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Talking center backs: Cameron, Onyewu or Goodson in Friday’s World Cup qualifying opener?

Jun 6, 2012, 1:30 PM EDT

Portrait of US player Clarence Goodson t

TAMPA, Florida – Trusty captain Carlos Bocanegra will surely patrol his usual beat, left center back, as World Cup qualifying opens here.

But picking Bocanegra’s partner looms as one of Jurgen Klinsmann’s crucial decisions ahead of Friday’s meeting with Antigua & Barbuda – if “crucial” is a word we can use when talking about tiny Antigua & Barbuda, a two-island speck on the CONCACAF map. But never mind that; this is World Cup qualifying, a.k.a. “business time.”

Three tune-up friendlies saw three different central partners for Bocanegra. The choices are hardly dire; this isn’t U.S. left back circa 2008. It’s just that none are “go-to” guys ideal for the part. The case files for and against Klinsmann’s trio of choices:

Geoff Cameron: Klinsmann kept talking up the Houston Dynamo man, doing so even after pulling Cameron from the starting lineup after his night against Scotland. That evening included an own goal and a couple of the occasional positioning blips that we sometimes get from Cameron. His instincts as a center back, not quite honed to an international edge after all those years in the midfield, sometimes nick him.

But if Cameron can get a handle on that, he’s got everything else Klinsmann could want in a center back: range, adequate speed, long legs perfect for dislodging and disposing, aerial ability, and toughness. What he has most: ability to pass as sharply from center back spot as anyone in the U.S. player pool this side of Tim Ream.

That ability to move the ball forward, quickly and precisely, might be just what the U.S. needs against teams that sit back in heavy numbers – and a lot of that is out there in qualifiers ahead.

All three men can pass; Cameron is the one who passing might actually constitute a threat.

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Oguchi Onyewu: Was he just a victim of unfortunate timing? The big U.S. center back had the toughest assignment of the trio, attempting to corral the quick-footed and quicker-thinking Brazilians. So perhaps it’s little wonder that he looked beyond his element alongside Bocangera during last week’s 4-1 loss to the five-time world champs. The problem, of course, is that last week’s wobble wasn’t unfamiliar. I count just one good start from Onyewu (last fall against Ecuador) since that devastating knee injury late in 2009.

That’s coming up on three years now. So perhaps we ask a lot for Onyewu to stride confidently into the breach at highest level right now. Clearly, Brazil (even its slightly watered down version) is tha game at “highest level.”

For now, perhaps Onyewu’s best use falls under “spot starter,” strategically deployed against opponents who rely on a bigger, powerful striker, a la Panamanian frontrunner Blas Perez. “Young and fast” just is a good pairing for Onyewu at present.

Clarence Goodson: Last week I asked Alexi Lalas, a former U.S. center back, why Goodson doesn’t garner more mentions in conversations of potential U.S. starters. (This was before Goodson’s first XI appearance Sunday against Canada.)

Lalas’ best guess: doubts perhaps linger because Goodson has yet to play club ball at elite level. His league games in Denmark aren’t hamburger, but they aren’t Grade A prime, either. And that makes some sense as a theory, helping explain why Goodson may need to consistently do more just to tread water in the depth pool, to stay even with someone like Onyewu, whose resume is dotted with better club addresses.

I agree with Lalas about the perception that Goodson hasn’t played “big boy soccer,” but it’s misguided. Because games in the Danish Superliga aren’t that far behind games in Scotland or Portugal. And I doubt they’d play second fiddle in quality to MLS.

Klinsmann may not believe so either, especially after Sunday’s Man of the Match evening from Goodson against a motivated Canadian team, one that always seems to bring its best against the United States.

If Klinsmann is just evaluating each man’s 90-minute sample over the last two weeks, it looks like a fairly simple call: it’s Goodson on Friday in Tampa as World Cup qualifying for 2014 begins.

  1. term3186 - Jun 6, 2012 at 3:23 PM

    Have to agree. The depth chat for RCB should be Goodson -> Cameron -> Gooch. Assuming we’re ranking them on the basis of their last few starts.

  2. buzahn - Jun 6, 2012 at 5:01 PM

    Yes, Goodson is looking good while Gooch is still sporadic at best. I’d love to see the old Gooch but like it was said in the article, we haven’t seen him since he blew out his knee. Yes, he had a good season in Portugal but was recently injured yet again and doesn’t appear to have fully recovered. Let Goodson play on Friday and unless he falls on his face, let him continue until there’s a reason to make a change.

  3. sdbeisbol - Jun 6, 2012 at 10:21 PM

    Gooch just doesn’t fit into Klinsmann’s style….he’s the anti-Klinsmann, lol. All Gooch does is tackle hard and loses possession constantly when he “clears” the ball by kicking it as far away as possible. It’d be one thing if he could complete a long ball pass ala Spector but that’s just not the case.

  4. xenlee - Jun 6, 2012 at 10:58 PM

    Against Brazil Onyewu “booted” it out of the back 2 times(one a pass attempt along the sideline, the other he kicked it within 10 yards of their corner) while making 14 successful passes out of the US’ third of the pitch. He did not “constantly” clear the ball.

  5. xenlee - Jun 6, 2012 at 11:02 PM

    Against Canada, Goodson booted the ball downfield 3 times(one a complete random kick, the other 2 long pass attempts, 3 turnovers). Bocanegra booted the ball downfield 5 times(all 5 were long turnovers).

  6. tylerbetts - Jun 7, 2012 at 10:38 AM

    Umm … I realize he’s not on the Multiple Choice selections listed above, but isn’t Tim Ream the best option/right choice?

    Just sayin’

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