It is one month from the USA’s World Cup opener versus Ghana, and the Americans' back line is in a state of flux.
There are 11 defensive players on Jurgen Klinsmann’s 30-man preliminary World Cup roster — more than any other position. Besides the untested duo of DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks, would it really be a surprise if any of the remaining nine start against Ghana?
DaMarcus Beasley, Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez and Brad Evans appear to be the current first-choice back line, at least based on the number of starts in the hexagonal. Aside from Besler, though, no spot is really safe.
Gonzalez started 8 of the 10 hexagonal matches, but his slip-ups against Mexico last month prompted Klinsmann to declare open season on the center back competition. The LA Galaxy man must prove himself again during the next three weeks.
As for Beasley and Evans, both performed admirably in stopgap roles after transitioning from midfield, but the USA’s Group G draw put their positions under the spotlight. Ghana, Portugal and Germany are so dangerous from the flanks, the veteran duo may not be able to keep up.
So that leaves the remaining five: Michael Parkhurst, Clarence Goodson, Geoff Cameron, Timothy Chandler and Fabian Johnson.
The first thing that stands out about that group is that aside from Goodson, all are capable of playing multiple spots on the field. It may be a good window into Klinsmann’s mind.
What the U.S. lacks in sure things, it makes up for in options. Don’t trust Evans at right back? Yedlin, Parkhurst, Cameron, Chandler and Johnson are all available. Want to try a Beasley alternative? Parkhurst and Johnson can fill in.
Next to Besler, Klinsmann can rotate Gonzalez, Goodson, Cameron, Brooks or even Parkhurst and Maurice Edu if things get desperate.
Perhaps the only surprise in this group is that Klinsmann couldn’t find a spot for the versatile Tim Ream, recently named Bolton’s player of the season.
“The next three weeks are definitely about the form they are in,” Klinsmann said during Monday’s conference call. “The players know I don’t have to name them right now; they know they have a battle ahead of them.”
The defensive battle in camp won’t be solely for roster spots. Three of the four starting positions across the back line will likely be decided in the next three weeks.
Perhaps no player epitomizes the chaos that is the USA’s defense right now better than Chandler.
The right back’s USA future has been written off time and time again. First he was going to pick Germany, then he was going to go back to Germany after picking the USA, then his fear of commitment was going to preclude him, then his awful showing against Honduras ruled him out, and, finally, a knee injury sustained in March wouldn’t give him sufficient time to recover.
But Chandler’s here. And not only is he a candidate to make the team, he may just work his way into the mix for a starting spot.
At 24, he has four seasons of Bundesliga experience under his belt. With speed and athleticism, he could be the perfect candidate to engage Group G’s wealth of dangerous wide men.
“We scouted him many times in training and I think he’s a player that can make a difference if he’s on his highest level,” Klinsmann said of the FC Nurnberg fullback. “He has experience playing against very good players from throughout Europe, and that’s why he earned his way back into the group.”
Chandler hasn’t played for the U.S. in more than 15 months, yet a starting spot in Brazil is within the realm of possibility. That alone sums up the state of affairs on the American back line at the moment.
With a month to go until the World Cup, such instability is far from ideal, but Klinsmann at least has ample opportunity to experiment with various defensive combinations. Expect plenty of variation in the team’s three send-off friendlies in the United States, with last-minute tinkering possible in the team’s closed-door scrimmages in Brazil as well.
The USA needs to plant a lot of defensive seeds between now and Ghana. If the Yanks are to escape Group G, one or two will need to blossom.
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