SALT LAKE CITY -- A strong center back pairing isn't formed overnight. If anybody knows that, it's Jurgen Klinsmann.
After spending nearly two years rotating center backs in and out of the lineup, it appears the U.S. head coach has settled on a combination that, at least for the time being, seems entrenched.
After Omar Gonzalez rotated through three different center back partners in 2013 alone, he has now started alongside Matt Besler for three consecutive matches, and the two are set to make it four in a row Tuesday night against Honduras.
"I think we've grown a lot," Besler told reporters. "I feel very comfortable with him, I think it's starting to be more natural, our partnership, but at the same time we've got to keep going. We've got to keep improving."
On the surface, the pair appears well suited for one another: The hulking Gonzalez provides the brawn, while the cerebral Besler finds the right spots to cover and distributes out of the back.
The two most recent MLS Defender of the Year award winners became real options for the national team in their first start in a competitive game together, which came in March at Estadio Azteca. In only his second cap for the U.S. and first start in a World Cup qualifier, Besler held up remarkably well next to the similarly inexperienced Gonzalez, who was making just his third appearance in a qualifier.
After the 0-0 draw in Mexico, the duo started the next Hexagonal match against Jamaica. Then again against Panama. The first-choice pairing had finally been established.
"I think Omar and Matt and players like them, there is so much they still have to learn and they know that they have to learn still a lot, but also for us, it's an exciting learning curve to be with," Klinsmann said.
With players so inexperienced at the international level, there will be the inevitable bump in the road, like Gonzalez's occasional lapses in concentration that have cost the team goals against Honduras and Belgium. Klinsmann though, sees enough potential in the duo to ride out any potential bumps in the road.
"We told players like Matt Besler and Omar that you know, by growing there will be some pains coming along," Klinsmann said. "There will be a bad game here and there, there will be a mistake, but the important thing is that we coaches see the potential in certain players and we can see where they can be one day."
Even though the partnership appears to be coming along nicely, Klinsmann is also faced with the proverbial "problem coaches love to have." Geoff Cameron, who performed so well at center midfield against Panama, has experience with the national team playing center back, which is most likely his best position.
It's a situation of which Gonzalez appears to be well aware.
"There's never really time to feel comfortable," Gonzalez told reporters. "You always want to be on your game and you always want to be showing well because the moment you don't, you can be out like that."
Klinsmann has shown plenty of faith in the Galaxy center back, though, who has started all eight of the USA's games in 2013.
"I feel a lot more comfortable and I think a lot of that comes with being around the guys more," Gonzalez said.
"Against Honduras [in February] it was my first time meeting some of these guys, first time playing with these guys and now that we've had a few months together, the banter is good, you just feel a bond growing and I think that's been the reason why I've felt more comfortable."
That comfort is starting to show on the field, and the U.S. coach knows that comfort plus talent could be the equation that produces a formidable duo in the middle of his defense.
"We want to develop high quality top players and Matt and Omar have the talent to become real real high end center backs," Kiinsmann said.
It may have taken some time, and there could still be a miscue or two, but Klinsmann knows that nothing happens overnight.
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