A Look at the USMNT’s Defensive Midfield Depth: Promising Youth Pushing Seasoned Vets

March 12, 2019 55 Reads

Gregg Berhalter’s second USMNT camp looms in March, with his first chance to get a look at European-based players in his new system. It’s a big opportunity for fringe young players to show they belong in Berhalter’s modern tactics, and for stalwarts like John Brooks, DeAndre Yedlin and Bobby Wood to protect their spots.

Perhaps most interesting is the defensive midfield position. The depth chart there depends on Berhalter’s opinion of Michael Bradley, who played 84 minutes in the January friendly against Panama, and how he sees Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams fitting into this team. This month’s camp should reveal Berhalter’s thinking further, but let’s look at the depth chart as it stands.

1. Michael Bradley, Toronto FC

Bradley is on top by virtue of his status as a definite defensive mid — McKennie could be a No. 8, and Adams could be a No. 8 or a right back still — though Bradley continues to ruffle the feathers of USMNT fans. He is perfectly capable at the international level in spite of persistent criticism, and he will give way to younger guys soon enough.

2. Weston McKennie, Schalke 04

While Schalke grinds through deep struggles in the Bundesliga (and potential Champions League Round of 16 elimination against Manchester City), McKennie is driving up his future transfer fee. He will surely play in the central midfield at the highest levels, though whether his role is as a defensive or a box-to-box mid will depend on who plays next to him and how his team is set up. McKennie could excel as part of a tandem alongside Adams or another player like Cristian Roldan or Russell Canouse.

Right now, he looks like a No. 8. Part of his development (he’s still only 20!) will be expanding the defensive nuance and awareness that will allow him to play as a 6 at the highest level.

3. Tyler Adams, Red Bull Leipzig

It’s not a definite that Adams will be a No. 8 with the USMNT, much less a true defensive midfielder. He was fantastic last year as a wingback for the New York Red Bulls in their complex press-and-possession system, and as Berhalter emphasizes pinching his full backs into midfield and having them facilitate possession.

Adams is approaching world-class in midfield for a high-level Bundesliga team, and he’s always looked best centrally. But with this iteration of the USMNT, right back has to at least be in consideration for Adams.

4. Wil Trapp, Columbus Crew SC

A favorite of Berhalter from Columbus and a constant figure of the post-Trinidad USMNT, Trapp’s passing and soccer IQ can help the national team. His propensity for damaging turnovers and lack of international-level athleticism makes it unlikely that he will ever be a go-to option at the top level, but he has attributes that others in the pool don’t have. He’s also experienced as a leader at the club level.

5. Russell Canouse, D.C. United

Canouse needs a standout season in D.C. to separate himself in a crowded pool. He must not have made the greatest impression at the January camp, given that Berhalter did not give him a minute in either of the friendlies against Panama and Costa Rica.

Others, like Roldan, will factor in at some point. The US are stacked with midfielders who can play in a double pivot — Sebastian Lletget, Alejandro Bedoya, Marky Delgado, and plenty more will be around, as will younger guys like Keaton Parks and NYCFC‘s James Sands and assorted European-based players. Growing definite No. 6 depth will depend on McKennie and Adams’s development, and where they slide into Berhalter’s system.

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