When Steve Cherundolo announced his retirement earlier this year, it signaled an inevitable end to an impressive era with the U.S. national team. Cherundolo is widely-regarded as the best right back in U.S. history, and replacing him was never going to be easy, which is why there was still hope for Cherundolo to push on for a fourth World Cup even as his knees were clearly failing him and father time was claiming another impressive career.
Jurgen Klinsmann wasn't exactly waiting around for that bad news. He set about finding a replacement for Cherundolo long ago, and he spent much of 2013 working on converting Brad Evans from midfield to right back, a role Evans handled well in World Cup qualifying.
That good form Evans enjoyed during the Hex hasn't stuck around though. He has struggled mightily in his more recent national team appearances, which has paved the way for Klinsmann to turn to the seemingly inevitable first-choice option, Geoff Cameron. The starting right back for Stoke City for the past two years, Cameron isn't quite the attacking threat Klinsmann would prefer, but his experience playing the position against some of the best players in the world makes him well-equipped to handle the tough task of playing right back for the U.S. in the Group of Death.
As much as Cherundolo's retirement has left a void, the reality is that there is actually a very strong crop of young right backs coming through the pipeline. Players like DeAndre Yedlin, Kofi Sarkodie and even teenage FC Dallas standout Kellyn Acosta. Montreal rookie Eric Miller has looked good since turning pro after being part of the U.S. Under-20 World Cup team.
That crop of talent bodes well for the future of the position, but in terms of the options that Klinsmann actually has at the moment, every option carries some concern. You could make the argument that the best right back in the national team pool is Fabian Johnson, but he seems morely likely to play either left back or left wing for the U.S. team.
So who are the top U.S. national team right back options as we head toward the 2014 World Cup? Here are the five right backs Klinsmann has in the frame:
Geoff Cameron - Stoke City
While you could make the very strong argument that he might be better utilized as a central defender for the USA, Cameron has shown steady improvement at right back for Stoke City. The attacking part of his game has improved, and he has done well when Klinsmann has tried him at right back.
Brad Evans - Seattle
Michael Parkhurst- Columbus
Tony Beltran - Real Salt Lake
Given a chance to start against Mexico earlier this month, Beltran held his own and showed an ability to handle tough competition. He is good getting forward, defends well one-on-one and passes the ball well. That set of skills has him on this list, though he is still very much a long shot to make it to the World Cup.
DeAndre Yedlin- Seattle
The future of the right back position, Yedlin has the speed and attacking qualities to be truly dangerous as he continues to learn the position. He still has his share of growing pains, but there is no denying that he has the tools to one day be a starter. His inexperience will probably keep him out of a serious chance at the World Cup team, but the 2016 Olympics are looming, and could signal his coming-out party on the international stage. Though as we note above, there is plenty of competition on the way at right back.