Trending Topics: Klinsmann Must Use Competition When Building USMNT Defense

IMAGE, MLSSOCCER.COM,

Christian Araos
Staff Writer

This is a column that will appear towards the end of the week discussing the hottest topic in American soccer. If you don’t like the Twitter connection or the Puck Daddy influence, oh well, thanks for clicking. 

Well, there’s really only one topic in American soccer that’s worth discussing right now, and that’s who US Men’s National Team Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann will select for his 30-man preliminary roster.

We all know how big of a moment Monday’s announcement is going to be. However, beyond the obvious, Monday’s roster announcement also signifies an opportunity for us to see the most tangible example of Klinsmann’s rhetoric.

“One of the goals of the roster for this game and moving forward is to create competition at each position,” Klinsmann said back in 2011 when he named his first roster as head coach. That rationale has lasted throughout his tenure with the national team. After all, it only took 29 games for Klinsmann to name a lineup that was the same as the previous match. It is a philosophy that the national team players claim to understand, and next week, we will truly see.

Competition has to be the prevailing theme behind Monday’s roster announcement. Stability will be the prevailing theme of the final roster announcement, but at the moment, the USMNT cannot afford to be stable — especially at each full back position. Brad Evans has been a consistent presence with the national team in the past year but it would be foolish to write his name in stone as the American’s starting right back. Not with Geoff Cameron and Timothy Chandler both fit, and more natural options.

However, Evans has the most experience with the national team at that position, Cameron the least. Chandler’s pteromerhanophobia along with his minimal national team experience gives some caveats the fitter and more natural options can exploit. Those may all be factors to consider for the final selection, but for now, call them all in.

DaMarcus Beasley tied for the most appearances with the national team in 2013, but he still should be seen as an uncertainty at left back given his inconsistent individual defending. Fabian Johnson and Edgar Castillo are left backs by trade and it is likely that Johnson will be viewed primarily as a defender, which is where he first played with the national team. Although he has had defensive lapses, most notably in the Ukraine friendly where he struggled in isolated situations, Castillo is a Klinsmann favorite. That aspect, isolated defending, is a general weakness with the US fullbacks, but it also has to be the deciding aspect in determining the number one option for both full back spots.

Perhaps the only outfield position where stability trumps competition is center back, but that position is also in relative uncertainty with Omar Gonzalez set to miss the beginning of the World Cup camp due to a knee injury. Matt Besler is safe in terms of earning a starting job and Gonzalez should also start. While the pair have had their ups and downs with the national team, it would be a massive risk to alter the team’s starting center back pairing; one that risks the entire team’s chemistry as well, see: San Pedro Sula 2013. The number three center back is where the competition should take place with John Brooks, Tim Ream, Oguchi Onyewu, Clarence Goodson and Michael Parkhurst all possible options. Parkhurst’s versatility makes him an option to be considered at both full back positions for which he has the most experience with the national team.

Brooks and Ream are the most inexperienced options but both have the most upside for the future in the short and long term. Brooks is ending his first Bundesliga season well after an inconsistent run of form with Hertha Berlin that extended into a haphazard showing with the national team while Ream’s prospects were discussed in Monday’s Empire XI. It should be noted that Ream was training with the New York Red Bulls on Friday morning after Bolton Wanderers’ season concluded last weekend but he is also remembered for a bad showing with the national team.

Onyewu is a veteran but injuries and age have an ugly way of rearing their heads in World Cups as we remember from Claudio Reyna at the 2006 World Cup. However, both he and Goodson are World Cup veterans and it may be the safe move to have a veteran in a situation where an extra center back is needed. Parkhurst has not been to a World Cup but he is a known commodity with the national team at both full back places and he has had a good year with the Columbus Crew at center back so he may earn a place on the 23-man roster not necessarily because he is the top option at any one position but a good option at all positions.

That is the intangible that will factor most in determining which defenders go to Brazil but it is such a critical factor in determining the rest of the roster. The more versatile the US’ defensive corps is, the fewer defenders the US will have to take to Brazil allowing more roster spaces for midfielders and forwards which gives Klinsmann options to vary his tactics in midfield and attack which is immeasurably critical given the midfield strength of each team in the group.

However, Klinsmann cannot vary his midfield and attack without a foundation in defense, a foundation that  has to be forged in the next few weeks by competition.


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  • Jay

    Klinsmann give a shot to Lee Nguyen.


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