The United States Men’s National Team takes on Serbia this Sunday, and with two Sporting Kansas City players in the current January Camp, one has to wonder their chances of featuring in the game.
The two SKC players that were called in were called in by new USMNT coach Bruce Arena were Benny Feilhaber and Graham Zusi. Zusi was called in not as a winger this time, but as a outside back. Benny finally was given a chance that many have been calling for since his incredible season in 2015 when he tallied 10 goals and 15 assists in MLS play. Although these guys are in the camp what are there chances that we get a sneak peek of their form even before MLS preseason?
I think Zusi more than likely gets the start on Sunday. One of the main conversation pieces about this camp has been Zusi’s ability to play outside back which he undoubtedly can. I think the most appealing part to having Zusi at right back is his engine and his service into the box. It’s undeniable that he has the ability to whip dangerous balls into the box, it’s what got him onto the team originally. You now allow him to do so while making an overlapping run rather than being the winger and it’s a whole new weapon.
As a winger he’s usually having to beat the outside back to serve in a cross, but if the opposing team’s winger is lazy, then Zusi has free reign to get forward and serve in crosses all day. What really allows Zusi to do this, though, is his engine. Zusi is quite simply a work horse. In order to have a outside back that makes a ton of overlapping runs you you have to have center mids or center backs that can cover well. The other option is that your outside back is willing to run, and boy has Zusi’s willingness been on display in Peter Vermes’ high pressing 4-3-3 system.
Next is Benny. I don’t know that we see Benny get a start in either of the two games (the U.S. also plays Jamaica on February 3rd). I think Arena is going to put a lot of emphasis into seeing how players like Sacha Kljestan, Darlington Nagbe, Jermaine Jones, and Michael Bradley play together (of course not all four at the same time). I believe Arena does give Benny an opportunity to come off the bench for maybe 15 minutes in either of the games. I think the years of Benny starting for the national team are behind him, but I do think he does offer something different coming off the bench that the U.S. hasn’t had in awhile.
While a player like Darlington Nagbe does possess a unique skill set of speed and playmaking ability, I don’t believe that he has nearly the passing ability or vision that Benny does. The only player that the U.S. has that you could really argue has the same capabilities would probably be Kljestan (here come the arguments for Lee Nguyen or even the Christian Pulisic hype train). Benny coming off the bench late on in maybe the 75th minute when you’re down a goal would be something the U.S. hasn’t had in awhile (let alone a consistent playmaking #10 at all). I think at most we see him get 45 minutes in one game, but I don’t see a start in the cards yet.
None the less it will be good to finally see these guys back in action. Whether you’re a fan of the USMNT or not I think the Graham Zusi right back experiment, and the long deserving call-up of Benny Feilhaber will be good story lines for any soccer fan to watch.