Ranking the USMNT Talent Pool: Attacking Midfielders

Ranking the USMNT Talent Pool: Attacking Midfielders

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Ranking the USMNT Talent Pool: Attacking Midfielders

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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.

The following list features the players who will be vying for the dual 10 roles in Gregg Berhalter’s system. The players on this list aren’t all traditional number 10-types. Several are closer to being box-to-box midfielders than the advanced playmaker often thought of when discussing the number 10 role.

In fact, most of the players in this group are more classically number 8-type midfielders, and the reality is right now there isn’t a pure attacking midfielder who is dominant enough to justify having in the lineup despite being a clear defensive liability.

Christian Pulisic is the best attacking midfield option in the USMNT player pool, but he also happens to be the best winger option. The lack of first team-ready winger options has made Pulisic spend more time on the wings under Berhalter, but he could very easily shift into a central role if and when some of the plethora of talented young wingers develops enough to allow Pulisic to shift into the middle.

Of course, if some attacking midfielder options emerge, then Pulisic could wind up staying out wide.

With all that in mind, here are the Top 20 attacking midfielder prospects in the USMNT talent pool heading into the 2022 World Cup cycle:

Weston McKennie

Currently the first-choice option in Berhalter’s dual 10 roles (at least the first one not named Pulisic), but his place atop this list is much more about Berhalter rating him in the role than it is with there being a real consensus that he’s perfectly-suited for the role. The reality is he is more an 8 than a 10, and some would argue he’s better suited as a defensive midfielder, but his ability to make surging runs out of midfield to help the attack will likely keep him further up the field for the USMNT.

McKennie’s versatility is both a gift and a curse because it has kept him from being able to settle into a steady role on the club level. More recently, McKennie has settled into a defensive midfield role at Schalke, and performed well there. He should continue to be a prominent figure in the USMNT midfield for the next decade.

Richie Ledezma

A foot injury that cost him the better part of a year slowed down his rapid rise up the American youth ranks, but his impressive showing at the Under-20 World Cup gave U.S. fans a glimpse of the skill that made him such a highly-regarded prospect.

Ledezma carried over some momentum from the Under-20 World Cup into a good run at PSV, where he has become a regular fixture for Jong PSV in the Dutch second division. He is an excellent passer, can create goal-scoring chances for himself and teammates, and has improved the defensive side of his game as well. He is still waiting for his senior club debut, but that moment is fast approaching for a player who was chosen to be part of the U.S. Olympic qualifying team.

Alex Mendez

A highly-skilled attacking midfield prospect who starred with the U.S. Under-20s, Mendez made an important move from German side Freiburg to Ajax, where should have the opportunity to further sharpen his game.

Mendez has a deadly left foot, is a threat with set pieces, and can unlock defenses with his passing. He will need to navigate the tough path at Ajax to earn the first-team minutes to gain any ground on the midfielders ahead of him on this list.

Sebastian Lletget

The 27-year-old is the oldest player on this list, and is arguably one of the most underrated due to injuries that have cost him a ton of time. He is one of the closest examples of a pure 10 in this field, and he showed once again in 2019 that when he can stay healthy he can be effective.

Lletget’s experience and skill should keep him in line to be a top option for Nations League this summer and World Cup qualifying in the fall, but if he can’t stay healthy, he could slip on this list as the younger options mature.

Duane Holmes

More of a box-to-box midfielder than pure playmaker, Holmes has enjoyed a strong season with League Championship side Derby County. An injury cost him a chance at his place at last summer’s Gold Cup, but he was surprisingly left off multiple USMNT rosters in the fall.

Holmes brings a combination of defensive bite and dynamic attacking play to the midfield, and was in outstanding form before an ankle injury in February sidelined him.

Cristian Roldan

The Seattle Sounders midfielder has become a Berhalter favorite, though he hasn’t made the most of his national team opportunities over the past year. More a box-to-box midfielder who would probably be better suited in a deeper-lying role, Roldan has struggled to make his mark in the USMNT attack.

That said, Roldan has continued to be one of the better midfielders in MLS, and the 24-year-old will continue to earn looks from Berhalter, at least until some younger options emerge and develop.

Emerson Hyndman

After having his career stall in England, Hyndman made a much-needed move to MLS, where Atlanta United proved to be an ideal landing spot for him. The former FC Dallas academy product arrived last summer and quickly settled into a regular role for the Eastern Conference power.

Hyndman started 2020 with Atlanta United looking very sharp, responding well to the increased responsibility in the absence of Darlington Nagbe. He score goals in Atlanta United’s first two MLS matches, and would be a good fit in Berhalter’s system.

Brendan Aaronson

The 19-year-old Philadelphia Union midfielder went from academy prospect to regular starter in 2019, showing some impressive attacking qualities as a creative force in the middle of the Union midfield. He beat out Mexican star Marco Fabian for the starting role and showed improvement as the year went on.

Clever on the ball, and adept at making smart runs from midfield, Aaronson has earned several USMNT call-ups already, and was in line for a starting role in Olympic qualifying.

Paxton Pomykal

A breakout 2019 saw Pomykal start for FC Dallas as well as impress at the Under-20 World Cup. His versatility, and ability to generate chances made him one of the most exciting young prospects in MLS.

The heavy workload eventually caught up to Pomykal, who was forced to have offseason surgery, but once he returns to full health in 2020 he will be a top young MLS player to watch. He was expected to play an important role in Olympic qualifying, but will find the competition tough to break into the USMNT this year.

Julian Green

A player still waiting for his first call from Berhalter, Green has thrived with 2.Bundesliga side Gruether Fuerth, developing into an effective two-way midfielder with a much more balanced game than he had when he was a young Bayern Munich prospect.

Injuries have hampered Green in recent months, but with his contract expiring this summer, a move to a Bundesliga club this summer could help the 24-year-old force his way into the national team picture.

Djordje Mihailovic

A year ago Mihailovic was impressing in January USMNT camp and looking poised for a big 2019, but the Chicago Fire’s continued struggles limited his ability to really thrive.

A technically-gifted playmaker, Mihailovic showed well in the 2019 January USMNT camp, and his strengths are well-suited for Berhalter’s dual-10 system. He earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic qualifying squad, and was off to a good start with the Fire in the first matches of the 2020 season.

Gianluca Busio

The 17-year-old Sporting Kansas City midfielder showed some exciting glimpses in 2019, both in Under-17 World Cup qualifying and in MLS, but he still has to make a big step into earning more regular first-team minutes for SKC in 2020.

He should be a key figure on the U.S. Under-20 team as it attempts to qualify for the World Cup this summer, and continues to be the target of European transfer interest given his skill and possession of an Italian passport.

Cole Bassett

The Colorado Rapids midfielder didn’t have the strongest finish to 2019, but his reunion with former Rapids coach Anthony Hudson in the U.S. Under-20 setup is already showing signs of helping him have a big 2020.

The 18-year-old playmaker was one of the stars of the recent U.S. Under-20 camp, and should be a key figure in Under-20 World Cup qualifying this summer, but the key to his year will be winning a starting role with the Rapids. That’s assuming he doesn’t make a move to Europe, which is possible.

Malik Tillman

The 17-year-old German-born prospect has been lighting it up with Bayern Munich’s U-19 team, scoring goals and generating transfer attention. Adept as a striker and attacking midfielder, Tillman has a handful of U.S. youth national team camps, which suggests he should be in the U.S. picture going forward. That said, hi recent success could lead the German Federation to try and convince Timothy Tillman’s younger brother to play for Germany.

Luca De La Torre

The 21-year-old Fulham midfielder had started to make the transition to the Cottagers first team as a regular on the bench, but minutes have still been difficult to come by and he hadn’t dressed with the first team in more than a month. He has made four appearances in all competitions this season.

The former U.S. Under-20 World Cup midfielder has been linked to moves away from Fulham in the past, and a move to MLS could help him jumpstart his career, while also helping him navigate a deep field of Olympic-eligible midfielders.

Frankie Amaya

The former number one overall MLS Draft pick showed some glimpses as a rookie for FC Cincinnati, but the team’s expansion struggles limited his ability to really show his quality. Amaya looks poised to take on a bigger role in 2020, with his confidence on the ball and passing touch giving him the tools to help a team destined to struggle again.

Matko Miljevic

Born in Miami, but raised in Argentina, Miljevic has committed himself to the United States and the Argentinos Juniors midfielder heads into 2020 fighting for first-team minutes after making five league appearances in 2019. He should figure into Anthony Hudson’s plans for Under-20 World Cup qualifying as a mobile and shifty playmaker.

Mukwelle Akale

The Minnesota-born Akale has been patiently working his way up the ranks at Villarreal, most recently settling in with Villarreal B. The 23-year-old midfielder would benefit from a loan move or move to a league and team where first-team minutes could help him take the next step in his development.

Marcelo Palomino

The newly-signed Houston Dynamo homegrown player is a skilled playmaker who is currently in the U.S. Under-20 national team setup, and should thrive under new Dynamo coach Tab Ramos.

Gedion Zelalem

A year further away from ACL surgery, and now on a team that could be more suited to his strengths, Zelalem is a player who shouldn’t be overlooked as a player who could rebound in 2020. The New York City FC signing will face stiff competition for minutes, but if he can earn a regular role, then a career rebirth can’t be ruled out.

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