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Who will start in central midfield for the USA?

MastroeniKljestan ( 

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With a chance to further distance the U.S. national team from the rest of the pack in the CONCACAF Hexagonal, and facing the prospect of playing in one of the more hostile environments in the region, U.S. head coach Bob Bradley has several tough decisions to make. Among those decisions is which of his many central midfield options should he start next to Michael Bradley on Saturday vs. El Salvador.

Michael Bradley is riding a wave of good form for both club and country and is an easy choice to start, but choosing who to partner him with is a bit more difficult. With the surplus amount of central midfielders that Bob Bradley has summoned for the next two World Cup qualifiers, there is plenty to choose from.

Here is a look at each of the central midfielders who could start next to Bradley on Saturday:

Maurice Edu

Edu, while still only 22-years-old, is no stranger to hostile road World Cup qualifiers. It was Edu who started next to Bradley in the 1-0 victories at Guatemala and at Cuba in 2008. Granted, he did not enjoy his best performances on those nights, but Edu's experience and familiarity with Bradley in the center of the field gives the former Toronto FC player an argument.

What hurts Edu's chances is his lack of playing time at the club level. Although he has found more of it in recent weeks, Edu is still not a weekly fixture in Rangers' starting line-up. That surely cannot be benficial to Edu, who is competing with players who are constants for their respective club teams.

Sacha Kljestan

While many American fans feel that Kljestan is to be the starter on Saturday, is a road World Cup qualifier in hostile conditions really ideal for the Chivas USA maestro? Sure, the opponent is El Salvador, the weakest team in the group, but Kljestan has not started in these types of conditions before.

Bob Bradley may feel that Kljestan should start the game on the bench, to not only provide depth in the center but on the anemic flanks as well.

Where Kljestan does make a case for himself to start though is with his chemistry with Michael Bradley. Kljestan started next to the Borussia Moenchengladbach midfielder in last summer's Olympics and the pairing worked out so well in Beijing that Bob Bradley decided to try it on the senior national team, and the duo has stuck ever since.

Kljestan flourished in 2008 and showed that he is capable of being a central midfielder that can get forward and help jump-start an attack as well as do the nitty gritty on the defensive end.

Pablo Mastroeni

Mastroeni brings a lengthy resume of experience in road World Cup qualifiers and his defensive bite may be needed to halt a Salvadorean side that appears ready to rely on counter-attacks for its offense. His defensive game would also allow Michael Bradley more freedom to get forward and contribute to the attack, which is something American fans have been clamoring for.

The Colorado Rapids midfielder is not offensively inept either. Although he has never scored for the United States, Mastroeni has been known to unleash shots from distance when given the time and space. If you consider that El Salvador may bunker in for the majority of the game then a long-range shot or two would not hurt.

However, Mastroeni has been known to give up his fair share of fouls and given the physical nature of World Cup qualifiers in Central America, that could present a problem.

Jose Francisco Torres

Of all the central midfielders available to pair with Bradley, Torres remains the one with the most unique situation. While Kljestan and Mastroeni have just begun their seasons in MLS, and while Edu continues to battle for playing time in Scotland, Torres has been a constant figure in Pachuca's clausura campaign.

If recent reports are any indication of how El Salvador is gearing up to play against the Americans, then Torres' skill on the ball and ability to control the tempo of a game might be exactly what the United States needs in order to break down a defensive foe.

The only question mark surrounding Torres is his relative inexperience at the international level. Torres has played in the FIFA Club World Cup, but playing in the friendly confines of Japan is not the same as the hostility that will greet the Americans in Estadio Cuscatlán on Saturday.


Here is your chance to choose. Who would you start in central midfield alongside Michael Bradley?

Who do you see Bob Bradley starting on Saturday? Will Edu's past experiences with Michael Bradley in road qualifiers give him the edge? Does Kljestan remain the incumbent? Do you see Mastroeni getting the nod? Is it Torres' turn to start?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. Good to see the folks agree that Torres needs more time in the first XI, period. And likely has the most talent and most potential of any of the midfielders listed (at least until Edu gets in regular playing time, then I would like to see Torres on the flank.)

  2. This seems to be a case of ‘theres a better player coming up than we got’. Pablo is miles better than Torres right now, and should start.

    But Torres has something, a quality of linking from the back that the other 3 do not. This is a role, similar to Benny F. and this will be a role/quality to develop. Torres does not have the athletisism of Edu, nor the creative 1v1 of a Sacha, but he does bring a unique set of skills to the team….my money however is on Pablo linking to Bradley…Edu sits out the first game.

  3. Few things, i really dont care if its Sacha, Torres, Edu, or Adu, or Pablo, it really doesnt matter because i am confident that each and every one of them can get the job done regardless if they have gotten playing time, wherever they are, Edu and Adu are in Europe for a reason, Sacha looks like he’s headed there, havent seen Torres there, but if he gets more exposure, who knows, he might go to europe also, and how many Salvi’s play in Europe, not much, so thats why i am confident that any of those can get the job done alongside bradley, second, i dnt think BB wouldnt start or play Pablo, because if he doesnt, that wuld be a waste of pablo’s time as he culd have played with Colorado instead of sitting on the bench for 90 mins. So maybe Pablo starts and Sacha, or Torres get subbed in, either at the half, or sumwhere along second half, who knows, maybe they both culd go in

  4. Torres plays defensive midfielder for Pachuca.

    I watch and like Mexician soccer. I’m mexican-american, anywho Torres can get by as a defesnive midfielder in mexico, but still needs time to adjust to the national team.

    His passing is great and creative at times, he still needs to learn better dribbling like taking players 1v1. He is the future and should start other games. Also, USA really needs to develop credible left wing subs for the midfield and defense.

    Lets Go USA!

  5. I’m still a Mastro man, however, I am willing to be proven wrong. How about this. Mastro plays first half, Torres the second. Then we compare notes.

    Now alls we gotta do is get in touch with Coach Bradley and……

  6. I think Torres has enough experience in similar conditions with the skill and abilities to hold and gain position. I look at him as a lot like Bradley, but just different in some smaller ways I can’t quite put my finger on. He seems intelligent, and it seems to me that he and Bradley would figure out quickly how to play with each other, when to run, when to stay, where to be, those sorts of things. My first thought was Edu, but I eventually chose Torres.

  7. MVK I agree thats the best team and probably the best upside looking to 2010.

    However..given that it is unlikely..

    Torres. What would give Bradley the ability to move up is possession. Torres would deliver it and I would argue he had the most experience against the type of play and atmosphere.

    The only way El Salvador scores in this game is on a set piece. Mastro is most likely to give them a free kick. He had a great long shot against Italy in 06. Cant really remember another.

  8. Fantastic — the consensus is with Jose Francisco Torres! Perhaps this is the “wisdom of crowds”

    My take….

    Pablo? A serviceable, hard-nosed ball-winner, but a mediocre international. Like others, I am concerned about his proclivity to give away needless fouls and to get himself booked. (See John Godfrey above.)

    Kljestan? Marvelous some games, disappears in others. Can give the ball away cheaply. Was dreadful against Mexico. A player with great promise who has yet to consistently show against top opponents.

    Torres? Small, very clever, currently playing on a side that — I believe — Mastroeni and Kljestan would struggle to get into. He keeps and distributes neatly in a way Mastroeni and Kljestan do not. Experience? He is used to rough-and-ready spectators. Has more experience than Kljestan certainly…

  9. As Pablo gets older, he gets slower and more reckless and less reliable: The numbers tell the story.

    In the past three years, Mastroeni has logged 1,245 minutes in international competitions, getting carded nine times (seven yellows, two reds) along the way. In other words, he gets carded .65 times every time he steps on the field for the USMNT — two cards every three games.

    In the previous four years, however, he amassed just nine cards in 3,034 minutes. This equates to .27 cards per international game — or one card every four games.

    Clearly, he either cannot keep up with the younger, faster competition he faces in international games and has to lash out at them, or he gets frustrated at the younger, faster competition and bullies them. Or both.

    Either way, Pablo is on the decline, and needs to be booted off the team before he makes another horrible mistake for the US.

  10. Torres,

    has played in similar situations lets see what hes got.

    Someone knocked him because hes an average player on Pachuca.

    Sorry, but Klejestan,and Maestroni play in MLS. They would also be average players on Pachuca.

    If Torres played in Colorodo or LA he would probably be in Holland already.

    It just seems harder for Mex league players to get oversees.

    You can knock him for his lack of USMNT experience… but theres only one way to get it.

    I would love Maestroni…..the 2002 version thou not the 2009 one.

  11. Torres is the man for me. He’s in form and playing regularly. Bradley and Torres give the US a good combo of strength and skill.(strength from Bradley and skill from Torres) But I will say this, the team WILL need Mastroeni in the WC and Confederations. He just has too much experience and the team needs a player that isn’t afraid to hit in games and to rally the midfield with his strong play.

  12. i do think bradley should be a starter…my thoughts on player pool – ive said this before, but i think bradley has used a lot of players but he hasnt played with his top lineup very much. the lineup against mexico really only differs from the gold cup roster years ago with respect to feilhaber in the mid – other than that, its the same. that’s my problem, he doesn’t let guys get experience playing with the starting team. id like to see jozy get a few runs playing with donovan, dempsey, etc., i want to see torres next to bradley, demerit next to gooch, etc.
    we still havent developed enough guys with big game experience and with experience playing with top starters

  13. Kljestan definitely has that special something that everyone is saying he doesn’t. He scores so many great goals and assists alot too. There’s a reason Celtic came after him.(just because they’re in a crappy league doesn’t mean they’re a crappy team.)I still think Torres should get the start its just that to say that Kljestan isn’t a special player is stupid. I seem to remember Ives saying that when he saw Sacha at Seton Hall he knew he was going to be special.

  14. Easy, Torres. He is the only player on the list who is a starter and actively playing. Plus Pachuca is tied for first place.

  15. We do both agree that Michael Bradley should be the number one choice no matter what though right? He is one of 3 players who regularly start for a top league in Europe. Howard, Dempsey, and Bradley.

  16. One difference I think I’ve noticed between Brucie Arena and Bobo Bradley is that I think Bradley really is building a much larger player pool giving back ups and younger players significant experience so that they can be ready for their time, and that I feel the USMNT has really developed a super strong chemistry of 20 players who are regularly called up. I never really felt that Chemistry in the latter years of Bruce Arena, although it was Bruce who brought us to the quarterfinals in South Korea World Cup 2002. Maybe he just wasn’t as effective later on and we should have moved on earlier. Glad he is part of the history of the USMNT, he did a good job, but it was definitely time to move on. Hope Bob has as much success in 2010 as Bruce in 2002.

  17. I would argue that Pablo and Bradley are currently the best possession central midfielders we have on the USMNT, though I haven’t seen Torres play the position for us yet. Pablo and Bradley both disrupt the other team and take the ball for themselves, then they usually make safe, crisp passes, if not forward then backward, maintaining possession. I think that having a midfield that can first disrupt a stronger team’s midfield like spain or italy and then secondly make smart and safe possessive passes will be better than sending a team with a central midfield that is constantly losing possession and is easy to just bypass (dribble around). Sure there is some creativity sacrificed, but what good is mediocrely executed creativity against supreme defenses? It is likely to be just a turnover opening ourselves up to a counter attack. Here I am mainly making my case for Pablo and Bradley over Sacha. Maybe once he gets more consistent, but you never see Pablo make the mistakes that Sacha did against Mexico. If Mexico had been a stronger side some of those possession losses would have hurt us big.

    Torres, I just plain need to see him play to find out what I think. However, if we can’t get the ball in the middle of the field, i.e. stealing it with our strong defensive midfielders (still talking about teams like Italy and Spain, not El Salvador), then how will torres or sacha have an opportunity to create? If torres can also dominate defensively as well as creatively, then i will cheer him on. But I do think we need strong defensive midfielders who make crisp clean passes as traits numbers 1 and 2 before we look towards creativity.
    Beasley, Donovan, ching, dempsey, pearce, and bradley all create. We need to be sure our defenses are bolstered also. I don’t like the idea of Pirlo intercepting a bad pass from klejestan, then having a 6 v 4 italy v usa counter attack. I’d prefer to have both pablo and bradley to get through first.

    If you watched the Chivas v Colorado game, how many times did we see Pablo dismantle their midfield, specifically taking it from Klejestan? Many. How many times did we see Klejestan get dribbled around easily? Many. His defense just isn’t where it needs to be yet.

    Again with Torres, hell, start him now if he is as good as people are saying. Lets get him experienced and if he can dominate defensively as well as pablo but brings more offensively to the table, then I will be his biggest fan.

    I will admit that when I saw him play for the USMNT as a left wing sub he looked superb.

    Sorry I went off on Sacha v Pablo though, I know you were commenting on Torres v Pablo.

  18. Thadeuce. really interesting point about italy. ive debated myself whether England’s defensive minded soccer and failure is the norm or Italy’s style and then winning is what the US can expect. I agree that italy did play defensive soccer in WC06, they did sit deep – but what they had that the US didnt was the individual talent to produce on the counter, they only needed one pass from pirlo to spring del piero. the US as is will never have success on the intl stage (qual for the world cup does not = success to me) playing this style for 2 reasons. 1- our defense isnt as strong as italy. 2- we dont have the individual talent to capitalize on the few chances that you get playing defensively. interesting to look at italy in euro 08, where they barely tried to score against spain. they crashed out because their defense was old and weakened, and toni wasn’t the offensive power people stupidly thought. a better comparison for the US is a team like Russia, South Korea, Australia, Croatia… teams with mid level talent that play smart, possession soccer and are able to succeed.
    just my thoughts, which is why i want to see the US never field 2 DMs again (m bradley = a DM to me). with such a lineup, we cant keep possession, adn we get by because our defensive is strong relative to weak central american teams and then we score on a header. it won’t work on the next level.

  19. I like Kljestan starting with Bradley. If it turns into a slugfest, I’d sub on Mastroeni for Kljestan. If not, i’d go with Torres to give him some minutes and see what he can do.

  20. Kljestan. He had a bad game against Mexico, but I thought he was doing well in central midfield before that. If he struggles again you have Torres waiting on the bench. This is a good opportunity for these guys to get experience on the road against a weaker team.

  21. I voted for Rico Clark because…

    Oh, that’s right. You didn’t even list him.

    I agree that Rico and Bradley step on each other’s toes when they’re out there, but to not even list him as an option?


  22. There is time for the Edus and Adus of US Soccer when qualifying is wrapped up or the game is in the bag. Most of qualifying is not the time for major experimentation with field players who usually ride the pine.

    I’m open to Torres because of his offensive skills along with the fact he is getting plenty of playing time.

  23. yeah yeah, and if we had a poll on who to start as forwards it would be altidore and cooper instead of donovan and ching. This poll means nothing, except to show the majority opinion of the readers of this site… Although I agree I’m excited about Torres. 🙂
    HOwever, the amount of disrespect many of our greatest players get on this site is embarrassing.

  24. I like how people say Pablo will hurt us with fouls and that we need someone to help in maintaining possesion. Umm, what would Pablo do foul wise that Bradley doesn’t already? Last time I checked Michael gives out PLENTY of ridiculous and unnecesary fouls. And as far as possesion, Pablo is a beast at keeping the ball and passes very accurate and crisp. I think it would be best to play Mastroeni along with Bradley in the midfield, that way Bradley could roam forward on the attack a bit more and have Pablo back to cover on defense. Torres *MAY* come on as a sub in the second half, but it isn’t likely with Sacha and Edu on the bench.

  25. Torres or Edu. Mastroeni is too old. Kljestan well he just doesn’t perform while wearing a US jersey. The olympics was bad enough, then there was Mexico.

  26. As much as I hate to do it, I agree somewhat with Ryan. Kljestan hasn’t shown me that he can play as a credible central midfielder / playmaker. I’ve watched Torres play for Pachuca quite a bit and he is the consumate CM. I agree with those who argue that Mastroeni is a card and dangerous free kick waiting to happen and Edu hasn’t been playing much.

    For me, it should really be Torres. He is solid defensively and he can possess and distribute the ball. That would give Bradley a bit more defensive role with the ability to get forward when the opportunity presents itself (which is the way he often seems to be positioned for BMG anyway).


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