip, Alexander-Arnold.