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USMNT Daily Update: Can Klinsmann’s midfield preferences work?


Remember the days of the “Empty Bucket”? Those days when the U.S. Men’s National Team played a 4-4-2 under Bob Bradley, and neither central midfielder was a pure playmaker? Those days when the complaints about the national team being to defensive-minded rained often, even when the team was producing results?

When Jurgen Klinsmann took over there was a sense that he would install a more attack-minded approach, and field a team that was more offensive and more creative. The end product hasn’t quite worked out that way and you can point to his construction of the U.S. midfield as at least part of the reason Klinsmann’s U.S. team has not been all that much more attack-minded.

Klinsmann didn’t go away from the Jermaine Jones-Michael Bradley tandem in central midfield, but has instead moved them up the field and deployed a pure defensive midfield behind them. That decision has resulted in a U.S. team that lacks creativity and puts its attacking players in tough positions game in and game out.

Klinsmann has stated repeatedly that he doesn’t see Jones or Bradley being able to play the No. 6 role, the deep-lying defensive midfield role that has been tried out by Danny Williams, Kyle Beckerman and Maurice Edu. The only problem with that stance is that you wind up having a trio of Jones, Bradley and a No. 6 taking up three of the six slots in front of the defense. You also wind up with a crowed midfield that doesn’t give the team’s passers much room to operate and break down opposing defenses.

While it is certainly true that Bradley is not a pure defensive midfielder, and brings good attacking qualities as a box-to-box presence, and Jones can also contribute to the attack with good passes, neither is a playmaker or a speedy attacker capable of unsettling a defense on the ball.

Does that mean you can’t play them together? Not necessarily. As much as some critics hate the idea of the “empty bucket”, a central midfield without a pure playmaker, the rigors of the modern game make the idea of a pure playmaker playing in front of a lone defensive midfielder is more fantasy than reality. There are plenty of national teams that play quality attacking soccer while fielding two deep-lying midfielders (like Spain and Argentina). Obviously it’s easier to do when you have world-class attackers, but the issue is more about trying to identify a player to anchor the midfield rather than having two players sitting in a deep role.

Jones seems more suited for that role, and has played it with distinction quite often for Schalke 04, but Klinsmann has stated on more than one occasion that he doesn’t feel Jones can have the discipline to sit deep and not surge forward, which has become a trademark for him with the U.S. team.

Bradley could play that defensive midfield role, but playing one of the U.S. team’s best passers and someone who can deliver goals of his own in a role like that wouldn’t necessarily help the attack or the balance of the team.

If you start with the premise that Jones and Bradley are too good not to have in the lineup (which Klinsmann has made clear), then one of them has to take on the No. 6 role if the American attack is going to have room for some players who can stretch defenses and set up for the forwards. If you don’t, and you insist on playing either a Danny Williams or Maurice Edu behind Jones and Bradley, you are left with three pure attackers who have that much less service and fewer options to work with in attack.

Are there instances where having that defensive a lineup can be necessary? Sure, the argument can be made that fielding a Bradley-Jones-Edu/Williams triangle in Mexico City could provide the defensive bite to stifle the Mexican attack, but if the loss to Honduras showed us anything it is that being too compact and narrow in midfield can also leave you vulnerable on the flanks against dangerous attacking

What sort of system might work given the players available? Here are a few four-man midfields that could make more sense to provide a better balance of defensive bite and attack:









Obviously if Brek Shea or Landon Donovan are back in the mix they give Klinsmann even more flexibility, and give us lineups that look like this:






(UPDATE_You can also consider, as some here have noted, the 4-2-3-1, with Dempsey behind a lone forward, like this:




F. Johnson————–Dempsey——————–Zusi


Though in reality playing Dempsey behind a lone striker will wind up playing like a 4-4-2 anyway.


Whether he turns to any of these midfield combinations, or any others, Klinsmann will have to seriously consider Jones or Bradley as the team’s No. 6, not only to ensure getting both players on the field, but also to fit one more pure attacker in the midfield, which could help the team’s forward receive the kind of service they will need to generate goals in 2013.

If he stands pat, we could find ourselves watching more disjointed and offensively disappointing performances like we saw against Honduras.


What do you think of the make-up of the U.S. midfield? Do you agree that Jones or Bradley have to play in the deeper role if the U.S. attack will be able to flow? What midfield combination would you consider the best option for Klinsman?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. I can’t believe that no one thinks that Brad Davis can’t be effective on the left wing, you name every other player ie: Gatt, Holden, Shea, Diskerud, but I think you are not giving enough credit to Davis. Klinsmann should try him out there. He is better defensively than given credit for and he passes and hits dead balls better than anyone else in Mls right now

  2. With this team, JK needs to forget 3 in the mid and play a 4-4-2. Bradley and Jones in the center with Dempsey and someone with some speed and crossing ablility on the right (Gatt, Donovan if back, Chandler if Parkhurst starts playing or if Dolo is back.) Altidore and Gomez/Agudelo up top.

    Altidore and Gomez/Agudelo are much better playing with a partner and Dempsey has shown time and again he is best playing wide, pinching in and giving the LB (Johsnson) room to overlap. If Shea is available and playing for Stoke, we may want to put him on the left with Dempsey on the right and Chandler providing the overlapping runs.

    If Holden comes back healthy, we may be able to play effectively with Bradley and Holden in front of a defensive mid but I still believe it does not play into the rest of teams strengths.

  3. I don’t understand why almost everyone is including Chandler. He never wanted to play for the US, and he was the worst player on the field in the only official game he played for the US.

      • Parkhurst. Lichaj could be given a look. Cameron has been playing right back for Stoke all season. Unfortunately, none of them is German; although, Parkhurst is probably scoring some brownie points with Klinsmann for playing in Germany now. Actually, prior to the Honduras game, my preferred back line was Cameron-Gonzalez-Boca-Johnson.

      • No one else to include? Are you sure about that, MCFootball? And, yeah, I do think Parkhurst would have done a better job against Honduras than Chandler, plus we have other viable options at right back, such as Geoff Cameron, Lichaj, Evans, and Chance Meyers, who are aching to wear the shirt and who, in the long, long haul, can contribute more to the USMNT than a player who has signed on only to play in a World Cup. Parkhurst on Sunday put in a very good shift at right back against a good Mainz team.

        I am surprised that after not showing his face at a USMNT camp for over a year and then putting in a dreadful — almost laughable — performance against Honduras that people are still designating Chandler as the USMNT right back for the next 10 world cups and bad-mouthing Parkhurst and other potential right backs (who Klinsmann strategically has not called in for looks). I would be happy if Chandler the prima donna never plays again for the USMNT, but Klinsmann has other ideas. It will be a relief when Cherundolo is healthy again.

      • You lost me at Lichaj…Lichaj is a LB and can’t get time on the worst defensive team in the EPL. Also, you pencil in Gonzalez, who was arguably worse. 40% pass completion rate from a CB is utterly pathetic. Not to mention losing a simple mark on goal #2. Parkhurst possibly, we’ve seen him a few times now and each time was unimpressive. I want Dolo back as much as the next guy but your replacements are a joke. Surprised you didn’t say Castillotoo, or heck Connor Lade.

      • And nearly anyone would have done better than Chandler, Gonzalez and Williams in Honduras. Although Fabian and Cameron don’t rate too much better from that game.

  4. —————————————–Gomez———————————————–




    ***** If everyone was available I would like to see this line-up. Zusi steps in for Landon if he isn’t available. I wrote it as a 4231 to emphasize the fact that Demps could have some freedom to roam.

  5. It’s a little funny that we’re all talking about changing the midfield around when, as someone mentioned above, the defense was the big let down. We were up 1 in an away qualifier in tough conditions before giving up two soft goals (I know the 1st one was a great finish, but the ball should never have gotten to him). If Bocanegra starts we might be talking about 3 away points and first place in the Hex. That said, this feels like the defense of the future, unless someone appears to beat out Gonzalez, and I can’t fault Klinsmann too much for giving it a shot.

    I do think we’ll want a different formation for future games, when we’re at home and maybe have some more attacking options available. If Donovan/Holden come back and Shea is in form, they can play the wings and we can pull one of the CMs. But until then, the three CMs are the best players available, especially when you are away and are trying to play conservatively.

    I’m also not clear on why everyone is so down on Williams, and so high on Jones. I feel like we didn’t hear Williams’ name much, which is good if you’re playing in a defensive role, and that for the most part the dangerous attacks were coming down the wings. Jones is a good player and has flashes of brilliance, but he also gives the ball up too easily and makes stupid mistakes. He’s also one of the oldest players on the team. If I had to choose which of them to pair with Bradley in a future formation with two CMs, I’d lean towards Williams, especially since he seems more willing to stay home and let Bradley push forward.

  6. Mix or Feilhaber at CAM. Boca and Cameron at CB. I think Gatt would play better with the senior team as well. I’d give him another chance. We need some kind of signs of life in midfield. I hope we see a little more youth in our wings and some creativity in CM.


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