Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By DAN KARELL
For the first time since 1998, the U.S. Men’s National Team could head into the World Cup with no starting experience from their centerback pair.
The duo of Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez have entrenched themselves as USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s starting defenders, having stayed as the preferred pairing since the infamous snow game victory in Colorado against Costa Rica in March 2013. However, in recent months, Gonzalez has looked shaky, giving Klinsmann plenty to think about as he puts together his squad.
Clarence Goodson, John Brooks, Oguchi Onyewu, Michael Orozco, and Tim Ream are all in the race to be the USMNT’s third and fourth defenders at this summer’s World Cup, but they face competition from players like Geoff Cameron and Maurice Edu, who could be called on to play in central defense if others don’t step up.
Despite the poor performance in Ukraine, Klinsmann is expected to give Onyewu and Brooks one last shot to prove that they belong in the squad, while Ream and Orozco will also vie for places in the team. With the likes of Ghana, Portugal, and Germany on the USMNT’s schedule, Klinsmann will try and bring as much of a mix of talent and experience to Brazil as he can.
Here is a closer look at the centerback options Klinsmann currently has to pick from:
The 2012 MLS Defender of the Year had a busy 2013, splitting time with both Sporting Kansas City and the U.S. Men’s National Team, winning titles with both teams. He’s slowly returning to form after recovering from the stressful year but Besler could be the most important player in the U.S. back line. Besler’s ability to anticipate and read the play ahead of him puts him in the right position to intercept passes, while his distribution is terrific coming out of defense. An in-form Besler could give the USMNT a chance in the daunting road of matches they have ahead.
The imposing 6-foot-5 presence has been Besler’s partner in central defense for the better part of the past year, but his struggles in recent national team matches raises some questions about whether he is a sure-fire starter. His dominating presence in the air makes him a good complement to Besler, but he will have to cut down the mistakes if he is going to keep the starting job. Klinsmann has faith in him, which assures Gonzalez a place on the World Cup team, but whether it is as a starter or reserve remains to be seen.
If Klinsmann decides to bench Gonzalez, Goodson is a good bet to step in alongside Besler. Like Gonzalez, Goodson’s 6-foot-4-inch frame gives him an advantage over the other players on the field on set pieces, on both sides of the ball. Goodson has the ability as well to be a dominant defender, but he usually isn’t the preferred player. That being said, he played in half of the USMNT’s World Cup qualifying matches and five of the six at the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2013 so he’s been one of Klinsmann’s most-used players in the past 18 months. Goodson was also in the USMNT squad at the 2010 World Cup, though he didn’t make an appearance.
It’s been an up and down year for the 21-year-old German-American defender. In his first Bundesliga season with Hertha Berlin, Brooks has dealt with injury, demotion to the bench, and the inconsistency that’s expected for a player of his age. That being said, he combines both height, distribution from the back, and positional awareness beyond his years that when put together, make an intriguing option for the World Cup. He’s been back in the Hertha starting lineup for the last two weeks, hopefully finishing the season on a high note. He’s an option for Klinsmann for sure, but this World Cup might just have come too soon for him.
Since Klinsmann took the USMNT job, Orozco has usually earned a call-up when fit at some point of the year, even if not playing. A more technical central defender than the plethora of tall options, Orozco is one of the pool’s best options to back up Besler, though he doesn’t have Besler’s speed. A regular starter for Mexican side Puebla, Orozco saw his season cut short by a hamstring injury. He should be a part of the pre-World Cup training camp unless he can’t recover from his recent injury.
Ream has become a crucial member of Bolton Wanderers this year, making 41 appearances at centerback, left back, and even right back. While he’s had plenty of playing time at the club level, he hasn’t seen any action for the USMNT since 2011. He was called into the USMNT squad to face Bosnia and Herzegovina last August and Ukraine last March but didn’t play in either match. His impressive form for Bolton makes him an intriguing option, especially given the fact it can be argued he is the most technical centerback in the pool.
The only player in the pool with World Cup experience still in contention, Onyweu has a huge hill to climb to put himself into the USMNT squad. After three years in club purgatory following his recovery from a torn patellar tendon in his left knee, Onyewu has finally caught on with Sheffield Wednesday and is getting regular playing time. However, he’s played just three times for the USMNT since June 2012 and he hasn’t looked sharp in any of those matches. Onyewu’s chances to make the World Cup are slim unless he can prove to Klinsmann that he’s recovered the speed and strength of his younger days.
What do you think of the centerback pool? Which four would you bring to the World Cup? Which of these options would you leave out of the upcoming pre-World Cup training camp? Think Cameron and/or Edu would be better options?
Share your thoughts below.