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America’s Finest: A USMNT Lineup Roundtable

With the Gold Cup well underway, Jürgen Klinsmann’s lineup choices are back in the spotlight. Three SQ writers team up to present their ideal USMNT XI.

Fresh off the euphoria of the USWNT’s World Cup victory over Japan, America’s soccer fans are now turning their attention to the USMNT’s attempt to retain the CONCACAF Gold Cup trophy. After beating Honduras and Haiti, and then tying Panama on Monday, the United States have officially won their group, and advance to the knockout rounds as one of the clear favorites to win it all. 

However, despite this solid start, the US men have not played particularly well as a unit. A few American players, Clint Dempsey foremost, have stood out on an individual level, but many of the positions in the team’s starting eleven look anything but set in stone. 

As such, we at SQ decided to come up with the ideal USMNT starting lineup in the most American way possible: democratically. PJ Benasillo, Ivan Vivar, and myself each drafted our version of the best US XI, choosing from all currently active American players, not just those selected for the Gold Cup roster. 

We then compiled a final, aggregate lineup based off of these preliminary choices.  Some picks were unanimous, others contested.  The following is our finished product, in a 4-1-2-1-2 formation, complete with explanations from us for each selection:

Goalkeeper: Tim Howard (Everton)

Lucas: Most of you will remember Howard from his fantastic showing for the Stars and Stripes at the 2014 World Cup. His World Cup-record 16 saves against Begium in the first knockout round kept the United States in the game almost single-handedly. While the shotstopper from New Jersey has since opted to take a year sabbatical from the national team, and subsequently is not involved in the USMNT’s Gold Cup efforts, he still deserves to be considered the main man between the American posts in my mind.

Left Back: Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach)

Ivan: America is short on competition in both full-back slots. However, Johnson has shown he is capable of contributing offensively.  This season with Borussia Mönchengladbach, he registered one goal and four assists, albeit playing as a left-midfielder.  With few better options at the LB spot, Johnson can positively contribute through counter attacks and possession.

Centerback: John Anthony Brooks (Hertha BSC)

Laurence Griffiths

PJ: Brooks is a textbook example of the phrase, “Ain’t no such thing as a halfway crook.” Brooks has been known for his chippy defensive tactics, but the man plays well. The German-American gained fame around the United States for his game-winning goal in the 2014 World Cup against American archenemy, Ghana. He hasn’t really had a bad game since his coming out party, and he gives the back line some of the attitude that an American team needs: brashness, cockiness, and confidence. Soccer is also a mental game, and Brooks will never be the first person on the team to give up.

Centerback: Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City)

Lucas: Because Brooks is so enthusiastic, he needs a stable fellow central defender to balance out the backline. In thinking about who fits this bill, one need look no further than Besler. The Sporting man also featured in the US World Cup squad that went to Brazil last year, and held up well overall. Bottom line: Besler isn’t flashy, he doesn’t ooze talent, and isn’t particularly quick, but his calm demeanor and reliable defensive mindset are vital to American success.

Right Back: Geoff Cameron (Stoke City FC)

Lucas: One of the few Americans who hone their craft in the Premier League, Cameron has proven himself to be a solid presence on the right-hand side for the Potters.  His quality is clearly valued by Stoke management, as he recently re-signed with the club until 2018.  This will further endear him to USMNT manager Jürgen Klinsmann, who has been vocal about wanting Americans to play for European clubs over those in Major League Soccer. There is no greater defensive test than the Premier League, and Cameron’s experience in that environment can only benefit the United States.

Central Defensive Midfielder: Maurice Edu (Philadelphia Union)

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Ivan: This one might come as bit of a surprise.  However, in typical California fashion, Edu plays the game with so much swagger that he deserves a spot.  For starters, he is a good tackler of the ball in the open field, and knows how to put his body between an opponent and the ball.  He also is a very capable dribbler and passer of the ball.  Furthermore, he has the energy and body size to make late runs into the box and be a threat to defenses.

Left Midfielder: Gyasi Zardes (Los Angeles Galaxy)

PJ: With Johnson behind him to help push the ball up, Zardes is a player that opposing coaches have nightmares about. Like fellow young American DeAndre Yedlin, Zardes is still figuring out the game.  However, he is getting a better grasp of it of late, as seen in his brilliant recent assist against Haiti in the Gold Cup group stage. Zardes can flat out run too, and has strong control of the ball when in possession. In the game against Haiti he completed 24 of his 27 passes. You can see the game slowing down in his head as he gets more playing time.

Right Midfielder: DeAndre Yedlin (Tottenham Hotspur FC)

PJ: DeAndre Yedlin is part of the three-headed Cerberus that USMNT fans are dreaming of for the 2018 World Cup, along with the aforementioned Zardes and Julian Green who scored a goal in a World Cup game with literally his FIRST touch. Yedlin is insanely fast. He is just faster than almost anyone on the pitch at any given time. 

His mental understanding for the game is still developing, but with pace and speed like that it’s not hard to understand why any coach in the world would want Yedlin pushing up the side of the field with the ball on his feet. He has yet to score a goal for the USMNT, but I’d be shocked if it doesn’t happen sooner rather than later with his raw athleticism.

Central Attacking Midfielder: Mix Diskerud (New York City FC)

Ezra Shaw

Ivan: Mix recently made the surprise move to join NYCFC, although he still had plenty of suitors in the old continent. The Norwegian-born playmaker does not try to do anything fancy, but he reads the game well and knows how to deliver the ball to his teammates’ feet and into space. Another key feature of his game is how strong of a dribbler he is.  At the same time, he does not lose possession often; this season with New York he has only been dispossessed twice on average per 90 minutes.

Striker: Aron Jóhannsson (AZ Alkmaar)


Ivan: In two seasons with AZ Alkmaar, Jóhannsson has scored 27 goals; for a 24 year old, that is an impressive return. He is a very capable passer, which will work well with a two striker formation. This season he averaged 1.4 key passses per game. That ability to share the wealth will work well with all the options available to him in this ideal XI.

Striker: Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC)

PJ: “Deuce” is a national treasure, let’s just get that out of the way first. The Texan has a bravado that is simply unparalleled. He has a bald eagle tattooed on his chest and the state of Texas tattooed on his arm. He played the World Cup with a broken nose, and despite bleeding on the field against Ghana, he shook it off and kept playing. “Why?” you ask? Because Clint Dempsey is an American hero — that’s why. He is not a mere mortal, he is Deuce, and he is the heart and soul of this American team. 

Michael Bradley may be the “captain,” but there is not a doubt in my mind that the team turns to Clint for the pregame hype speech. In addition to being the greatest American since Ronald Reagan, Clint Dempsey is also pretty good at the whole soccer thing. He is always in the right place at the right time and can score in the most beautiful or the ugliest ways, it doesn’t matter to him. In his homecoming in Frisco, Dempsey buried two balls into the back of the net to give the USMNT a win. So yeah, Clint Dempsey for president.

Edited by Joe Sparacio.

Who has made the most appearances for the USMNT all-time (164)?
Created 7/11/15
  1. Landon Donovan
  2. Alexi Lalas
  3. Cobi Jones
  4. Kasey Keller
Who scored the winning goal for the USMNT in the 2013 Gold Cup Final
Created 7/11/15
  1. Clint Dempsey
  2. Gyasi Zardes
  3. Mix Diskerud
  4. Brek Shea

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