Photo by Andrew Katsampes/ISIphotos.com
If there's a logjam and heated competition at any position for the U.S. men's national team, it's in the midfield.
Jurgen Klinsmann has plenty of options to sort through for the heart of his formation, and aside from an injured Stuart Holden and a recently injured Kyle Beckerman, the U.S. manager should have a full complement of midfield charges from which to choose for the Feb. 29 friendly against Italy.
The U.S. Under-23 training camp that coincides with the match may throw a bit of a wrench into Klinsmann's plans, but even so, he should be able to field his strongest group of midfielders yet since taking over as coach last August.
So which midfielders should Klinsmann call in? Here's who we think should make the trip (To reference back to the goalkeepers and defenders we see Klinsmann calling up, read on here):
Michael Bradley, Maurice Edu, Jermaine Jones, Danny Williams, Jose Francisco Torres, Sacha Kljestan
Bradley continues to be a consistent presence in Chievo Verona's lineup, even if he is slotted on the right there. His work rate, growth and maturity have gone noticed, evidenced by his call-ups to senior team camps in October and November after being left out in September while he earned his place for the Serie A club. Already based in Italy, Bradley being included is a no-brainer.
Edu remains a steady force in the midfield at Rangers, and he has done nothing to tarnish his place among the upper echelon of central midfielders at Klinsmann's disposal.
Even though Jones is out of action while suspended at Schalke, that did not stop Klinsmann from calling him into January training camp and having him be an integral part of the team's friendlies against Venezuela and Panama. He might not be in game shape after spending the last couple of weeks on the sidelines, but the hard-tackling ball-winner still merits another call from Klinsmann and proved in camp that he is a cut above the fringe players in the pool.
Klinsmann has insisted on using Williams as a right winger, but it is clear that he is out of position there. He's been pressed into centerback duty at Hoffenheim lately as well, but he is admittedly more of a defensive midfielder. Despite Williams not being deputized centrally for Klinsmann yet, it would be interesting to see what a Williams-Bradley partnership could accomplish. Unfortunately, testing that for the first time against the Azzurri might not be doing so under the most ideal circumstances.
As for Beckerman, he has been dealing with an adductor strain since the U.S. January training camp and just recently got reintegrated into Real Salt Lake's squad. Even though Klinsmann has shown an affinity for the dreadlocked RSL captain, he is highly doubtful to be called upon for the match.
In terms of the central creators, the touch-passing Torres has fully recovered from a broken foot, has enjoyed a strong start to the Clausura season for Pachuca and is due for a recall. Kljestan, meanwhile, is in the midst of his most successful season as a professional with Anderlecht and is perhaps the most improved player in the pool. He has earned his place after being called in just once under Klinsmann, back in September.
Landon Donovan, Fabian Johnson, DaMarcus Beasley
FC Dallas' Brek Shea has been a fixture for Klinsmann in his tenure as head coach, but given Shea's likely role with the Olympic team and the fact that the U-23s will be training and playing Mexico in Dallas, it makes all the more sense to integrate him into Caleb Porter's team for the first time ahead of Olympic qualifying rather than bring him across the pond for this friendly.
Johnson, who can man either flank and impressed for the U.S. on the left as recently as November's Slovenia friendly, inherits Shea's role on the left, while U.S. veteran Beasley, who has been in form for Puebla, remains another candidate on that side .
That leaves the right side to Donovan, who has missed the last seven U.S. friendlies and has yet to share the field with Clint Dempsey (a forward/withdrawn striker for our purposes) since Klinsmann has been in charge. Donovan has excelled on the right while on loan for Everton, sending in pinpoint crosses while maintaining his defensive responsibilities as well.
The goals aren't there right now for Donovan, the United States' all-time leading scorer, but they don't necessarily need to be. In this set-up, if he can play the role of consistent provider for those up top, combine with Steve Cherundolo on that side and track back when necessary, he'll be the steady right-sided option that has been noticeably lacking in recent friendlies.
The combinations of Timmy Chandler and Johnson overlapping on the left and Donovan and Cherundolo doing the same on the right would give Klinsmann his most dynamic and balanced flank options yet. Kljestan, Bradley and Williams are also right-sided options should Klinsmann have a different idea in mind for Donovan.
Which midfielders do you think Klinsmann should call up vs. Italy?
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