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Godfrey's Daily Rant

Should DaMarcus Beasley Start at Left Back for U.S.?

Jurgen Klinsmann has already indicated that he intends to play DaMarcus Beasley at left back in Friday's Hexagonal match in Costa Rica. ASN's John Godfrey isn't sold on the idea.

BY John Godfrey Posted
September 03, 2013
9:55 AM
WHEN DAMARCUS BEASLEY hangs up his boots and settles into a life of jewelry making or whatever he intends to do post-soccer, he will be remembered as one of the all-time U.S. greats.

The versatile winger has 109 caps, ranking him 8th on the career list, and he could finish the year in the No. 5 slot ahead of Claudio Reyna, who has 112 appearances. Beasley also has 17 international goals, tied with Earnie Stewart, placing him ninth among U.S. internationals.

Beasley has played in the Eredivisie (PSV Eindhoven), the English Premier League (Manchester City), the Scottish Premier League (Rangers), the Bundesliga (Hannover), and LigaMX (Puebla). He scored 4 goals in 12 appearances for PSV in the 2004-2005 Champions League, making it all the way to the semifinal stage.

The 31-year-old was, and still is, a fantastic soccer player.

But he should not start at left back against Costa Rica or Mexico.

United States men’s soccer coach Jurgen Klinsmann doesn’t see it that way, however, and his opinion matters a hell of a lot more than mine.

“I think Beas is set in the left back role and Fabian is set in a winger role for right now,” Klinsmann told reporters last week. “It’s good to know that even on the other side he can play right wing or right back and that gives us some options to pull if needed. Right now we see [Johnson] very strong on the left wing in midfield and Beas behind him.”

Klinsmann doesn’t often tip his hand regarding personnel decisions, and for him to go on record ahead of Friday’s World Cup qualifier in Costa Rica (10 p.m. Eastern; BeIn Sport) suggests he is dead set on starting Beasley at left back.

To quote a certain science fiction epic....[CLICK BELOW]

Yes, I know Beasley played left back in five of the six Gold Cup matches this summer. And I am fully aware that the Yanks swept through the tournament with Beasley wearing the captain's armband. As Klinsmann himself might say, Beasley “deserves a very big compliment for his performance.”

But playing against CONCACAF minnows and a few B teams in the Gold Cup is completely different than playing Hexagonal matches against a loaded (and angry) Costa Rica squad and a desperate Mexico team.

It's worth pointing out that Beasley started at left back for the U.S. the last time it played a World Cup qualifier in Costa Rica—in 2009. It didn’t go particularly well. And it really didn't start well. Watch the first 45 seconds or so of the video below and you'll see what I mean.

The New York Times’ Andrew Das wrote this about Beasley’s contributions in that 2009 contest:

"Bob Bradley’s wishing that DaMarcus Beasley can become a solution at left back won’t make it so. It was his too-easy giveaway (which forced his slashing attempt at a clearance seconds later) that set up Costa Rica’s first goal. Alvaro Saborio’s shot would have beaten any goalkeeper, but he never would have taken it if either of the two players in position to stop it (Mastroeni and Torres) had bailed out Beasley by sticking a foot in.

Beasley may have all the tools to play left back, but he needs to actually do the job to get the plan to work. Remember, he was burned for the second goal in El Salvador, a mistake that was largely forgotten when the U.S. rallied for a 2-2 tie. The problem is that when Beasley has bad touches, or sends all his passes back to Howard or to Bocanegra in the middle, it takes Torres (and by extension Altidore when he’s up front on that side) out of the game as well."

Granted, that was four years ago. But Beasley played left back for the U.S. in a prominent Hex contest earlier this year. Against Mexico. In Estadio Azteca. And that didn’t go so well either.

The U.S. earned a point in that scoreless draw, a tremendous outcome in a hostile environment. But the positive result obscured the brutal truth that the Yanks were under assault the entire game, conceding 17 shots and 15 corner kicks. El Tri targeted Beasley throughout the contest, with considerable success. The field-level highlights below provide a better perspective than the standard-view highlights. Take a look.

Javier Aquino tormented Beasley constantly, forcing the American to take a yellow in the 8th minute that led to a very good scoring opportunity. After intermission it only got worse, as Aquino created a series of dangerous chances at Beasley’s expense—crosses, runs into the box, and even a wide-angle shot that nearly went in.

Yes, the U.S. held on for the draw. (And I was showered in a Mexican mystery fluid at the final whistle from my exposed seat in the press area.) But the score line flattered the Americans and had more to do with Mexico’s futility in front of goal rather than stalwart defending.

I can't help it: Beasley scares me back there—especially against the two toughest opponents in CONCACAF.

In Klinsmann's defense—not that he needs any; the team has won 12 matches in a row after all—he has started Beasley at left back with Fabian Johnson on the left wing twice this year. The team won both Hexagonal matches, a 2-1 road win in Jamaica and a 2-0 victory over Panama in Seattle.

So why shouldn't Klinsmann simply roll out another 4-2-3-1 formation with Beasley and Fabian Johnson on the left?

As far as I'm concerned, that formation/lineup combo makes sense against an inferior opponent, or a team determined to bunker and counterattack. In that environment Beasley's defensive liabilities wouldn't be exposed like they were on March 26 in Mexico City, and Beasley's still-considerable speed would prove useful breaking up counters.

But the U.S. should not expect to encounter timidity in its two September qualifiers. Playing at home, you've got to believe the Ticos will take the game to the Yanks. Four days later, a frustrated and increasingly desperate El Tri will not be playing for a point on the road. Mexico knows it outplayed the Yanks at Estadio Azteca and will be looking for a victory in Columbus.

If Beasley plays at left back, both teams are likely to focus their attack squarely on him.

Is that something we really want to see?

I think Fabian Johnson is a safer, sturdier option at left back. He plays LB for Hoffenheim, he is a defensive improvement over Beasley, and he can press forward as necessary.

OK, what you do you think? Share your thoughts below, folks.

John Godfrey is the founder and editor in chief of American Soccer Now.

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