Armchair Analyst: Matt Doyle

Armchair Analyst: USMNT depth chart - Midfielders

Kellyn Acosta - USMNT - close up

Editor's Note: this is the second part of Matt Doyle's U.S. Men's National Team depth chart.

Matt Doyle note: It's less than a month from the first set of friendlies of the 2022 cycle – friendlies that are almost certain to be coached by interim manager Dave Sarachan, as there's as yet no official or announced progress on the hiring of a permanent head coach. This is as good a time as any to see how things have changed since last November, and try to figure out what the depth chart looks like for these upcoming friendlies, for the rest of 2018, and into the early stages of 2019. Bear in mind that this is not a prediction of who's going to be on the 2022 World Cup team (we'll make it this time, I swear!), nor even who's going to be on the 2019 Gold Cup team or even who's going to be in Sarachan's roster next month. Rather, this is just me surveying the field and trying to figure out who's legitimately in the pool over the next six-ish months.

Defensive Midfield

  1. Weston McKennie (Schalke 04)
  2. Tyler Adams (RBNY)
  3. Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC)
  4. Danny Williams (Huddersfield Town)
  5. Michael Bradley (Toronto FC)
  6. Russell Canouse (D.C. United)

McKennie might be my favorite player in the whole pool, and he might not yet be a No. 6. Reports in the German press and folks I've spoken with both suggest that will be his eventual position, but it's not yet clear whether eventual means "mid-October" or "mid-2021."

He does so, so many things well, including those late, surging runs that are the hallmark of good box-to-box play:

August 11, 2018

Still, I have him listed here as a 6 instead of an 8 because I'm more interested in seeing him as a 6 at the moment. And even though I prefer Adams as a RB, I'm very interested in seeing a ton of those two guys together in central midfield making life miserable for every team they come up against.

Armchair Analyst: USMNT depth chart - Midfielders -

Tyler Adams might be best at RB, but he's solid in midfield | USA Today Sports Images

Trapp is a very different player, a pure field-spreading back point who has, throughout his career, struggled against particularly athletic foes. Williams is a range-everywhere destroyer more than a backline shield, while Bradley is a game-organizing field general (who's definitely lost a step in 2018).

Canouse is the wild card. He was a starter, the captain, and supposed to be the star of the 2015 US U-20 national team – the one with Steffen, Miazga, CCV and a bunch of other names you'll see soon – but had the bad luck of getting injured just before the tournament. And while he played well for VfL Bochum in Germany, he decided he wanted to come back to MLS and try his luck here.

He was very, very good in brief minutes last season, and was penciled in as a starter this season. But again ... injuries.

Since coming back last month, he's once again looked very, very good for D.C. If he stays healthy for the rest of the year, you at the very least see him in January camp.

More to keep an eye on:

  • Chris Durkin (D.C. United)
  • Alfredo Morales (Fortuna Dusseldorf)

He's gotten a bunch of minutes and done pretty well this year for D.C., though it's too soon to talk about him in a full USMNT context. Chances are he'll be integral to the US U-20s this autumn as they attempt to qualify for the U-20 World Cup next spring.

For those who haven't watched a ton of United this year: Durkin is an elongated Trapp. He does a borderline amazing job of moving the game around with his passing, and is superb at getting his teammates into a rhythm. But he's not a great ball-winner, and lacks the kind of straight-line speed that can make up for mistakes, so he needs to continue to improve his reading of the game.

Morales has never featured much for the US, and is likely to be a bit player in Dusseldorf this season. It's hard to see a scenario in which he'd be earning minutes ahead of younger, better options.

Central Midfield

  1. Kellyn Acosta (Colorado Rapids)
  2. Darlington Nagbe (Atlanta United)
  3. Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders)
  4. Marky Delgado (Toronto FC)
  5. Joe Corona (Club America)

Acosta looks positively reborn after three games with the Rapids, and is giving everyone a reminder of both the how and the why he pushed into the USMNT starting XI early in 2017. He's not playing as a true central midfielder – he's mostly been a shuttler in the diamond – but functionally he fills largely the same role.

Armchair Analyst: USMNT depth chart - Midfielders -

Are we witnessing a Kellyn Acosta revival in Colorado? | USA Today Sports Images

Nagbe had a smooth adjustment to Tata Martino's system in Atlanta, and will be situationally useful. Roldan's been consistently good in 2018, which nudges him ahead of Delgado (who's struggled) and Corona (who's older and has seen his role reduced).

More to keep an eye on:

  • Keaton Parks (Benfica)

I love his feet and game-spreading vision, but right now he's very much a 'tweener: Doesn't defend enough to be a No. 6, doesn't attack enough to be a No. 10, and hasn't commanded the game enough to break into Benfica's plans as a No. 8.

If he was 18, you'd say, "Well, okay, let's just give it some more time and see how he develops," but he's not 18. He's 21, and needs first-team minutes ASAP. Hopefully he gets a loan and makes the most of it.

There are a ton of potential-laden No. 8s coming through the ranks, though it's too early to consider any of them here.

Attacking Midfield

  1. Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)
  2. Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy)
  3. Kelyn Rowe (New England Revolution)

Long-term I'm hoping that Pulisic ends up being moved to the wing – which is where he plays primarily for his club – but given the state of the player pool at the moment he has to be the No. 10 for the time-being (I'm obviously assuming a 4-2-3-1, which is pretty much the default formation in world soccer these days).

The pickings are relatively slim in terms of ready-to-go No. 10s after him, though it was nice to see Lletget get on the board for the Galaxy on Saturday.

Armchair Analyst: USMNT depth chart - Midfielders -

Sebastian Lletget, recovered from injury, could be an option at the 10 | USA Today Sports Images

As for Rowe, the one time he got a chance to wear the Red, White & Blue, he was awesome:

I have no idea why he's been buried in Foxborough, and why the Revs didn't at least try to flip him for real assets. It makes zero sense.

More to keep an eye on:

  • Emerson Hyndman (Hibernian)

Hyndman got what I'm hoping will be a useful loan to Hibs after a year of rotting away outside the gameday squad for Bournemouth. With some luck he'll play as well as he did on his previous loan to a SPL club, when he spent half a season with Rangers playing generally pretty well (save for when he came up against Celtic, who ran him off the field).

Hyndman's a nice and tidy and sometimes inventive little player. Put him in the right situation, and he could maybe be what Mix Diskerud was for the 2014 cycle, but I don't think his ceiling is much higher than that.

Guys like Andrew Carleton (Atlanta United), Paxton Pomykal (FC Dallas) and Gianluca Busio (Sporting KC) will hopefully work their way into this discussion inside of 12 months, but the first two are destined for the U-20s and the last one is for the U-17s.


  1. Paul Arriola (D.C. United)
  2. Jonathan Amon (FC Nordsjælland)
  3. Kenny Saief (Anderlecht)
  4. Miguel Ibarra (Minnesota United)
  5. Emmanuel Sabbi (Hobro IK)

Let's start at the bottom and introduce you all to Sabbi:

He's been awesome so far in this young season, and while your response may be, "Oh yeah, fine, but give it time, you can't just throw him in there!", my response to that is, "Well, who else is there? And also, why not? This is the perfect part of the cycle to throw in a young player who's out there doing work every single day!"

Sabbi's just 20, and while he had a bad time at Las Palmas, he's very clearly landed on his feet. He's also eligible for Ghana (nation of his parents) and Italy (nation of his birth), but was a regular for the US U-18s and U-20s, and JUST LOOK AT THAT GOAL AGAINNNNNNN!!!!!!

Armchair Analyst: USMNT depth chart - Midfielders -,-DCvVAN.jpg?gNZ8WluK6sQgXNyCFPK8jTbr9axsizbi

Paul Arriola's versatility makes him an asset | USA Today Sports Images

I almost listed Arriola at central midfield since he's been playing (very well) there lately, but for now he's still a winger with this player pool. The fact that he has enough versatility to play as a winger, or as a CM, or as a wingback means we'll see a ton of him over the next two cycles, which is a good thing.

Amon is a year younger than Sabbi and is arguably better, though an early-season injury means he hasn't gotten a chance to show out. Injuries have also plagued Saief since he filed a one-time switch to the US. He's much more a playmaker than Sabbi, Arriola or Amon and could even arguably play as a 10.

Ibarra's a productive, relentless, two-way workhorse.

More to keep an eye on:

Mueller is energetic and fairly productive, but still raw. Lewis has been wildly productive on a per-90 basis in the Bronx, and I think he has as much upside as anybody in the winger pool, but he's 21 and can't lock down a regular spot, so…

Gall has moved to a good team in the Swedish top flight, and he appears to be a classic late-bloomer, but it should escape no one that he was inferior in MLS and USL to everyone else on this list. Treat whatever he does until he moves to a better league with skepticism.

Same goes for Gooch, who was a bit player for a disastrously bad Championship team last year, and who's looked out of his depth when he's gotten USMNT calls.

There are a bunch of promising wingers coming through the ranks as well. Finding clubs where they'll actually get on the field should be of paramount concern for each of them.

Up next:Part III - Forwards