While the pool of U.S. national team defenders deals with injuries and limited established options, and the pickings at forward remain slim, the U.S. men's national teams' options in midfield look as good as they have in a while after a strong weekend by a handful of Americans Abroad.
That might be tough to believe on a weekend when Landon Donovan was off and Clint Dempsey was still recovering from a knee injury, but Michael Bradley, Jose Francisco Torres, DaMarcus Beasley and Freddy Adu all gave American fans reason to feel better about the middle of the park come June.
Bradley turned in a Man of the Match performance in Moenchengladbach's 2-1 win vs. FC Nurnberg, dominating proceedings in central midfield. Freddy Adu scored his first goal in European league play in two years, notching a game-winner in his first start for Aris FC. Jose Francisco Torres shook off a hamstring injury to score a wonder goal and put in a strong overall performance in Pachuca's 5-3 win against Puebla.
Throw in DaMarcus Beasley earning his first start for Rangers since being re-injured in December, and it was indeed a good weekend for the deepest part of the United States roster. While you can't make too much about one weekend, these performances should put some added pressure on the MLS-based midfielders currently in camp with the U.S. national team.
Players such as Robbie Rogers and Sacha Kljestan should already be feeling pressure after the United States thoroughly forgettable performance in a 3-1 loss to Honduras in January. For players like them, as well as longshots like Brad Davis and Kyle Beckerman, the re-emergence of Adu and Beasley, coupled with Torres' continued steady play for Pachuca, is going to make it that much tougher for them to grab the remaining available spots on the U.S. World Cup roster.
The most promising of the weekend's performances came from Adu, who impressed in his first start in Greece. After having delivered an assist in his debut, Adu provided a deft touch and showed some determination in finishing off his chance. It will take more than just one good game to erase the reality of Adu's situation (namely the fact that he has barely played on the club level for two years), but Bob Bradley has shown a willingness to give Adu call-ups even when he hasn't been playing. A couple more good outings for Aris should earn Adu a call-up for the March 3 match against the Netherlands.
Torres' performance wasn't surprising, but it was refreshing and served as a reminder of the bags of talent the young midfielder possesses. There is little reason to believe Torres won't find his way onto the U.S. World Cup roster, but matches like Sunday's make you wonder whether the time is right for Bob Bradley to give Torres a look as a starter. With Ricardo Clark sidelined, and Maurice Edu still struggling to stay healthy, Benny Feilhaber might seem like the obvious pick to partner with Michael Bradley against the Dutch next month, but Torres is an intriguing option alongside Bradley and certainly merits getting his first look as a starter since last June's World Cup qualifying debacle against Costa Rica.
There isn't a player with a better chance to boost his World Cup stock than Beasley, who has the benefit of unmatched experience as a strength the aforementioned midfielders can't come close to topping. The form he showed for Rangers in December reminded us that he can still be an impact winger when healthy, but he needs to put together a long run of injury-free soccer before he can claim the World Cup roster spot that is his for the taking (something Beasley readily acknowledges). That might seem like a stretch considering Beasley's poor national team form over the past year, but his experience, versatility and status as one of the few true wingers in the pool make him a lock if he can stay healthy and active for Rangers.
If its starting to sound as though one or two good midfielders could be left home this summer, that is a problem the United States can only dream of having. The reality is that, given the lack of established forward options, and the potential necessity to play Clint Dempsey (and potentially Landon Donovan) at forward, we could see multiple selections from this group of midfielders. If we don't, then that would likely mean that Charlie Davies has succeeded in his comeback and perhaps one other quality forward option has emerged.
Maybe this weekend winds up being an anomaly. Perhaps Adu eventually returns to the Aris bench and maybe the injury bug begins to feast on Beasley yet again. Even so, their performances this past weekend have served as a reminder to all the U.S. national team midfield candidates that it is going to take a strong next three months, both on the club level and in the few national team chances that remain, for players to secure their World Cup spots.
As unsettling as the race at forward is, and as limited as the options are among defenders right now, the weekend's performances by American midfielders bodes well for U.S. head coach Bob Bradley, who wouldn't mind the "problem" of having choosing from a plethora of in-form midfielders.