Defense in Disarray: It's a Troubling Time for the U.S.
Has the U.S. defense ever looked more woeful than it does right now? Due to some poor play at the international level, a rash of injuries, and general inactivity, Jurgen Klinsmann has some major decisions to make.
BY John Godfrey PostedWHO IS GOING TO PLAY DEFENSE for the United States in the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica and Mexico? Who is healthy? Who is in good form? Who is trustworthy? These questions are particularly difficult to answer these days. An alphabetical roll call shines some light on the depth of the problem. Matt Besler looked pretty bad in Sporting Kansas City's season opener against Philadelphia, and he isn't exactly a proven commodity at the international level. Besler has just one cap for the United States national team—in a January friendly against a Canada team that only managed one shot on goal. Carlos Bocanegra, the team captain until recently, is struggling to get on the field for a second division side, Spain's Racing Santander. If he doesn't get into the mix in the next few weeks, will Klinsmann call him in? (Also, the first 45 seconds of the video below are a stark reminder of the chemistry issues that have plagued the U.S. in recent months.) Geoff Cameron made an impressive move to Stoke City last summer, but this past weekend he was a healthy scratch for a depleted English Premier League team. Shortly after the game he tweeted, "Confused," which is unlikely to help his cause with the Potters' stern overlord, Tony Pulis. Also, Cameron didn't impress against Honduras. Edgar Castillo is playing well for Club Tijuana, but he recently engaged in a dangerous game of smashmouth futbol, and will miss some time. Timothy Chandler was awful in the February 6 World Cup qualifier against Honduras—the lowest-rated player on the squad. Yes, he's now cap tied to the U.S., but this hardly seemed like cause for celebration after the Honduras match. Steve Cherundolo underwent knee surgery last month and hasn't played since December 19. Jay DeMerit is done. He might have been done before his latest injury, but he's definitely done now. Omar Gonzalez received his long-awaited Big Chance in the Hexagonal opener in San Pedro Sula, and turned in a decidedly poor performance. Clarence Goodson was a central force in central defense for Brondby a year ago; now he struggles to see action. Eric Lichaj cannot crack the Starting XI for Aston Villa. Oguchi Onyewu is technically a Champions League player, but when was the last time you saw the 30 year old on the pitch? Michael Parkhurst may have been a star in Denmark but he is now in Germany. He has been uneven with his new club, Augsburg, and needs time to settle in. Tim Ream? No. Danny Williams, who typically plays a defensive midfield role for the U.S., rarely starts for Hoffenheim these days, and his form for the Stars and Stripes—remember the Russia match?—suggests this is justified. Even Tim Howard, the venerable goalkeeper and last line of defense, missed a game for Everton last weekend. He should recover in time for the Hexagonal matches, but still. With the possible exception of Fabian Johnson, it seems like every defensive-minded player on the U.S. roster has some sort of asterisk or question or caveat next to his name. So yeah—it's a problem. Making matters worse, the U.S. simply cannot afford to lose to Costa Rica on March 22nd at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo.—not after having lost its Hexagonal opener to Honduras on February 6. And not with an extremely difficult road game against Mexico just four days later. While it is a strong possibility that the same quartet who started against Honduras in San Pedro Sula—Johnson, Gonzalez, Cameron, and Chandler—will start against Costa Rica, those four defenders did not exactly distinguish themselves against los Catrachos. But does U.S. national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann have any other legitimate options? If this were June or September, Klinsmann could bolster his backline with a collection of steady-if-unspectacular Major League Soccer players—Steve Beitashour, George John, Heath Pearce, etc. But the MLS season has just started, meaning most players are just getting up to speed. And with a limited sample size to analyze, it will be risky to choose players from this second tier of talent. Jonathan Spector is a viable candidate. A regular starter for Birmingham City, Spector is healthy, strong, experienced, and plays multiple positions. He’s clearly not a Klinsmann favorite, however, and he’s prone to the occasional gaffe, but this could be his time to earn another callup. There’s Seb Hines to consider too. The 24-year-old Middlesbrough defender has tons of talent and might have been part of the England setup were it not for a series of injuries early in his career. Hines has expressed interest in playing for America—he has dual nationality—but it’s hard to imagine Klinsmann giving him a shot for these crucial matches. (The Gold Cup would make a lot more sense.) The six-foot-seven, 20-year-old Hertha Berlin central defender John Anthony Brooks is another option, but only barely. Though supremely gifted, he is likely too young and too raw to receive serious consideration for these very serious matches. Michael Orozco Fiscal? Probably. The Puebla defender rarely inspires confidence, but he does play in LigaMX and he did score that game-winning goal in Estadio Azteca last August. He will receive consideration, and given the state of the U.S. defense, he is a likely candidate to make the roster. Given all of this, the next U.S. roster might feature the following defenders: Matt Besler, Geoff Cameron, Timothy Chandler, Michael Orozco Fiscal, Omar Gonzalez, Fabian Johnson, Michael Parkhurst, and Jonathan Spector. Factoring in their various woes and recent efforts, can the U.S. stop two dynamic offenses with this group? Scary. John Godfrey is the founder and editor in chief of American Soccer Now. Which defenders should be included in the U.S. roster? Who should start? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.
March 06, 2013
March 06, 2013