BERGAMO, ITALY - APRIL 24: Michael Bradley of AC Chievo Verona (R) in action against Maximiliano Moralez of Atalanta BC during the Serie A match between Atalanta BC and AC Chievo Verona at Stadio Atleti Azzurri d'Italia on April 24, 2012 in Bergamo, Italy. (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)
Midfield is our strength and the two players that hold down the offensive end of our midfield are our finest. The problem here lies always in the question, do we have a backup plan? Secondly, is that backup plan better than calling up a rusty player with confidence issues? The depth is troubling, but in reality it's a matter of semantics. While I have split the players into the number ten creative role and a box to box categories, the reality is we don't have a true number ten anywhere. So if Dempsey is hurt like he was going into the Scotland match, we play with two box-to-box midfielders which seems to work well when we don't have any true wingers on the field. So while this depth chart seems short, imagine Jermaine Jones or in a few years a healthy Stuart Holden filling into this easily.
1.Clint Dempsey, 29, Fulham (EPL), 31
What to say about Dempsey that hasn't already been said. It could be argued that he has already had the best career abroad of any American ever and he's just in his 20's. He has almost single-handedly kept Fulham relevant in a world where Fulham shouldn't be. He has one year left on his contract there so we could be seeing him move this year just so Fulham gets a return on him. He's looking for a Champions League squad but the teams he will get looks at aren't locks to return every year. Is one year good enough for him?
2. Jose Francisco Torres, 24, Pachuca, 26
I'm not sold on Torres. He disappears against the top squads and certainly isn't the most physical of players which doesn't help in CONCACAF qualifying. While he isn't equal to Dempsey's skill of creating shots for himself, he is a great distributor of the ball. We haven't really seen him in a role that allows him to drift as Dempsey does, but we do know for sure that he is not a left winger.
3. Freddy Adu 23, Philadelphia Union, 25
Call me an Adu apologist if you must, but is there some way we can just make Adu an employee of US Soccer like the US Women's Team. He has been awful or hurt for almost every club that he's played for. We'll see by the end of the year, with "changes" in Philadephia, if he does well under another manager. Sure, he's a defensive liability or a card waiting to happen when he does play defense. However, no one simply has the offensive talent as a creator in the United States pipeline that he still possesses.
4. Benny Feilhaber, 27, New England Revolution, 29
Where have you gone Benny Feilhaber? I remember 2007 in Chicago and our Stuart Holden replacement in 2010. From looking at Opta stats on MLS's website, his passing is lacking and he hasn't been the reason for the Revolution's slight improvement. He's been hurt but with these other midfielders, like Adu his chances aren't coming in the near future.
For posterity's sake:
Box to Box
1. Michael Bradley, 24, Chievo Verona (Italy), 26
Nepotism, indeed. The argument can be made that Bradley is our best outfield player, and given Dempsey's mercurial nature with the national team and Bradley's importance against top-quality teams, I would agree. Bradley is in his second World Cup cycle and now in a place/league where he is adding passing and footwork to his already superior work-rate. No American player has quite managed his career as well as Michael Bradley. Credit must be made to his dad for putting him under pressure young and Klinsmann for lighting that fire under him although it may have been a ruse all along.
2. Graham Zusi, 25, Sporting Kansas City, 27
The success of Bradley and the implementation of essentially Sporting KC's system inverted has helped Graham Zusi more than any other player. The relentless pressure and set piece delivery make him an ideal Landon Donovan replacement, even if he's not ever at Donovan's peak level. The problem is he needs to learn to be a right winger/midfielder, because the midfield is congested.
3. Jose Francisco Torres
If he can find sufficient defensive bite, he may find a place in the midfield in this role when we do not need a holding midfielder alone. Having both Torres and Bradley behind Dempsey is by far our prime offensive midfield formation, but I doubt we ever see it implemented.
Players to Watch
Mikkel Diskeruud, 21, Gent (Belgium) on loan from Stabaak (Norway), 23
The great hope of US fans is here, as much as I have read on the Internet. As with the aforementioned Adu, the hype outdoes the reality at times. That isn't to suggest he's a bust as Adu has been, but rather to express my disappointment with his play for the U-23's. His recent move to Belgium suggests he's on his way to bigger things, but
Luis Gil, 18, Real Salt Lake, 20
Every cycle through has their playmaker, and if you take a step down from Adu and Diskeruud, Luis Gil appears to be the next number 10 in the system. He doesn't play much for Real Salt Lake, because simply they are really damn good. Yet he is the central focus of the U-20 team, and possesses offensive skill that won't keep him in MLS for long unless the monetary system changes quickly (Hint: It won't.).
There isn't much here to worry about. The presence of Bradley somewhat negates the loss of Dempsey (Whenever that happens, and given his competitive fire probably not anytime soon) and everyone else is younger than Bradley. There are some exciting young players in our system and others who might someday find the switch and turn it on. The veterans in our midfield are low upside guys who will do the job, although Zusi's progression in the past two years may suggest his upside is far higher than previously suggested. There are other players out there in the same age group as Luis Gil that simply are too young to project, but we'll know more after CONCACAF u-17/20 tournaments and the next round of U-17/20 World Cups.
Note: Apologies for the long delay, EURO2012 is a time killer. It's rapid fire for the last two posts: a short post on wingers (depressing) and a slightly less depressing post on forwards.