There’s no doubt that the United States men’s national team continues to improve each year. With more players than ever playing in top leagues around the world and the U.S.’ domestic league, Major League Soccer, growing its quality, the U.S is consistently convincing more and more the game’s old guard that it can realistically compete near the top.
But, how would the team do if it were thrown into some of the world’s elite club leagues like the English Premier League, Serie A or La Liga?
As international matches are often weeks, if not months, apart from one another, figuring out the USMNT’s regular starting 11 is a little difficult. But, in this age of squad rotation, few teams trot out the same lineup week after week, so we’ll take a look at the U.S. team with the first and second string in mind.
At goalkeeper, the U.S. really can’t lose. Both Tim Howard and Brad Guzan are regular starters in the English Premier League and both have been vital to their teams’ success over the years. Howard has been the starter at Everton for eight consecutive seasons—no small feat—and Guzan was Aston Villa’s Player of the Year in 2012-13, an award he won after beating out talented Irish international Shay Given for the spot at the beginning of 2012.
The best options the U.S. have at left and right-back, respectively, are Fabian Johnson and Geoff Cameron. Johnson is a regular starter in the Bundesliga—albeit for Hoffenheim, which miraculously escaped relegation a year ago. Cameron is a regular starter for Stoke, which also narrowly escaped relegation in 2012-13.
For depth at outside back, the U.S. will rely on DaMarcus Beasley on the left, a regular starter in Liga MX and former European regular with PSV Eindhoven, Manchester City and Rangers. On the right, the U.S. would have Hannover 96 captain Steve Cherundolo and Nuremberg regular Timmy Chandler, among others.
While the USMNT is deep at left and right-back with a number of EPL and Bundesliga regulars, center-back is much more precarious. Matt Besler has been the steadiest U.S. center-back over the past year and attracted interest from Southampton and Queens Park Rangers last year before re-signing with Sporting Kansas City in Major League Soccer. Omar Gonzalez, Besler’s likely partner in the back, also plays in the MLS, but went on loan to Nuremberg in the Bundesliga last winter and was linked with Stoke City this summer.
While Gonzalez has loads of talent, he could be a potential Achilles' heel for a USMNT team competing in Europe as his frequent lapses would be punished even worse than they already are by MLS-level competition. However, the U.S. does have some solid depth at center-back with John Anthony Brooks waiting in the wings. Brooks recently helped Hertha Berlin to promotion into the Bundesliga last season and has been named to two separate Teams of the Week in his first five games in the Bundesliga.
At center midfield, the U.S. shines. It is getting harder and harder, even for the most ardent USMNT haters, to deny the quality of Michael Bradley, a regular with AS Roma. Last season, Bradley made 30 Serie A appearances for Roma, playing alongside Italian legends Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi. Bradley has also affectionately become known in Italy as “The General.”
Paired with Bradley is Schalke stalwart Jermaine Jones, who has been a starter for most of the past seven seasons in the Bundesliga and has fairly extensive Champions League experience. For depth, the U.S. has talented Rosenborg youngster Mix Diskerud, who has played in both the Champions League and the Europa league, Sacha Kljestan, a regular for Belgian champion and Champions League team Anderlecht for the past four seasons and Geoff Cameron, who often deputizes in the midfield for the U.S.
In the attacking midfield positions, the U.S. has its most depth. Despite a career spent mostly in MLS, Landon Donovan has proved on two separate occasions that he can hack it at the highest levels as he won Player of the Month honors in both of his short loan stints with Everton in 2010 and 2012. Clint Dempsey is only 18 months away from an EPL season in which he finished third in the league in goals and tallied twice last year against English champion Manchester United while playing for Tottenham.
Alejandro Bedoya and Graham Zusi would likely be competing for the third attacking midfield spot in head coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s 4-2-3-1. Bedoya currently plays for Nantes in Ligue 1 and Zusi has 32 assists over the past three seasons with Sporting KC in MLS. Zusi also trained with storied English club West Ham last winter. For depth, the U.S. can also use Fabian Johnson as a winger and has two talented playmakers in Jose Torres and Joe Corona waiting in the wings.
Up top, the U.S. has plenty of solid options. Jozy Altidore, fresh off his 31-goal season with AZ Alkmaar in the Eredivisie would likely be the starter in a single-striker set, but Eddie Johnson has enjoyed a career renaissance over the past year and can also play on the wing in a pinch. Altidore has yet to find his footing at Sunderland this season, but the Black Cats midfield certainly hasn’t created a lot of chances for him either.
The U.S. also has two hot young strikers working their way through the ranks in AZ Alkmaar’s Aron Johannsson, who has six goals already in the 2013-14 campaign and Rapid Vienna’s Terrence Boyd, who also has six goals in 2013-14. Johannsson, like Eddie Johnson, can also play on the wing when needed.
Managing the team is Jurgen Klinsmann, who has experience playing and coaching at the highest levels in Europe. As a player, Klinsmann won the UEFA Cup twice, as well as the Bundesliga (to say nothing of the World Cup and Euro Championships he won on the international level). Klinsmann was also named the Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year while playing for Tottenham and played with Stuttgart, Monaco, Inter Milan and Bayern Munich during his long career.
As a manager, Klinsmann led the German national team to a third place finish at the 2006 World Cup and went 6-1-3 (win-loss-draw format) in the Champions League with Bayern Munich in the 2008-09 season, only losing to eventual champion Barcelona. Although he was fired from Bayern Munich in his lone season, the team was only three points out of first place with five games left in the season when he was let go.
Where Would They Finish?
While there are certainly plenty of fans out there who will insist that the USMNT would get relegated playing in the EPL, Serie A or La Liga, the fact is that the vast majority of the American roster is already proving on a weekly basis that they can get the job done in the top leagues in Europe.
The team certainly lacks a true European superstar, but the U.S. has always played greater than the sum of their parts. Players like Howard, Dempsey, Donovan, Bradley and Jones have all played for top six teams in England, Germany or Italy over the past two years. Furthermore, Cherundolo, Cameron, Fabian Johnson and Chandler are all regulars for solid mid-table clubs.
There’s no doubt that there are some spots that would need to prove their worthiness at the next level, but looking at the U.S.’ recent international results, the team has proven they can play against the top players abroad. The U.S. beat Italy a year ago in Genoa, Germany this summer and Bosnia in August. Some will try to denigrate those victories as meaningless friendlies, but a quick look at the players on the field in those games (Miroslav Klose, Lukas Podolski, Per Mertesacker, Andre Schurrle, Gianluigi Buffon, Daniele De Rossi, Giorgio Chiellini, Thiago Motta, Andrea Pirlo and Edin Dzeko) makes that argument nothing more than pure anti-Americanism.
If the U.S. can win games at the international level over teams stacked with talent from Chelsea, Arsenal, Lazio, Juventus, Roma, Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain, there’s no reason to believe they can’t do it on a week-to-week basis abroad and easily finish mid-table in any major European league.
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