The next four posts is where this depth chart gets tricky. To start off, we don't truly have a team formation. It's why you'll see hundreds of posts talking about 4-3-3 and 4-5-1 and 4-4-2, because simply we don't know at times. It's much more important to understand a player's strengths and then put them into a place where they are best suited. So I'll probably have some overlap in these posts, because our wings are depressing and we have a large amount of central midfielders, some that can both play offensive and defensive games.
This post will focus on defensive midfielders. The order will reflect a midfield that has only one stopper, which is how we've been playing either with two ahead or a box-to-box midfielder beside them.
1. Maurice Edu, 26, Rangers (Scotland), 28
The note on order was meant to discourage the anger upon seeing this. He is the best player on our team at breaking up play and cleaning up. His flaws are about as blatantly clear as his positives. He is probably our fifth or sixth best passer in our central midfield at best. He also has the tendency to react poorly when pressured. Both of these seem to come from the same problem and that is his club in Scotland. Scotland is a two team league so there isn't legitimate competition and pressure in league games. In Champions League games, Rangers has the tendency to "Chelsea"-up and bunker (of course, with less talents and to much worse results). Edu is far too comfortable and needs to make a move to another club out of his comfort zone, just like our strongest midfielders have done.
2. Jermaine Jones, 30, FC Schalke, 32
Jones will make multiple appearances, because he is the obvious man out but seems to get into the 11 every time. He is a CDM, but he is also a card waiting to happen every time he steps out there. His passing under pressure is better than Edu, but overall isn't much better as he tends to play risky passes that give up possession needlessly. He also is the oldest of this group, so this may be his first and last hurrah, due to the notable depth in our midfield.
3. Sacha Kljestan, 26, RSC Anderlecht, 28
Here is where Klinsmann and I obviously disagree. This is who should be Edu's backup as our stopper. It is the role he plays in Belgium for the league winners (notably, in a deeper league than Scotland). Every time, Kljestan has played out of position for the United States; he is not a winger nor a number ten. For him to get back into the fold, there probably has to be a miracle or worse an injury.
4. Kyle Beckerman, 30, Real Salt Lake (MLS), 32
I personally rag on Beckerman nonstop a bit unfairly. It is not because he lacks effort nor form for his club. Simply, if he is starting for us, then something is wrong. The players above him are younger, play for better clubs, and are athletically above him. He actually may be one of the better suppliers of this group, but also has that tendency to lose passes like Jones.
I'll cut off the depth chart here as it is for only one spot, but most likely there will be two players of this type on the field. Sometimes, that role will be filled by Michael Bradley and Jose Francisco Torres who will come up in a later post.
A Hail Mary for 2014
Stuart Holden, 26, Bolton Wanderers (Championship), 28
The ideal player for our CDM spot is Stuart Holden. Internet US Soccer Trolls will argue that he isn't that good, but he was one of the highest rated midfielders in the EPL for Bolton in 2010-11 (top rated by some). Bolton started the 2010-11 season 10-10-10 and were as high as 7th in the league. Since his injury, Bolton has gone 12-6-28 and been relegated to the Championship. While there are some other factors (namely selling their best players), Holden's absence has been noticeable. He's the best passer we could put here and also possesses the bite and fearlessness to challenge opposing players. He probably won't make it back in time to his past form, but we can always cross our fingers that he can at least play a part.
We are relatively young here, and have shown the ability throughout our history to produce defensive midfielders. However, these midfielders have always had a knack of making only one mistake a game and having it be the worst possible thing they could have done (Clark 2010, Reyna 2006 both against Ghana come to mind.) The key for this group is not only the current players in their mid-20's getting healthy but also improving their passing and composure.
As for the next generation, our holding midfielders aren't exactly the cream of the crop. We are surprisingly doing much better at producing strikers and attacking midfielders. That doesn't mean that one or two of these players won't find themselves in a defensive role later in their careers, but for now our defense (see u-23 results) isn't progressing as quickly as our offense. In the U-23 win over Mexico, Alfredo Morales played the CDM role, and perhaps the qualifying would have gone much different if he were in the U-23 lineup again. Until he gets playing time at the club level, we can't know what we have there.