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Ranking the USMNT Talent Pool: Defensive Midfielders

With the game of soccer currently on hold around the world, it is a good time to take stock of the U.S. Men’s National Team talent pool as we wait for the sport to resume.

SBI is taking a closer look at each position in the USMNT player pool, ranking the top options, based both on recent form, and potential.

Up next is the defensive midfield role, which is in a state of transition as we reach the tail end of the Michael Bradley era. The 32-year-old Toronto FC captain is arguably still Berhalter’s preferred option in the role, but with World Cup qualifying in the fall, the question is when will Berhalter hand the keys over to the next generation?

Complicating that question has been Tyler Adams’ lengthy injury layoff. Adams has long been seen as the natural replacement for Bradley, even if Berhalter’s early experiment with Adams as a right back raised some questions about where the USMNT coach sees Adams long term.

The reality is that, while Berhalter continues to see Weston McKennie as an attacking midfielder, Adams is miles ahead of the pack in the USMNT defensive midfield prospects category. That being said, it remains unclear just where in the midfield Berhalter would deploy Adams, and if he sees him specifically as a six, or if he might be considering deploying Adams further up the field to take advantage of his dynamic qualities.

The position has a very promising generation of young prospects who are probably still a few years away from making a mark on the USMNT. Daniel Leyva (Seattle Sounders), Edwin Cerillo (FC Dallas), Aidan Morris (Columbus Crew) and Bryang Kayo (unattached) are five names to keep in mind when the 2026 World Cup roles around.

It should also be noted that there are players currently listed on other positional charts who could very easily wind up in a defensive midfield role. McKennie is a prime example, but versatile youngsters like James Sands and Owen Otasowie, and veterans like Cristian Roldan and Marky Delgado, are players who could wind up in the conversation, as could Hassani Dotson.

With all that in mind, here are the Top 10 defensive midfield prospects in the USMNT pipeline heading into the 2022 World Cup cycle:

Tyler Adams

Don’t let his stint on the sidelines fool you, Adams is a star in the making, and RB Leipzig’s recent sale of Diego Demme shows how highly they rate him. Adams is a force in the middle of the park, and Berhalter should run, not walk, to install him as his starter when the USMNT returns to action.

Adams can play as a right back, as we saw recently with RB Leipzig, but there is no current USMNT midfielder who can provide the kind of dynamic and imposing presence that Adams can bring to the defensive midfield role. Did we mention he’s also just 21 years old?

Jackson Yueill

Few players saw their stock rise more in 2019 than Yueill, who flourished under Matias Almeyda at the San Jose Earthquakes, developing the qualities needed to emerge as a serious defensive midfield option for the USMNT.

As a result, the 22-year-old has leapfrogged some established figures on the national team depth chart, and he has made a fan out of Berhalter, who has stated publicly how impressed he has been with Yueill’s development.

Alfredo Morales

The 29-year-old wouldn’t have been on this list if he hadn’t made his return to the USMNT in the fall (our rankings exclude older options who aren’t already in the national team picture) but as a regular starter for Bundesliga side Fortuna Dusseldorf, Morales has earned his place this high in the rankings.

Morales brings more bite and physicality than most of the other players on this list, which gives him an edge, and while he is on the older side of the coin, he played some of the best soccer of his career in the second half of 2019, which suggests he is improving, rather than fading, so a run at a 2022 World Cup place — when he would be 32 — shouldn’t be written off.

Keaton Parks

American soccer fans didn’t know much about Parks before 2019, other than that he was a prospect who was developing in Portugal. Parks made a very good impression with his successful first season at New York City FC. The loan move to MLS paid dividends as Parks thrived playing in the heart of NYCFC’s strong midfield.

Parks has made the move to NYCFC permanent, and if the 22-year-old can continue to play at a high level in MLS, then a look from Berhalter should come soon.

Wil Trapp

The 27-year-old gradually saw his standing in the USMNT pecking order diminish as he put in a 2019 season with the Columbus Crew that was below his usual high standard. That slide came as other defensive midfield prospects emerged, and now Trapp finds himself fading out of the picture.

A trade to Inter Miami should help give Trapp a chance to thrive in some new surroundings, playing for a manager in Diego Alonso who could help him work his way back into the national team picture.

Chris Durkin

The 19-year-old had a roller coaster 2019. He was a starter at the Under-20 World Cup, though he endured some struggles in that tournament. His fight for minutes at D.C. United continued, and he eventually needed a loan move to Belgium to try and find playing time.

After initially being stuck on the bench at St. Truiden, Durkin rattled off five straight starts to close out 2019, and he has some momentum heading into the new year.

Brandon Servania

A player who really came on strong in the second half of 2019, Servania rode the momentum of a good showing at the Under-20 World Cup into earning a starting role with FC Dallas. He made the most of that opportunity, helping FC Dallas reach the playoffs and showing off the qualities that caught the eye of Gregg Berhalter.

The result was a call for the January camp, though he has stiff competition ahead of him in the current Olympic qualifying midfield pool, and at FC Dallas.  The 20-year-old hasn’t come close to reaching his full potential just yet, so don’t rule out another big leap in 2020.

Christian Cappis

The FC Dallas academy product was forced to head to Europe after MLS refused to let him sign with FC Dallas, and his move to Danish side Hobro has been a blessing. He has earned regular playing time, showing off his attacking quality in a more advanced role than he has played with various youth national teams.

Cappis had stints with the U-20 and U-23 national teams in 2019, and started 2020 in the USMNT January camp. The 20-year-old is projecting more as a defensive midfielder, but his effectiveness in attack makes him a well-rounded prospect with a bright future.

Johnny Cardoso

The least well-known of the names on this list, Cardoso was raised in Brazil after being born in New Jersey, and currently plays for Brazilian side Internacional. Contacted by Gregg Berhalter in September, Cardoso accepted a call-up to the U.S. Under-23 national team and earned rave reviews from that camp.

The 18-year-old is age eligible for the next Under-20 cycle, but could play his way into the Olympic picture if he can earn regular minutes at Internacional. That’s a tall order, but whether it happens for him in 2020 or a bit later, Cardoso is a defensive midfield prospect with the profile to climb very high on this list.

Hassani Dotson

One of the best rookies in MLS in 2019, Dotson emerged from relative obscurity to become an intriguing national prospect. He has the versatility to play as a defensive midfielder or right back, but the real challenge for Dotson in 2020 will be earning regular playing time on an improved Minnesota United quad.

The fact Dotson was named to the Olympic qualifying roster bodes will for his standing in the USMNT player pool, but he’ll need to find regular minutes with the Loons if there are going to be any call-ups in his near future.

Comments

  1. Reminds me of the Adams to RB experiment, even though he plays an incredibly free role, just like at RB…..just like the gretatest coaches in the world use their full backs now….but that was PROOF of his sheer idiocy! Always will be!!!! Right? LOL.
    Adams belomgs at DM for us right now, but the experts here show time and again how bias and ignorant they are.
    Nagelsman, Klopp, Guardiola are clearly all morons for playing their full backs the way the do. Always great to check in once a mth to remember how ignorant, and how mentally and emotionally unbalanced regular poster are. I don’t have a real life….I do nothing of real importance, aso I come here and make believe I am….all anoynmously. Go look up the sudies on constant social media posters and users….the more time one spends and posts the sadder it gets. Constant users show real mental and emotional issues in the real world….if only one or two of you researches and treis it will be worth it. Otherwise carry on with your fanatsies, bias and delusions.

    Reply
    • The idea is to send one fullback high up the pitch to spread things wide(5 across the front is the en vogue attack) and have one tuck in to prevent the counter. With the depth of decent options we have at rb and lack of options at dm I think it’s very fair to argue that Adams should be our dm. Our lack of a true Lb Who can bomb fwd means we could easily use the lb as our ‘Shield’ on the counter. Problem with that is the lack of an overlap option for Pulisic who is our strongest attacking asset. The USMNT is a tough puzzle to piece together. We do have some decent options but fitting three into a coherent starting 11 is hard.

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    • Yes way, if only for right now! When you consider that Yueill has accrued more minutes than Morales over the past year it makes sense that Ives would put Yueill ahead of Alfredo.

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  2. I can agree with the top 3 players listed, although I might argue that McKennie should be listed as the # 2 CDM. I get that Berhaulter uses him as an 8, but he’s still more defensively inclined. Yueill & Morales are a coin toss for 3 & 4.
    Where I disagree is Trapp as being the 4th best CDM in our pool. His lack of recovery speed and inability to retain possession against even mid-level CONCACAF opposition should have been enough to knock him out of the top 10 completely.
    Parks I see as more of a creative 8 than a CDM. I just don’t think he’s got the physicality/grit for the CDM role when we have to grind it out against some of the more physical teams.
    A name that I think should be listed but isn’t is Sands. I realize he plays CB for NYCFC, but I think that at the international stage he projects more as a CDM than a CB. His range of passing might not be there yet, but I think he can be a nice physical presence against certain types of opponents. Besides we have more & better CB prospects.

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    • you mad, or nah?! People need to relax already, continuing to bitch about what Greg has done after only a year in charge, a year that needed and saw a lot of changes is not grounds to keep up this narrative that he doesn’t have a clue. I’m more inclined to give a manager that has a plan in place, who wants to change the culture of a team that had rotted under the last administration and who is also giving younger players a chance at the senior level the benefit of the doubt. Try and have some perspective, instead of this incessant need to diminish and whine about Greg’s roster moves this past year.

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  3. I am confused why Michael Bradley isn’t on this list? Is he not considered a Defensive Midfielder? Or is it just assumed he is our number one.

    Reply
    • Aw, C’mon, read the article it says:

      “Up next is the defensive midfield role, which is in a state of transition as we reach the tail end of the Michael Bradley era. The 32-year-old Toronto FC captain is arguably still Berhalter’s preferred option in the role, but with World Cup qualifying in the fall, the question is when will Berhalter hand the keys over to the next generation?”

      Reply
      • You didn’t answer the question, though (nor did the article). I can only hope, based on Ives’ inside info and constant defense of MB, the fact he’s not on this list might mean the time is up (rather than just approaching).

        We can only hope…

      • “ The 32-year-old Toronto FC captain is arguably still Berhalter’s preferred option in the role, but with World Cup qualifying in the fall, the question is when will Berhalter hand the keys over to the next generation?” What is the point of making this statement if you don’t even include Bradley in the list? I’m thrilled he’s not on your list, believe me, I just don’t understand why you stated that (except to get readers worked up…?)

  4. Can Trapp really make a move to Europe at his age? Cameron did but his versatility probably made it worth a shot…..

    I wouldn’t be upset if we never see Trapp play for the US…well maybe against low level Concacaf…..

    Reply
    • Has to be a throwaway comment. Where is he gonna move? He got benched by an MLS team that didn’t make the playoffs. Is a middling year in the Danish league going to move the needle? He ain’t going anywhere legit, nor is he returning to the US team (unless Egg continues his infatuation with him and Bradley).

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      • LOL. Infatuation, Not a GB beliver but when was the last time trap played legit minutes for GB? If that is infatuation then our definitions clearly aren’t the same. I have an opinion and it ain’t changing no matter what the facts say. U r made for the internet.

    • What? Trapp had 9 appearances in 2019, and 9 appearances in 2018. And likely played one of the highest %s of minutes for the team. During which time no reasonable fan thought he was a top 11 (or even top 23) player in the US team.

      Just because Egg seems to have “seen the light” doesn’t mean there isn’t an infatuation. I hope Trapp is done, and think he likely is. But I also hope MB is done, and Ives (who is a bradley family insider) says he may still be Egg’s preferred option.

      U r made for the internet!

      Reply

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