With nearly a full deck at his disposal, Jurgen Klinsmann is finally ready to play his best cards.
Landon Donovan, the U.S. national team’s all-time scoring king, is back in the fold. Ace striker Jozy Altidore is on a long-awaited tear bagging goals for his country. Midfield stalwarts Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley are as dependable as ever.
But when it comes to the back four, the U.S. squad still is leaning on its fair share of wild cards.
Add up the caps for the eight defenders on the roster unveiled Thursday for World Cup qualifiers at Costa Rica on Sept. 6 and versus Mexico on Sept. 10 and you’ll arrive at 186. Subtract the 109 appearances by DaMarcus Beasley — a natural midfielder — and it’s just 77.
That’s not a lot of defensive experience going into fixtures against arguably the two toughest opponents the United States must face in this Hexagonal.
The omission of veteran Clarence Goodson despite a solid Gold Cup all but ensures we’ll again see the Matt Besler-Omar Gonzalez center back pairing, with the versatile Geoff Cameron offering depth along with Michael Orozco and newcomer John Brooks.
If his comments during Thursday’s conference call are any indication, however, Klinsmann isn’t the least bit concerned by the lack of true veteran savvy in the middle.
“We have the experienced guys in camp,” Klinsmann said. “There’s Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler, Omar. So we feel fully loaded there.”
But the real concerns linger out wide. With Hannover captain Steve Cherundolo sidelined by knee surgery, Timothy Chandler getting inconsistent minutes with Nurnberg and Michael Parkhurst not even dressing for Augsburg, Klinsmann is without any of those Bundesliga options at right back.
While Eric Lichaj, a starter in England for second-tier Nottingham Forest, has played his way onto Klinsmann’s radar, the coach noted that “now is not the time to experiment.”
Thus the U.S. side is left with Edgar Castillo, an attack-minded left back who has struggled defensively on the international level, as the only natural fullback available.
Brad Evans and Beasley, the presumptive starters, play midfield for their clubs. Cameron and Orozco are best used centrally. Although Fabian Johnson is an option at left and right back, Klinsmann on Thursday said the player currently is entrenched on the left wing.
“That gives always some options to pull if needed,” Klinsmann said. “But right now, we feel very, very strong (about Johnson) on the left wing, in midfield, and Beas behind him.”
There is a caveat: With Besler, Cameron, Evans and Johnson set to be suspended with a yellow card in Costa Rica, Klinsmann is ready to adjust his roster for the Mexico match if need be.
As he put it, “Anything can happen after that game … but we feel very comfortable with this back line for Costa Rica.”
The lack of proven commodities in that unit presents a less than ideal scenario. Yet it’s a familiar one. Since March, the United States has gone 12-1-0 in matches started by Beasley at left back and 5-0-0 by games started by Evans at right back.
It’s not the most reliable barometer, considering the soft opposition for many of those contests. But Klinsmann, for one, appears convinced.