As the European season heads into the climactic final few months, a number of foreign-based U.S. Men’s National Team midfielders have rounded into strong form, giving head coach Jurgen Klinsmann midfield options ahead of the two critical World Cup Qualifying matches against Guatemala next month.
That form may be particularly handy in March, since the MLS season will only just be underway and its players will still be ramping up to full match fitness.
“Now it’s really kind of crucial that we see everybody getting into the best shape possible, that we see everybody getting into a rhythm and making statements. Is the roster you see at the end of March the same one as Copa America? Probably not, because we always look at who is at what point in the time period when we hit certain dates. The end of March comes early for MLS players, but brings you into full swing with European players and also the Mexican players because they already started a month ago with the Liga MX in the Clausura.”
After suffering from a month-long illness last October and November, Alejandro Bedoya has begun the New Year in fine form, tallying four goals and two assists in his last seven competitive matches for French Ligue 1 side Nantes. Bedoya’s play has coincided with les Canaris’ impressive 15-match unbeaten run that dates back almost three months and has the club sitting just one point out of a UEFA Champions League Qualifying spot. Bedoya’s also been the late-game hero in back-to-back cup matches, scoring two game-winners in extra time to help Nantes into the Coupe de France quarterfinals.
“Alejandro Bedoya at Nantes in France is in a very, very good stretch right now,” said Klinsmann. “He’s scoring goals and delivering assists and just being involved constantly in the very important moments of a game. By having Alejandro delivering and being consistent, not having any injury problems right now, this is big for us, and hopefully keeping our fingers crossed he stays healthy and keeps that run going.”
Bedoya’s strong start to 2016 is a nice compliment to the consistent performances Fabian Johnson has been putting in all season with German Bundesliga side Borussia Monchengladbach. Playing as a left-sided midfielder for his club, Johnson has appeared in 24 matches across all competitions for ‘Gladbach, and though he’s always provided a threat in attack, has stepped up a level to tally a career-high seven goals (five in the Bundesliga, two in UEFA Champions League) this season.
“It’s very exciting right now to see Fabian Johnson being on a roll, being very consistent in his performances with Borussia Monchengladbach and on top of not only the performance, he starts to score goals,” added Klinsmann. “He makes a very important input there for the results by scoring goals, by being dangerous, getting into the box and finishing off things. This is really fun for us to watch from the U.S. National Team perspective.
“This gives us different options to have as we go towards the World Cup Qualifiers at the end of March. With Alejandro Bedoya being in top form, Fabian Johnson being in top form, that’s big for us because they are difference makers. You need players on the field that can make a difference.”
While National Team regulars Bedoya and Johnson continue to be difference makers, fellow midfielders Alfredo Morales and Danny Williams have turned in recent club performances that have placed them firmly in consideration for increased roles with the MNT going forward.
Morales has quietly put together a strong season with Bundesliga side FC Ingolstadt. After helping the club earn promotion last year, Morales has compiled 1,441 minutes of playing time, the most of any American player in the Bundesliga this season. Meanwhile, in his third season with English Championship club Reading FC, Williams has been a mainstay in the Royals midfield, appearing in 35 competitive matches, scoring six goals and setting up a number of others. Having appeared in all three of the club’s FA Cup matches, Williams has been key in helping Reading to Saturday’s FA Cup Round of 16 clash with West Brom.
“There are good messages coming from Ingolstadt where Alfredo Morales is playing week in and week out as a starter, very impressively in the left midfielder role that he takes there. Also seeing Danny Williams being back on track with Reading, playing almost all of the games, being consistent and being a decisive player in scoring a goal or making an assist is pretty cool. With Danny now being back in the frame as well and Alfredo playing well in the first Bundesliga, it is good to see these guys performing.”