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United States national team depth chart: Looking at Graham Zusi and other right-sided attackers

Jun 25, 2013, 3:00 PM EDT

United States v Antigua & Barbuda - World Cup Qualifier Getty Images

Five U.S. matches over the last month has generated significant movement on the U.S. depth chart – perhaps more shuffling than in any month-long stretch in Jurgen Klinsmann’s time in charge, which is now approaching two years.

Over A few days we’ll continue to examine the U.S. depth chart, making our best educated guesses at how things stack up on Jurgen Klinsmann’s big board inside the manager’s Southern California offices.

Next up: RIGHT-SIDED ATTACKER

If we identify a couple of positions where some movement in the depth chart is not only possible but likely over the coming 12 months – before the big list of names bound for Brazil is revealed, that is – it surely is the outside attacker spots.

First off, we have to say “outside attacker” because Klinsmann’s teams lately haven’t really had “wingers,” nor are they the domain of outside midfielders, per se. Under Klinsmann, the tactical deployments appear to be something more like “positional suggestions,” with players assigned general positions and then set free to make of them what they will (on the attack, that is – there seem to be more specific defensive duties).

Herculez Gomez, who started on the left earlier this year, and right-sided installment Graham Zusi patrol their sides differently, for example. The disparate choices may combine more with the overlapping back, or may prefer to cut inside more frequently to hook up with Clint Dempsey. They may be more aggressive in taking on defenders or just generally look to create chances in varying areas of the field. Among guys like Eddie Johnson, Brad Davis, Brek Shea and Fabian Johnson, those most often chosen under Klinsmann to pull flank duty, there is ample stylistic variation afoot.

Further complicating the picture is which men are stationed behind the outside attackers? Are they more offensively or defensively inclined? (Because the answer affects team, defensive balance.) Are they more comfortable crossing from the end line, or better at the centering efforts from that 20- to 25-yard range? (Because the answer affects offensive balance.)

All that said, nobody has laid claim to one of these positions (on either side) the way Zusi (pictured) has. He started a bit slowly, less accustomed to receiving balls and creating in wider areas. But Klinsmann’s deployment of Zusi out wide coincided roughly with his shift to the wider channels at Sporting Kansas City, and it has all served to put the 26-year-old midfielder in wonderful shape in the U.S. pool.

Past that, this thing is a real mish-mash. Quick, who is ideally behind Zusi along the right?

See?

Is it Eddie Johnson, who performed the role adequately when Zusi was suspended two weeks ago? (“Adequately” will cut it for a home qualifier versus CONCACAF competition, but may look quite pedestrian when the quality of opposition rises in Brazil. And ultimately, isn’t that what we are talking about?)

Is it Fabian Johnson, who could only shift over to the right if the left-sided options became more plentiful? Is it Sacha Kljestan, who has mostly been a flank man (although one who leans significantly inside) under Klinsmann?

If Zusi falls to injury, does the pull to re-introduce Landon Donovan into first-team graces reach critical mass?

Or what about the up-and-comers in the pool, the likes of Alejandro Bedoya or Josh Gatt, who hope to move up the ordering with bright Gold Cup performance, assuming they are named to the final roster later this week.

And can we talk about any midfield or attacking position without mentioning Stuart Holden, who could certainly play along the right? No, we can’t. That would be silly. Of course he is an option – and we’ll know more about how much or one once the Gold Cup games begin in July.

U.S. RIGHT-SIDED ATTACKER ordering

  • 1. Graham Zusi
  • 2. Eddie Johnson
  • 3. Herculez Gomez
  • 4. Landon Donovan
  • 5. Stuart Holden
  • 6. Fabian Johnson
  • 7. Sacha Kljestan
  • 8. Jose Torres
  • 9. Josh Gatt
  • 10. Alejandro Bedoya

In review:

U.S. goalkeepers

U.S. right backs

U.S. left backs

U.S. center backs

U.S. holding midfielders

U.S. linking midfielders

Coming up later today: left-sided attackers

 

  1. planethotdog - Jun 25, 2013 at 3:18 PM

    I love EJ, but Landon Donovan is the only one who’s close to Zusi at this position. Maybe Holden in a pinch, when he gets healthy again and you want to play a possession-based game plan. Excited to see him (Holden) in the Gold Cup.

    • Steve Davis - Jun 25, 2013 at 4:06 PM

      I don’t disagree … but that’s not the question. The question is: Does Klinsmann trust Donovan to “buy in” as he has asked all other players to do? Remember, this is all based on our guesses (and they are just educated guesses) of how Klinsmann is thinking. And his thinking is ALWAYS big picture.

      • soccerjohn - Jun 25, 2013 at 4:15 PM

        EJ may be higher on the depth chart at the moment, but I’d be worried if I really believed that JK considers him a better option than Donovan. Even in less than top form, Donovan offers more than EJ on the wing. I think and hope that JK is handling Donovan with a focus more on 2014 than this summer.

      • planethotdog - Jun 26, 2013 at 2:25 PM

        This doesn’t answer your question directly, but I think LD is up for one more huge challenge in his career. Whether that’s a World Cup run or playing a season in Mexico (I absolutely think this would intrigue him), I wouldn’t bet against LD. Competition should help push Zusi, too. Only good things if LD comes back into the fold.

  2. jpi75 - Jun 25, 2013 at 3:27 PM

    How important is it to consider age in terms of player selection? I’m considering whether I would rather see a small group of younger players (like Josh Gatt) go to the WC ahead of a player like Sacha Kljestan in hope that said young players form the core of my team in the next cycle and have some experience to be the leaders.

  3. docstraw - Jun 25, 2013 at 4:35 PM

    Didn’t Bruce Arena say something to the effect of “World Cup Qualiying is for veterans, The World Cup is for youth”? Every manager is different but I can definitely see a couple of bench veterans being supplanted by youngsters by this time next year. A lot depends on the Gold Cup and the 2013-2014 Euro season, of course. Also, if the US qualifies with a couple of games to spare, there could be some new faces brought into the mix this fall.

  4. midtec2005 - Jun 25, 2013 at 4:50 PM

    I think Brek Shea is probably in the top 10. He just needs to get over those injuries. I think he will do well with Mark Hughes this year.

    • Steve Davis - Jun 25, 2013 at 5:27 PM

      Perhaps … but he is most likely a left-sided guy. Check back in just a little while; you’ll see his name when we talk about choices on the other side of the field.

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