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Right back: a cursed U.S. national team position?

Feb 8, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT

Johnson of the U.S. steps away from Nosworthy of Jamaica during their World Cup qualifying soccer match at Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio Reuters

Once upon a time, not too long ago, left back was the problem child position around the U.S. national team. It was the position with issues, the personnel riddle that refused to be solved despite varied and valiant attempts.

It was like that for more than a decade, going back to a time so troubled that ol’ David Regis seemed like the answer.

David Regis was not the answer.

We’ve officially witnessed a changing of the guard, so to speak, during the current World Cup cycle. The position most likely to keep U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann up at night these days: U.S. right back.

(MORE: Chandler injured in Nuremberg match)

Timothy Chandler’s injury today is the latest reminder that every option at this position come with its own set of issues.  Let’s take a quick, fresh look at the candidates to play right back this summer in Brazil. (Or, in a couple of cases, guys who came close to candidacy over the last couple of years.)

  • Brad Evans: He’s the top choice at the moment, even though it’s not his spot for the Seattle Sounders. Playing one position for club and something different for country isn’t exactly unique. Then again, it’s not exactly ideal, either, now is it?
  • Geoff Cameron: The guess here is that Cameron, still doing well at the right back spot for Stoke, will be the starting right back when Klinsmann lines ‘em up against Ghana on June 16 at Estadio das Dunas in Natal. But for whatever reason (as we talked about earlier this week), Klinsmann has been reluctant to embrace the long-legged righty as a fullback, preferring that the player fight his way into central defensive candidacy for Stoke City. Again, it might be changing. Either way, this one may be the oddest duck in a lineup of odd duck personnel conundrums at the U.S. right back spot.
  • Steve Cherundolo: The longtime U.S. incumbent at right back slips further and further from World Cup candidacy with each inactive week that passes. He just can’t get past the injury issues that have taken him out of the Hannover lineup all year.
  • DeAndre Yedlin: Word is that Klinsmann really liked what he saw out of the young Sounders outside back during an eventful January camp. But it’s just too early for him. Might we see a big run from the guy during World Cups in 2018 and 2022? Could be! But for 2014? The guy remains pretty raw.
  • Tony Beltran: Just over one year ago he was among the guys performing pretty well in camp. Then came a rough night as a starter against Canada, and Beltran just hasn’t made up the lost ground since.
  • Fabian Johnson: A natural lefty, Johnson (pictured above) has started here and there out of necessity at right back for the United States. And could certainly do so again; he always looked OK as a right back. But when you use a guy who is “solid” or just “OK” on the right, but who could be potentially dynamic and even game-breaking on the other side of the field, you’ve left something pretty valuable on the table, haven’t you?
  • Michael Parkhurst: Steady performances (nothing sizzling, but a dependable defensive presence) on the right and on the left have put the Columbus Crew man in position for heavy roster consideration. When it comes to those 21st, 22nd and 23rd spots, versatility is pretty clutch. Of course, he’ll be playing center back for Gregg Berhalter at Crew Stadium, so that mucks things up a bit.
  • Timothy Chandler: If your poured the truth syrup over Klinsmann’s morning pancakes, he’d probably confess that the flakey young FC Nuremberg man is alive in this conversation today only because of the positional instability. Otherwise, he’d be dead as a box of hammers to Klinsmann and the U.S. staff. This latest news (today’s injury) adds yet another moving part to it all, at very best. At worst (well, depending on your definition of “worst,” which probably swings in this case on your feelings about Chandler), this more or less eliminates the guy for roster consideration.

  1. tylerbetts - Feb 9, 2014 at 12:35 AM

    Actually, Berhalter has said he’ll play Parkhurst at right back if it helps him make the National Team for the World Cup.

    As a US Soccer fan, I appreciate that. As a Crew fan, in not sure how I feel about it. Though, I do think he brings more value to the club playing outside …

  2. bigdinla - Feb 9, 2014 at 12:39 AM

    What about Lichaj? He is a starting healthy RB.

    • bear06 - Feb 9, 2014 at 2:04 AM

      He’s injured and is out for a few weeks.

  3. bellerophon30 - Feb 9, 2014 at 10:06 AM

    That this is a problem is pretty strange. We have a guy who starts at right back in the EPL, the deepest league in the world. He’s out there every time for Stoke, and seems to do very well (I’m talking about Geoff Cameron obviously). But instead Jurgen wants to take an MLS midfielder and make him a right back. Yeah, I don’t get it.

    But it’s nice to see Parkhurst getting some run at right back with his club, and that his manager understands why he came back to MLS in the first place. I hope Cherundolo comes back 100% and at least gets a spot on the team……but it’s not looking good.

    • bear06 - Feb 10, 2014 at 1:22 AM

      Jurgen has played Cameron at RB a few times last year and didn’t really impress. Also Evans has done well at RB but I don’t think he’s going to be the starting RB in the WC.

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