With plenty to play for last Tuesday against Jamaica, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann pulled out a lot of the offensive stops in search of a much-needed three-point haul. Looking to add some punch after a listless away performance, the coach inserted the attack-mindedGraham Zusi on one side of the field, went with just two defensive midfielders, compared to the three he used in Kingston, and instructed his players to go forward incessantly.
The results were instantaneous. Though they couldn’t put the ball in the net in the first half, the Americans struck the woodwork three times, had a whopping 80 percent of possession and pinned the Jamaican attack in its own defensive third.
It was an impressive display — one American fans will hope to see repeated — but it still wasn’t quite the full-out attack the Americans are capable of. That comes down to personnel. The U.S. once again played without a true creator in the center of the field, and though Jose Torres served admirably as a stand-in left winger, he is miscast out wide.
Things of course will change when Landon Donovan returns to the fold. But the veteran’s appearances are becoming fewer and farther between, and the day seems to have arrived when planning for his absence has become a necessity. As far as that No. 10 spot, Klinsmann doesn’t seem to like any of the veteran options — Sacha Kljestan, Benny Feilhaber or Freddy Adu, to be specific.
But if the coach is to continue getting the most out of the American attack, he’ll need some offensive weaponry to plug in when Donovan or Clint Dempsey is missing, or when the coach simply wants to up the ante in attack.
A good example of that will come as soon as Oct. 12, when the U.S. visits Antigua and Barbuda. The Americans will need to win comfortably in the Caribbean to set themselves up and avoid some potential heart-stopping moments in the group finale against Guatemala a few days later. In fact, a sizable goal differential in Antigua could well put the U.S. all but through, so the attack will be crucial.
With the options for instant offense limited on last week’s roster, whom could Klinsmann call on to boost the team going forward? Here are some young contenders to consider:
Chris Pontius, F, DC United – The DC United attacker is perhaps the uncapped player fans would most like to see get a call from Klinsmann. Thoughts are that he’s earned it with 11 goals and three assists this MLS campaign, while leading a surging DC offense that never fails to provide entertainment.
At the national level, Pontius could offer cover on both wings and an ability to attack the goal from a deeper position — something particularly lacking in the away loss to Jamaica. Zusi filled the right wing well enough in the return leg, but it’s hard to argue that Pontius, who unlike Zusi plays out wide for his club, couldn’t do an equally remarkable job if given the chance.
Mix Diskerud, MF, Rosenborg – Diskerud has proved to be one of those exceptional players who seldom fails to get the job done when given the chance. The U.S. national team may not have a job for a pure No. 10, but the Norwegian-American has shown a penchant for dropping a little deeper on the field and chipping in with the dirty work in the middle.
That said, there’s little indication of where Diskerud stands on Klinsmann’s depth chart, despite a recent impressive run of form at the club level. But should Klinsmann decide that it’s a good idea to have a true ball handler pulling the strings in the middle — instead of the likes of Jermaine Jones – Diskerud should be one of the first young players to get a look.
Joe Corona, MF, Club Tijuana – Corona plays a central catalyst role for Tijuana — one of Mexico’s most successful clubs the past year — and also can play out wide on either wing. Perhaps the young midfielder closest to actually making an impact on Klinsmann’s team, Corona has impressed enough in the past few months to have made several camp rosters, but not enough to see the field.
That looked set to change with the U.S. needing offense in Columbus. But Klinsmann opted to go with the more experienced Torres on the left and the up-and-coming Zusi on the right, shedding some doubt on Corona’s standing in the pecking order. Still, the San Diego native will make an interesting mid-term option anywhere across the midfield when Klinsmann wants to kick-start the attack.
Josh Gatt, MF, Molde – By now, U.S. national team fans likely know Gatt’s star-crossed story: called into the U-20 qualifiers last year, he wasn’t released by his club; summoned for Olympic qualifying camp, he was called back to Norway after Molde suffered early season injuries; and, after being called into Klinsmann’s camp this month, he suffered a hamstring injury.
If the speedy winger ever does play for the U.S., it’s easy to see what Klinsmann might have in mind by calling him to the full team so soon in his young career. The American attack counts heavily on speed and guile on the wings for success, and Gatt, 21, is a great young candidate to provide that going forward.
Eric Lichaj, D, Aston Villa – One of the early personnel questions of Klinsmann’s tenure has been: What, exactly, does he have against Lichaj? The young right back, who also can play on the left — and did, successfully, in last year’s Gold Cup — is starting regularly in the English Premier League.
Lichaj also can help out extensively on offense by getting forward well and putting in a decent cross. He’s not set to take Steve Cherundolo‘s place just yet, but with Timmy Chandler still on the national team fence, the multitalented Lichaj seems like a no-brainer to have in the mix.