Armchair Analyst: Predicting the USMNT Copa America roster, Part 2

Yesterday's Part 1 looked at the goalkeepers and defenders I think will be called into the 40-man USMNT roster for this summer's Copa America Centenario, which will be announced at halftime of Sunday's match between Sporting KC and LA Galaxy (8 pm ET; FS1).

Today we will look at the midfield. Tomorrow we will look at the forwards.

And here is where it gets interesting, because I have to merge how I see "midfield" with how Jurgen Klinsmann sees "midfield," and how different formations -- the 4-3-3, the flat 4-4-2, the 4-4-2 diamond -- force different roles onto different players.

There is, for example, no purely defensive midfielder in a flat 4-4-2, but there will be guys who are listed purely as d-mids on the below list. That doesn't mean they won't play in a 4-4-2, it just means that they probably shouldn't.

Wide players are even trickier. In a 4-3-3 they're wingers, and have an offensive/possession/re-pressing workload more akin to that of a second forward than that of a midfielder. But in a 4-4-2, they're almost -- to a man -- more likely to be deployed wide in the midfield, asking for a different application of their respective mental and physical skillsets. 

Formations are not everything in our game, but they're significant. Bear that in mind when looking at the list below, and bear in mind that Klinsmann has used four different formations (4-3-3, 4-4-2 flat, 4-4-2 box, 4-4-2 diamond) in the last five US games. The team as he's built it has no repeatable style or tactical approach, so it's hard to say "Piece A fits into Slot B" with any sort of confidence. It would take a fool to try to predict what he'll do next.

And thus, here I go...

(3) Defensive midfielders: Kyle Beckerman, Danny Williams, Perry Kitchen

This is "specialist alley." None of the guys listed here should ever play anything outside of a traditional No. 6 role for the US, and I say that in spite of the fact that Kitchen and Alashe have both played primarily box-to-box roles in their respective careers.

Beckerman is a lock for this tournament for all the obvious reasons, and Williams -- despite his recent suspension -- should be as well. I think Kitchen gets the final spot ahead of Trapp, who's struggled so far in MLS and was poor for the U-23s in the Olympic qualifying failure. I can't claim to have seen Kitchen since his move to Hearts, but he's won a starting job as their No. 6 and they've just qualified for next year's Europa League. That's the kind of career move Klinsmann applauds, so I think Kitchen gets rewarded here.

Worth noting that I included FC Dallas's Kellyn Acosta as a fullback, since that's where Klinsmann & the rest of the US soccer coaches prefer to play him, even though he's pretty clearly a d-mid (or perhaps a box-to-box mid). Also worth noting that the two best d-mids in MLS this year have been the guy who heads the next list, and another FC Dallas Homegrown kid, Victor Ulloa.

Ulloa's never gotten a look by the US at any level, so I'm not holding my breath.

(7) Central Midfielders: Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Alejandro Bedoya, Lee Nguyen, Alfredo Morales, Emerson Hyndman, Mix Diskerud

I have to admit that I'm kind of dying to see a classic 4-3-3 with Williams at the base of the midfield triangle, then Bradley and Jones given free rein ahead of him. This would be the pregame tactical talk:

Bradley as a No. 6 had me worried for TFC at the start of the year, but he's been really responsible and really, really good. So while I'm kind of dying to see the above, I'm really dying to see Bradley given a shot in the role Beckerman has so often played over the last six years. This is another "but I'm not holding my breath" situation, unfortunately.

The rest of this midfield group fills itself out pretty comfortably. Nguyen is the only specialist, coming in exclusively as a No. 10. Diskerud, who hasn't been playing all that well, gets the last spot over Gil, who hasn't been playing at all.

For what it's worth I really think Sacha Kljestan should be here. And Benny Feilhaber, but -- well, you know.

(5) Wide Midfielders/Wingers: Fabian Johnson, Darlington Nagbe, Graham Zusi, Christian Pulisic, Ethan Finlay

  • Alternates: Joe Corona, Miguel Ibarra, Jerome Kiesewetter

Repeat after me: Fabian Johnson is a winger. Fabian Johnson is a winger. Fabian Johnson is a winger. Fabian Johnson is a winger. Just keep saying it until we've removed all temptation of playing him at fullback. Johnson's played only two games on the backline all year in Germany, and has been a Champions League-quality winger for the other 24.

After him we get to have some fun. Nagbe's clearly at his best as a central midfielder, but in his brief USMNT run, Klinsmann has preferred to use him out wide -- so that's where he's listed. There's been a metric ton written about why Christian Pulisic should start as a No. 10, but... nah. Kid's been a legit two-way force on the wings for Borussia Dortmund, so let's keep him in his current comfort zone (heh).

That leaves Zusi the reliable and Finlay the specialist. Zusi is the best defensive player of the bunch and is an absolute grinder made for games like Costa Rica and Paraguay, while Finlay exists to stretch the field and brings little value in possession. Both are easy calls over Corona, Ibarra and Kiesewetter -- none of whom has actually played much this season, and all three of whom are probably on the move this summer.


That's it for now. Even though this isn't a formal Q&A I'll try to get to some of your comments below for a bit of back-and-forth, and don't forget to check in tomorrow for a look at the forward pool.

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