Just in case anyone has any doubts as to who the best play-making/central-attacking midfielder for the United States is right now, I'm just going to leave this here:
It was a brief moment, yes, but it was a moment that highlights why Nguyen should be tasked with running the American attack.
Now, Nguyen isn't the only option to play the "#10" role. Clint Dempsey has played well in the central midfield role, but he can also play other positions. Mix Diskerud is another option. For some strange reason I have a feeling that the debate between Mix Diskerud and Nguyen still rages inside US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann's mind. And it shouldn't.
I like Mix, I think he's a good player, and I keep hearing that he's capable of operating as a playmaker in the center of the pitch. But I haven't seen it on the field (just like I haven't seen why it's a good idea to push Michael Bradley higher up the field, but that's for a different day).
Klinsmann is known in my eyes for his incessant tinkering, nonsensical lineups and blatant disregard for anything that resembles in-game adjustments. That's fine, especially since he was brought in to rock the boat and change the US Soccer program from top-to-bottom, and since I hate almost every other thing he does with the senior team, clearly it's working. But there are times for tinkering and then there are times where you should stick to what you do best.
Which is why I hope we don't see a three-man back line for the United States against Chile or Panama that Klinsmann's been reportedly experimenting with.The current US roster doesn't have a left back and until I see Klinsmann's midfield deployment, I won't know exactly what he's up to.
That's not to say I dislike the 3-5-2, in fact that's a formation that could actually benefit DeAndre Yedlin's more attacking style if played correctly and the US's seemingly endless supply of converted midfielders into outside backs. Steve Nicol used that formation to great success for years in New England, and you could talk me into a three-man backline of Jermaine Jones, Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez for the Gold Cup with Yedlin and Fabian Johnson running the flanks.
But it's the midfield that's the more important issue. In particular, it's getting the best players into roles they can succeed at. The injury at the World Cup to Jozy Altidore seemingly forced Klinsmann to push Dempsey and Bradley higher up the field to play as striker and playmaker, respectively. It was an experimental adjustment that could certainly work but Bradley suffered gravely for it. Despite the lackluster performances in Brazil, Klinsmann insists Bradley can play that position and is almost force-feeding it to US fans to prove he's right.
I don't care if Klinsmann's right or wrong. Ultimately it comes down to winning, or in friendlies, competing. By giving up late goals in all four of their friendlies to end 2014, it'd be nice of Klinsmann to give his guys a softball to start 2015 against a domestic-based Chile team that's light on international experience. Which means this should be a game that USA should at the very least compete from start to finish and break the cycle of stagnant attacking play combined with giving up late goals.
That means sending out the big guns in the midfield: Michael Bradley and Mix Diskerud playing behind Lee Nguyen with Clint Dempsey and...well, fine, Brek Shea out wide in a 4-2-3-1 (I'd also accept Gyasi Zardes and or Miguel Ibarra). It's been apparent to anyone who's watched the games recently that Bradley and Mix are not the conventional playmaking types in advance roles, especially Bradley who's much better coming up from the back. Diskerud has a role to play with this team, I just don't know what it is yet. Currently I'd like to see him as a deep playmaker. I'd even be fine with him at right wing and Dempsey on the left, allowing Wil Trapp or Perry Kitchen some time next to Bradley.
But most importantly for tomorrow's game against Chile, is Lee Nguyen starting in the CAM role, preferably in a 4-2-3-1 and for 90 minutes so we can see more of the above highlight that he pulled off with Bobby Wood and Alfredo Morales (I think). Now let's see what Nguyen can do with the first team: Bradley, Mix, Dempsey, Altidore. And I don't say this as (only) a selfish New England Revolution fan who wants to see my club players internationally, but also as a USMNT fan that knows Lee Nguyen is the best "#10" in the player pool right now.
And by making this one important lineup decision, Klinsmann could solve a number of the USA's issues from the last six months. The American's attack during this period, including poor performances against Germany and Belgium at the World Cup, has been stagnant, and as far as I'm concerned, it's the personnel that has been the problem. The USA has generally been bad at keeping possession and at times unable to build from the back, because the midfielders are being deployed in positions they're either not comfortable in or lack support from the rest of the formation.
I know reading too much into friendlies is a bad habit, but this is not one or two games the USA struggled offensively. Even going back to the win against the Czech Republic, the US was under siege for the final stages of the match and did not concede thanks to heroics from goalkeeper Nick Rimando. This has been a glaring issue for almost six months and nothing has been done to fix it until now, though I hardly count switching to a 3-5-2 fixing the problems you have now.
But how can a player like Lee Nguyen take pressure off the defense late in games? Because by using Lee as an outlet to get the ball forward rather than just booming clearances upfield, the US can actually counter late in games, either scoring to ice the game or taking precious minutes off the clock. Combine that with the ability to create goals in the run of play and regardless of the formation Nguyen could have the USA back into form rather quickly on both ends of the field. He's the exact player with the skill set to operate in the middle of the field and keep the ball going forward, rather than passing it back and letting the defense get set.
Also, I think Mix might be better off making late runs from the back, as he's really good at getting into positions in the box to pounce on chances. Lee is much better however as a pure creator, either for himself or the attacking players around him by constantly occupying the space between the midfielders and the defenders. The USA hasn't scored more than two goals in a game since the World Cup and a 2-2 tie against Portugal, a staggering number for a team that supposed to be moving away from the sit back and defend style America has been known for. With Nguyen providing service for both Altidore and Dempsey up top, there should be a plentiful number of chances to finish for the USA.
But who knows, this 3-5-2 formation might grow on me, and certainly check out this piece from Matt Doyle, but there will be growing pains, particularly on defense and especially if Brek Shea is playing wing back on the left tomorrow. The fact of the matter is that the US needs to change things up, and per standard operating procedure, Jurgen Klinsmann's going to tinker and throw stuff against the wall until it sticks.
Let's hope he throws Lee Nguyen into a starting role. And that he sticks there for a few years.