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With Jones and Zusi out, USMNT sorting through options in midfield

Geoff Cameron

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SEATTLE – The latest examples of players on the U.S. Men’s National Team who have stepped up and made the most of their opportunities when called upon have come in defense, with Matt Besler and Brad Evans recently proving more than serviceable options for U.S head coach Jurgen Klinsmann.

Now, Klinsmann is surely hoping that players in his midfield can do the same.

Midfield stalwarts Jermaine Jones (concussion) and Graham Zusi (yellow card accumulation) will both be unavailable for Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier against Panama at CenturyLink Field, and their absences will open the door for other players who have not seen as much time lately to fill in and impress Klinsmann and the rest of the U.S. coaching staff much in the same way that Evans and Besler have in recent months.

While the loss of both Jones and Zusi undoubtedly hurts the Americans’ midfield, the team is confident that there are several capable options on the bench. Geoff Cameron, a traditional center midfielder who has spent much of the past two years in defense for club and country, is one of those options.

In fact, Cameron might be the odds-on favorite to replace Jones on Tuesday given that he was subbed on for the German-American ahead of Sacha Kljestan after Jones suffered a concussion in the 59th minute of the Americans’ 2-1 World Cup qualifying win over Jamaica at Independence Park last Friday.

“He’s got a good body for the position, he runs really easily, he’s got good physical stature, so it would make a good partnership (with Michael Bradley),” said goalkeeper Tim Howard. “But we also have options, with Sacha in there and Sacha can also play wide. As much as Graham has been fantastic for us on the wing and Jermaine’s been a rock, we’ve got options and I don’t think we’ll lose a beat so that’s a positive.”

Cameron showed well in his brief cameo at center midfield in Kingston, serving as another good link between the defense and the attack. Cameron also provided solid defense and energy that allowed Bradley to push further up the field and into more dangerous positions vs. the Reggae Boyz.

“I told him, I thought he put in a really good shift in the center midfield,” said Howard. “We needed him to kind of use his legs and get around the pitch a bit and kind of dictate things and dominate, and I thought he did that really well. His passing was good, he found good spots to receive the ball, didn’t hide, so I thought it was a really good performance.”

As for Zusi’s replacement on Tuesday, there are several options. Klinsmann could use Fabian Johnson on the right side to make way for either Brad Davis or Edgar Castillo on the left flank. But what Klinsmann could also do is field one of Eddie Johnson or Joe Corona, two players who are not traditional wingers but who have been used in wide spots before.

For instance, Eddie Johnson was deployed as a left-sided midfielder in his U.S. return against Antigua & Barbuda in the last round of qualifying and in that match he scored twice to lift the U.S. to an important 2-1 victory. Johnson then followed up that performance with an assist in a 3-1 triumph over Guatemala, a sign that he is comfortable and productive out on the wings even if that is not his preferred place to be.

“I’ve played there. I got two goals and an assist from playing out wide,” said Johnson. “At the end of the day, I’m not the coach, I don’t make the decisions but we’re in this camp for a reason. If the coach is going to put us, or if it’s myself out wide, he put me outside for a reason, because he sees something in me or sees that I can be more affective out there against that opponent on that given day.”

Corona may be more of an outside shot to replace Zusi, but he is the player who would give Klinsmann the least amount of tinkering to do if he were to start. Klinsmann has said previously that he considers Corona a right midfield option despite him playing more centrally for his club team, Tijuana, and Corona said Sunday he feels comfortable out wide.

“When I first started playing with Xolos, that was my position at first then I was moving up into the middle,” said Corona. “I’m familiar with the position.”

“If Joe plays, he’s a tricky winger,” said Howard. “He gets up and down, he provides good service, he likes to keep the width but also come inside, a bit like Graham.”

The U.S. may have several options in midfield to replaces Jones and Zusi, but Klinsmann now needs to pinpoint which ones will be the most likely to deliver on Tuesday.

Accomplish that and the U.S. will not only improve their chances of picking up three more crucial points in qualifying, but also show once again just how deep the team really is.


  1. Why is no one talking about Stu? is he having a bad camp? Is his fitness not back? when healthy he is one of our most talented players.

    • I just do not believe Holden is healthy nor game sharp. He may never be what he was once becoming and it really makes me sad because the kid obviously loves the game more then most.

      Sincerely hope I am wrong

  2. What does JK see in Klejstan? What has Klejstan ever brought to the team? Now is the time to bring Donovan back. Donovan is fit, playing well, and would add a creative spark to the lineup. Alternatively, Brad Davis would be a competent replacement to Zusi. If the team needs a speedy and creative player (as all teams do), why not give Pontius a chance?

    • I like you am befuddled by Klejstan constant call ups. To me he is an instant liability everytime he steps onto the pitch. Might be a nice guy but just a terrible U.S. National player.
      I honestly prefer Beckerman.

      • I have always been a fan of Kyle Beckerman. I could see him stepping into the central mid-fielder role. He is aggressive and plays with passion. He can attack and immediately shift back into a marking role. He is not one to ball watch and unfortunately we have seen too much of that with the USMNT, especially late in the games.

  3. Sure would be nice to replace that Zusi guy with that other guy whose name rhymes with, “hand in done oven”

    Here is what I would do:

    Cameron Gonzo Besler F. Johnson
    Corona Evans Bradley Beasley
    Altidore Dempsey

    Here is what JK will do:
    F. Johnson Goodson Besler Beasley
    Klejstan Cameron Bradley
    E. Johnson Altidore Dempsey

  4. Don’t like Fabian and Corona in the midfield together. Both tend to play centrally. Either start Fabian and E. Johnson in midfield. Or drop Fabian to LB and put Castillo and Corona together in midfield. Since both play for Tijuana they’re familiar with each other.

  5. Well the good thing is JK should be able to call in a new body because we had to release one back to club. And if i am JK i am trying everything to get the next 2 home games as a win and be damned with yellow cards. Cause i would wrather loose in mexico then loose at home cause of yellow cards.

  6. Cameron in the middle and Klejstan on the right. Eddie Johnson is too much of a defensive liability on the wing against teams other than Antigua & Barbuda. I also think Brad Davis should get the start at left mid after Fabian Johnson’s poor showing in Jamaica.

  7. Hindsight is 20/20, and JK had his reasons, but now would be a really nice time to have Donovan available. Not just for the injuries, but also his creativity in breaking open a bunker defense.

  8. Bradley needs to commit a yellow-card offense tomorrow night. I’d rather him out for Honduras at home than our upcoming road qualifiers or Mexico down the road.

    • Well, then again, if JJ is out next week, too, we’ll need Bradley against Honduras. If we clone Bradley, do both get suspended for card accumulation?

  9. Id love to see him start Corona since he’s more of an offensive player. If we take a lead sub him out at the half. If we dont then bring in EJ as a 2nd half jolt/veteran. But we should be looking to take the game down Panama’s throats. We dont need 7 defenders (Beasley, Besler, Omar, Evans, Fab, Cam, Castillo) as some are suggesting. We should be attacking them

  10. How about the most prolific attacking player in USMNT history? You know, that guy that leads the team in goals and assists by double digits in both categories?

  11. Regarding yellow cards – how many players on the other teams area carrying yellow card? The card could really impact the outcome on all games. I do think that after a certain amount of time the card should be ‘erased’. The fact that cards carry though out a tournament might be ok,, but is really weird for WCQ as it last over two years and many ’rounds’ of play.

  12. trying to put together my starting xi and all of this ambiguity is not helping!

    is what i am going with but I could see a number of different variations..

  13. EJ won’t start on the wing:
    1, he can’t track back and leave the left exposed to DMB with their speed
    2, Jozy couldn’t go 90 last game and Herc isn’t ready
    3, If you need a late goal and have to add your attack we have to have someone off the bench
    EJ is your sub up top and will get a run out

    Brad Davis is too slow – he will not start

    It will be Fabian on the right and Castillo on the left
    Or Fabian on the left and Corona on the right

    All signs are pointing to Cam starting in the middle

    Cam & Castillo…..Book it

  14. To follow up with our discussion above–

    Just confirmed that not only do yellows not wipe at all during the HEX, but they didn’t wipe before the HEX. Michael Bradley is one card away from a suspension and his last card came during the last round.

      • Beasley, Bradley, Besler, Deuce, Fabian, and both Brads.. all carrying yellow. That is scary with JJ out and unsure about next week, Herc still hurt, and a weak bench.. with one more game this round

      • Let’s say in a rough game against Costa Rica, which will probably be the case, each of these guys get a yellow, we would have to scramble to formulate a game plan against Mexico. Hopefully, they can go yellow card free for the next two games. Even with Zusi and Jones out, there is no way they should lose at home; this goes for the Honduras game as well.If the U.S. can win these next two games , they will in great position at 13 points… so close to clinching a spot for WC 2014.

  15. I don’t know how much I would read into Cameron coming into the Jamaica game. Trying to protect a lead on the road is different then starting a home match. One option I haven’t really seen is starting Evans along side Bradley and returning Cameron to right back. Not saying it’s what I’d do just thought I’d throw it out there.

      • That’s part of the reason why. I think they are both signed through the 2015 season. That being said, I think if a team from one of the big four leagues in Europe wanted either player, they could be had for the right price.

        I will say that I definitely think Zusi’s time in a SKC jersey is limited; if he keeps going the way he is, I expect him to be transferred after the 2014 World Cup. Besler is a bit tougher to predict–Kansas City is his hometown, and he has a lower profile than Zusi, both of which point to him maybe staying.

  16. I think one thing that’s been understated is the defensive work that Zusi has been putting in from that right wing position. I really think that’s what will be missed most, since we have options that can contribute offensively. I have not been impressed with the willingness/ability to track back from EJ (or FJ for that matter) from the right wing. I have no idea about Corona since I cant remember ever seeing him play that position. Hopefully it will be a moot point if Panama is missing attackers and decides to bunker in. Still could be a concern on counters though.

  17. What this points to is the serious, serious need for FIFA to look at yellow card accumulation rules across the board. They are moronic.

    • I responded to another poster on this. What’s the exact rule? When do yellows clear out? If you get a yellow in the first game of the Hex, is it still on the books for the 10th game?

      • Having a yellow be outstanding for 9 games is ridiculous.

        When did Bradley get his yellow? Certainly not in the Hex.

      • Somebody up higher said it’s even worse: cards in the first qual round carry over to the hex. Bradley received his yellow June 12, 2012, virtually an entire year ago. It’s absurd.

      • From my understanding–that is correct. You can receive a yellow in game 1 and game 6 which will result in a suspension for game 7.

        I’m trying to find the rules to confirm, but they’re inexplicably absent from CONCACAF’s site (shocker, I know).

      • That’s because this is a FIFA regulation:

        “If a player receives a caution in two separate matches of the same FIFA
        competition, he is automatically suspended from the next match in that
        competition. The Disciplinary Committee may exceptionally depart from or
        amend this rule before the start of a particular competition. Any such decision
        reached by the Disciplinary Committee is final.”

    • Why are they “moronic’? They punish players for repeat misconduct. If you take accumulation away you get more violent play and negative play. Zusi picked up a legitimate foul and he knew what he was doing – it was a tactical foul intended to stop the Jamaican attack. Does anyone want more tactical fouls every game slowing down the game and stifling attacks?

      • Yellows aren’t wiped before the HEX.

        You can pick up a yellow in the last round and pick up another within any of the 10 games and it’s a suspension.

        That’s not remotely close to “repeat misconduct.”

      • It’s a tough rule, but it’s part of the same competition. Everyone in the world is playing by the same rules and has for years. But I don’t see it as moronic. CONCACAF can request yellow cards to be cleared which I think they did after the second round last year. Somehow all the other teams trying to qualify are able to deal with it.

      • The rule in the past was yellows from qualifiers don’t carry over into the hex. I’m not sure why they changed bc it’s a bit excessive.

  18. I like the idea of Cameron playing centrally. He can slow down a counter and cover in the back. However based on play over the last three games I would play Holden on the right. He would bring a higher level of intelligence and quickness to that position, with better technical ability.

  19. Normally, I’d say throw Eddie Johnson at left wing and Fabian Johnson at right wing, but I think we really need to find some continuity in potential future pairings, and FJ and Beasley seem to be working out some kinks. I’d rather FJ stay on the left. If EJ can’t go on the right, no idea – doesn’t seem to be the smartest idea to start Corona for the first time in an important match. What about Deuce on the right and coming inside? 60-65 mins you can sub off FJ for EJ and get him going. Without a doubt, you need to get EJ on the field in Seattle.

    Oh, and in central midfield, anyone but Klejstan.

    • Agreed, HoboMike. I’m pretty sure EJ got his assist against Guatemala fro the right side as well. +1 on Klestjan… I’d rather see Corona or eve a semi-fit Holden, honestly. It could also be the type of opponent that Brad Davis could impact…

    • You just contradicted yourself, hobo. I agree we need to keep continuity with future pairings, so Dempsey needs to stay put and keep working with Jozy.

      And I don’t think EJ plays enough D to start on the wing.

      • I meant on pairings that are relatively new. I’m not worried about Dempsey or Jozy’s ability to adapt to new situations.

  20. One thing is for sure — need to keep Bradley from getting that second yellow, we need him to take part in the Honduras game.

    • Yeah good point. That’s a tough one, he’s not someone you want to take out even if you have a lead…. crap

    • Question on that point. When do yellows clear out? If you get a yellow in the first game of the Hex, is it still on the books for the 10th game?

      Actually, when did Bradley get his yellow?

      • It’s worse than you think. The yellows didn’t clear out at the beginning of the Hex, so yellows from the previous round are still in play. Bradley’s prior yellow came in the draw at Guatemala… on June 12, 2012.

      • this is such a BS rule. How on earth does it make the qualification process better? It’s a dumb rule to begin with, as it basically punishes a second yellow the same way as a red card.

      • Oh, ok. So getting a yellow in one game and getting a yellow 12 games later results in a suspension.

        CONCACAF is such a joke.

      • In CONMEBOL you can get yellow cards 16 games apart, and 2.5 years and get suspended. AFC & CAF have similar delays. Its called international soccer. Every country deals with it

      • Yes, but your yellow card accumulation is rescinded if you go a specific amount of games without a yellow card. So if you get a yellow card and go three, four or five without a yellow, the first is rescinded.

        As the WC qualifying is not a tournament, the roster is not locked until 24 hours (or 48) before the game, so Klinsmann is free to name other players to replace ones with yellow accumulation and/or injury, not just those he has named for the US roster last month.

        So where is Edu and Donovan?

    • Because I love you guys, these are all the players who have received yellows – eight guys on one yellow, three (including Zusi) who’ve gotten two:

      B. Evans 6/7/13 @ Jamaica
      B. Davis 3/26/13 @ Mexico
      Beasley 3/26/13 @ Mexico
      Besler 3/26/13 @ Mexico
      Deuce 10/16/12 v Guatemala
      Edu 6/12/12 @ Guatemala
      F. Johnson 6/12/12 @ Guatemala
      Bradley 6/12/12 @ Guatemala

      Zusi 9/11/12 v Jamaica
      6/7/13 @ Jamaica
      (misses game v Panama 6/11/13)
      Jones 9/7/12 @ Jamaica
      10/12/12 @ Antigua & Barbuda
      (missed game v Guatemala 10/16/12)
      Goodson 6/12/12 @ Guatemala
      9/7/12 @ Jamaica
      (missed game v Jamaica 9/11/12)

  21. My choices would be Cameron and Davis with FJ inverted. Cameron has the defensive (enough) mindset that will free Bradley to come forward more. Davis will provide service from the flank, which will be needed against the bunker. EJ and Corona are great options off the bench, if necessary.

  22. With Johnson and Johnson out on the wings I could see the US getting multiple chances on goal against Panama. Without Perez their attack will be lacking and they may bunker in, plus with this being Eddie’s home stadium I could see him having a really good game.

    • If they bunker, which I imagine they will, then speed won’t help us as there won’t be space. So E. Johnson’s skill-set is useless.

      I’d rather we play someone creative out wide who can connect small passes. Enter: Corona.

      • Agreed. Johnson can be great in the air and does okay as a target man or someone to hold up play; none of those things will be useful if he plays on the wing.

      • His two headers vs Antigua were while playing on the left…. Also reports on the state of the field have been really bad. Laying grass on top of turf a week before the game didn’t work…. shocker. We may have to rely on our aerial game a bit more than we would like. Enter: Eddie Johnson

      • His two headers vs Antigua were while playing on the left…. Also reports on the state of the field have been really bad. Laying sod on top of turf a week before the game didn’t work well…. shocker. We may have to rely on our aerial game a bit more than we would like. Enter: Eddie Johnson

      • Or Kljestan. I like Corona but he’s never played with this group before. Seems risky to toss him in for a qualifier.

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