Saturday, February 27, 2021

A Fine Mess

Now that we've reached the midfield, it's time to give in to the fact that some of the very best Under-23 talent we have will not make an appearance in either Olympic qualifying or the tourney itself. Quite obviously, guys like Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie (if not also others listed below) will be far too busy with senior USMNT matters to take part in Japan.

That bit if ceremony aside, let's jump into the defensive midfield chart...

Mauricio Pineda
Johnny*
Hassani Dotson


Right there: James Sands
Could make a move by summer: Aidan Morris, Moses Nyeman


I'm aware that the US staff seems to prefer Pineda in central defense, but I do not. His passing ability and occasionally iffy positioning makes me wish they'd give him a suitable look in front of the back line. It also never hurts to have extra aerial/set piece excellence coming from players other than the center backs, especially in more urgent short tournaments.

I'm not sure if Internacional will release Johnny for qualifying, but it's certainly possible so he wears an asterisk here. His passing game does not match up with several of the other contenders listed, but his shutdown ability is as good as any of them. Sometimes ya gotta give something to get something, so he's definitely in the back-up picture here. Then there's Dotson, who certainly may benefit from an ability to cover at ight back and on right wing without much drop-off. Honestly, I can't say for sure at this time which position is the most ideal for him - but as of right now, I'm kinda thinking he has to be on the relatively skinny qualifying squad (they get 20 players instead of the international tournament norm of 23).

Sands is essentially my "2C" choice, but that's mostly because of his defensive accuity. His positive passing has yet to mature, and in my sytem, that's a real concern. As for Morris and Nyeman (each of whom will still be eligible for the next Olympics), I would not bet on them making a serious run at the roster for the actual Olympics... but I can envision a scenario where they could. One could argue they're both better suited to the #8 role, and I won't argue that stance much, but at this time they'd be needed more at the gate.

And now we've reached the most overstuffed position of all, the two-way central midfield slot. Yeah, I know US coaches like to go on about playing a double #8 system, but that's not how the Clipboard rolls. I'll admit, though, that the depth of strength here does make me question that to some extent. And I'll also admit that my final roster may lean a little to respect this logjam.

Jackson Yueill
Tanner Tessmann
Keaton Parks


Look out above: Frankie Amaya, Yunus Musah*, Andrés Perea, Eryk Williamson
In any other year... : Brandon Servania*
The kid's got game: Bryang Kayo


Woof. This was noooot easy to portion out. I went back and forth and to and fro too many times to count, and if you asked me tomorrow the order would probably change. It's that tight and crowded.

Now... we all know that the USMNT staff views Yueill as a #6, but I don't think that takes best advantage of his traffic directing talents. And his defensive work isn't quite what you'd hope for from a pure defensive midfielder, so here he sits. Wherever they station him, you can bet that the pinpoint diagonals to the wingers will be flying left and right. The only question I have is: Will he be another one of those guys that Gregg Berhalter relies on too much to leave for the Olympic crew (Dest, Adams, etc.).

I could legit put six guys in the second slot here, but eventually (and I do mean eventually) settled on Tessman. The kid's a monster, and you all know I love having extra aerial strength on board. Parks is more smooth than forceful, but I'm a ball control guy so (like several players here) he could well rise up the chart.

Now we reach the crowd that could force their way into a roster place for qualifying and/or the Olympics. Amaya is a pure two-way presence whose offensive game has plenty of room to grow. Musuh is more capable racing into attack than he is at halting rushes, but he's so good at pushing the build that he's a major threat here. No one is a bigger fan of Perea than me, and I hope the staff realizes that he's not a defensive midfielder. Like Amaya, he's as two-way as it gets. His transition game is nearly as good as Musuh's, but his decisions entering the final third are a little better. Williamson is one of those ultimate glue guys, a plugger who does a little bit of everything well.

Then there's Servania, who isn't too far off that group above. He has a little more defensive bite than some of the guys above, but also excels with late runs into the O-zone (hockey term, said Dan Patrick). Kayo almost certainly will need to wait for the next Olympic cycle, but it's not a courtesy to list him here.

(deep breath)

Man, I need a drink.







- Greg Seltzer

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