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

 

Keita powers Liverpool past injury-hit Bournemouth

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Naby Keita and Mohamed Salah each had a goal and an assist as Liverpool blew out Bournemouth 3-0 at the Vitality Stadium on Saturday.

There was some bad news in the mix for both team’s already injury-hit center back corps: Nathan Ake and Dejan Lovren both left the match early.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Its lead over Leicester City is back up to 11 points before the Foxes play at 9 a.m. ET Sunday, while Man City is 14 behind the Reds before Saturday afternoon’s Manchester Derby.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scored Liverpool’s first goal of the win.


Three things we learned

1. Keita shoots his shot (literally and figuratively): When Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool captured Naby Keita, it felt like the beginning of something special. Instead it’s been fits and starts, with plenty of reports saying struggles with the language and the system might be holding hims back.

Well, if he’s back to his Leipzig-infused best, then look out world, because Keita was simply marvelous in his first PL start of the season. He had his goal and his assist, combining so well with Salah, but also completed 89 of 94 passes, 110 touches, three key passes, five of eight duels won, three tackles, and two interceptions.

2. Ake injury a huge hit: Nathan Ake has been a force for a poor Cherries side this season, and his injury did not look good. With Chelsea now able to buy players and possessing a buyback clause on their former stud, was this the last we saw of the Dutchman in a Bournemouth jersey? It could be the difference between Bournemouth staying comfortably midtable and dipping into the relegation zone.

3. Lovren injury a worry: Whether Lovren misses a long time or just a bit is still a problem for the Reds, who are going to be taxed heavily with Joel Matip already out and matches all over the world in the coming weeks.

Remember that Liverpool isn’t yet through to the Champions League knockout rounds, and that Virgil Van Dijk and Joe Gomez could need to play every minute including Tuesday’s massive trip to dangerous Red Bull Salzburg. The good news, of course, is that Joe Gomez at his best has not been a downgrade from Lovren.

Man of the Match: Keita.


Bournemouth had a moment in the 26th miniute, Dominic Solanke unable to find a deflected cross that worried Adrian.

The Cherries lost their best player to injury, and that seemingly opened the doors at the back. Nathan Ake was felled by a muscle strain.

Moments later, Oxlade-Chamberlain got on the end of a Jordan Henderson long ball and took advantage of a sleeping Aaron Ramsdale to make it 1-0.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

The visitors made a sub soon after the goal, Dejan Lovren exiting for Trent Alexander-Arnold to send Joe Gomez to center back.

That’s when the Reds got their second goal from Keita, via Salah’s lovely pass.

A bad mistake from debutant Jack Simpson allowed Keita to cue up Salah for a return gift, the Egyptian calmly slotting past a struggling Ramsdale.

Smooth Spurs slice through Burnley

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Tottenham Hotspur was at its very best in blowing Burnley out of the water with a 5-0 win at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Saturday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Harry Kane scored twice and added an assist as Spurs moved into fifth place with 23 points, while Burnley slipped into 13th via goal differential on 18 points.

It is the first clean sheet for Jose Mourinho as Spurs boss, but this was all about the goals. Kane’s goal were both classy to join a sensational Heung-Min Son marker that had the Internet abuzz. Moussa Sissoko and Lucas Moura also scored, with Dele Alli getting two assists.


Three things we learned

1. Kane at his very best, Dele keeps up form: Harry Kane entered the game on pace for an 18-goal league season, which might surprise you given how quiet he’s been. There was no problem with the volume on Saturday, as he scored not one but two simply wonderful goals straight out of his career highlight reel. If Kane can return to dominant force status, than there is no reason to believe Spurs cannot challenge for a Top Four space.

And Dele Alli, what can you say? He was far from incredible, especially given how good Son, Kane, and Lucas performed, but another two assists on the day give him three goals and three assists in four PL matches under Mourinho.

2. Maradona cloned in South Korea: We know Son is very good. We didn’t learn that, but we did learn that people in the year 2019 are still capable of full-field, Maradona/Messi level dribbles. Holy smoke, Sonny.

3. Burnley abject again as Spurs get rare clean sheet: The Clarets were up against it, yeah, but this was another performance that Sean Dyche will find it hard to stomach. The goals conceded hurt, but there was absolutely zero threat against a Spurs team which hasn’t been at its best in defense. Burnley now has seven shots on target in its last three games, which is not a good total, and the defending on Sissoko’s goal was pitiful and oh-so-easy.

Then again, the idea with Mourinho is that things would tighten up at the back, and the Portuguese manager trusted the same back line (including Serge Aurier) in getting a much-needed zero on the home scoreboard.

Man of the Match: Kane.


This was all Spurs from moment No. 1, and we wouldn’t want to be the Clarets when Burnley boss Sean Dyche shows film and takes training; The defending was terrible.

But take nothing away from Spurs, who scored incredible goals.

First Kane scored one of two trademark goals from distance (the second just inside the 18), and Dele set up Lucas Moura for fine second goal.

The third goal was Son’s incredible dribble goal, which is going to be on loop and really should be a favorite for Goal of the Season.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

Kane struck again (at bottom), and Sissoko rolled in the fifth goal with a calm finish after a scything 1-2 with Kane between Burnley’s poor defenders.

Here’s is Kane’s second:

Watford, Crystal Palace play to feisty draw

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Watford and Crystal Palace played out a 0-0 draw a Vicarage Road on Saturday as the hosts squandered several chances to pick up their first home win of the season.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Wilfried Zaha was involved in plenty of hefty of challenges, for and against, as Palace huffed and puffed but didn’t really get going in attack. Gerard Deulofeu and Ismaila Sarr both went close for Watford, who had new manager Nigel Pearson watching on from the stands.

With the point Watford remain bottom of the team and have nine points for the season, while Palace are in seventh place on 22 points.

3 things we learned

1. Pearson already having an impact: This was so much better from Watford. Similar to their narrow defeat at Leicester in midweek,  they looked compact and solid defensively and Deulofeu was a menace underneath Deeney. Pearson watched on from the directors box tentatively throughout, as caretaker Hayden Mullins oversaw a solid display which should have yielded three points.

2. Rattled Zaha targeted: Wilfried Zaha and Watford mean one thing: Fouls. Zaha was clearly targeted by the Hornets and he went down on several occasions all game long, but was booked for a foul of his own and to his disbelief his calls for fouls were often overlooked. There is previous here as Zaha was the target for the home fans and players, and Roy Hodgson did his best to calm the Ivorian winger down. Eventually he did calm down, but he was rattled. After his fine displays in recent wins, Zaha was far from his best.

3. Sarr adds cutting edge: Palace had to bring in Jairo Reidewald for Jeffrey Schlupp at half time at left back to try and stop Sarr’s driving runs down the right flank. He came close to scoring to add to his goal at Southampton last weekend, and his power and pace perfectly complimented Delofeu’s trickery. If Watford can stay solid defensively, Deulofeu, Deeney and Sarr will give plenty of defenses problems.

Man of the Match:


Both teams went close early as Troy Deeney‘s scuffed effort was cleared by James Tomkins, James McArthur sent a volley wide of the far post and then Ismaila Sarr’s shot was deflected wide at the other end.

Watford took the game to Palace early on as Pearson’s arrival as their new manager on Friday, even if he wasn’t in the dugout, had an impact. Gerard Deulofeu was popping up time and time again and his deliveries from set pieces caused Palace problems.

Once again in a game between Palace and Watford it was Wilfried Zaha who was at the center of things as the players piled in after he was caught by several defenders as he was on the floor, then he was booked moments later before Craig Cathcart also received a yellow for fouling Luka Milivojevic.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Watford pinned Palace back in the second half as they peppered the goal and Deulofeu raced clear before smashing just wide.

The Spaniard then crossed for Sarr but his effort was saved by Vicente Guaita as the game opened up in the closing stages with Ayew firing just over on the counter and then Gary Cahill twice denying Sarr with brilliant blocks.

Andre Gray shanked a shot goalwards after more good work from Sarr, while Deeney went down in the box in stoppage time and wanted a penalty kick, as tempers flared late on with Zaha involved again.

In the end the two teams canceled each other out with Palace lackluster in attack and Watford disappointed not to take three points to lift themselves closer to safety.

Watch Live: The Manchester Derby

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Manchester United can send a message to the Top Four and lay down a marker for its manager when it visits Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday (Watch live at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

United enters the match on 21 points, eight back of losing Chelsea and two behind fifth place Spurs, while City looks to climb ahead of Leicester City ahead of the Foxes 9 a.m. ET Sunday visit to Aston Villa.

But really, this is about territory, and whether Manchester is blue or red for a few months.

LINEUPS

Manchester City: Ederson, Walker, Stones, Fernandinho, Angelino, Rodrigo, D Silva (C), De Bruyne, Bernardo, Sterling, G Jesus. Subs: Bravo, Gundogan, Mendy, Mahrez, Cancelo, Otamendi, Foden.

Manchester United: De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw, McTominay, Fred, James, Lingard, Rashford, Martial. Subs: Romero, Tuanzebe, Williams, Young, Andreas, Mata, Greenwood.