When Jurgen Klinsmann took charge of the U.S. national team nearly three years ago, one of the positions in most dire need of a talent infusion was without question the left back spot.
One of the best developments during the U.S. team's World Cup qualifying campaign was the emergence of Fabian Johnson as a quality left back, but Klinsmann found himself also looking at Johnson as a wing midfield option. Enter DaMarcus Beasley, a career winger Klinsmann converted into a speedy left back during the hexagonal round of World Cup qualifying.
Finding two fast midfielders to handle the left back spot was in line with Klinsmann's "anybody can play left back" mantra from qualifying, but finding good options beyond those two hasn't been easy. Edgar Castillo struggled badly with the defensive aspects of the position when called upon, while Michael Parkhurst provided a more stable defensive option at the expense of attacking quality.
The long-term prospects at the position aren't exactly overwhelming. The lack of true left-footed options continues to be an issue, and something Klinsmann will want to work on at the youngest levels of the player development system in the coming years. But in the meantime, he will need to make due with players being converted to left back.
A player who just might emerge as a third factor is Timmy Chandler, who previously played the position in his early appearances for the national team. Though he is naturally right-footed, Chandler has a strong enough left foot to be a capable option. Another similiar prospect is Eric Lichaj, who saw his chances of being a World Cup option fade due to prolonged injury. At 25, Lichaj could still potentially develop into an option for the next World Cup cycle. Colorado Rapids left back Chris Klute has also shown some promise, and at 24 is someone to keep an eye on.
So who are the top U.S. national team left back options as we head toward the 2014 World Cup? Here are the five left backs Klinsmann has in the frame:
Fabian Johnson - Hoffenheim
The speedy fullback is a very capable defender, but also a potent threat getting forward. The position is his for taking, with the only real issue being Klinsmann's preference of using him in midfield. A Johnson-Beasley left-sided tandem could be a viable option in Brazil, with the two players interchanging between midfield and fullback.
DaMarcus Beasley - Puebla
The three-time World Cup veteran has made a smooth transition to the left back position. He has shown the willingness to defend tirelessly, and while at times he can show his lack of experience at the position, he has shown to be a smart enough player to adjust. Beasley will be 32 when the World Cup begins, and will need to show in the coming weeks that his struggles late in the qualifying cycle were an aberration and not a trend.
Michael Parkhurst- Columbus
A versatile pro with the poise and experience to handle either fullback position, Parkhurst showed against Mexico in March that he is a viable option if called upon to fill in on the left. It can be argued he understands defending better than anybody on this list, but a lack of pace and inability to provide consistent service makes him a less attractive option than some others.
Timmy Chandler - Nurnberg
A forgotten man after spending more than a year away from the national team picture, Chandler has returned from a torn meniscus injury to regain his starting right back role in the German Bundesliga. He has the speed and technical quality to be effective getting forward on the left or right, and could really be a wild card in Brazil.
Edgar Castillo- Club Tijuana
If the left back position were just about getting forward and contributing to the attack, Castillo would be higher on this list. And if the position were mainly about defending, he wouldn't be on this list at all. His defensive struggles will likely cost him a chance to compete for a World Cup spot at this month's pre-tournament training camp.
- Sports & Recreation
- Jurgen Klinsmann
- Michael Parkhurst
- Fabian Johnson
- Edgar Castillo
- DaMarcus Beasley