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U.S. Men’s National Team defense remains unsettled after Mexico draw

Apr 3, 2014, 8:41 AM EDT

Mexico v United States Getty Images

One of the biggest question marks surrounding the U.S. Men’s National Team heading into this summer’s World Cup in Brazil concerns the team’s backline. Last night’s 2-2 draw with Mexico did little to shed light on this growing worry.

Jurgen Klinsmann came into last night’s match with a MLS stable of six defenders to choose from: Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, Clarence Goodson, Tony Beltran, Michael Parkhurst and DeAndre Yedlin.

This meant more than a few key faces were missing, namely, Stoke City’s Geoff Cameron and Hoffenheim’s Fabian Johnson, who remained with their clubs in Europe, Seattle’s Brad Evans, who is recovering from a calf injury sustained during a game against Toronto FC on March 15, and Puebla’s DaMarcus Beasley and Michael Orozco, who were not released by their club because the friendly did not fall on a FIFA international match date.

Klinsmann, therefore, opted to start a center-back partnership of Besler and Gonzalez, with Parkhurst on the left and Beltran on the right.

Gonzalez began the game strong, looking much like the player who impressed in the 0-0 draw with Mexico in 2013 and the 2-0 win over El Tri on September 10th. His second half, however, was a complete horror show as he lost track of Rafa Marquez on Mexico’s opener in the 49th minute and got caught ball-watching on Alan Pulido’s 68th minute equalizer.

Marquez’ goal highlighted Gonzalez’ inability to use the body he’s been blessed with. Despite his 6’5″, 205 lbs. frame, Gonzalez remains reluctant to bust through the opposition with Marquez easily evading him by running a pick around Kyle Beckerman and Juan Valenzuela. It was a simple move by a crafty veteran that Gonzalez should have had the strength to either blow straight through or the agility and wherewithal to skip around. Instead, he was left flat-footed, miles away from Marquez.

On Pulido’s strike, Gonzalez either fell asleep or gave up. Either way, he looked totally perplexed at how Pulido had gotten around him and silly with his hand held high in the air, begging for offside.

Besler, on the other hand, continues to impress despite his relative inexperience at the national team level. The smooth passing Sporting KC center-back is blessed with brilliant timing and, unlike his partner last night, is rapt with attention the entire time he’s on the pitch. In the first half Besler denied Pulido a clever chance and throughout the game showed the poise of a man ready to lead in Brazil.

The problem was that Besler’s night was cut short by Klinsmann’s decision to swap him out for Clarence Goodson. Like Besler, Goodson has a quiet confidence to him, no doubt the result of a 31-year-old with a diverse soccer CV. Goodson’s consistency is his best trait and while nothing about his performance last night will raise red flags, his similar style to Besler, minus perhaps an ounce of the tenaciousness, makes him feel like the third center-back option in Brazil.

The most likely partner for Besler come this summer is Cameron, who, despite playing right-back for his club, has the versatility (and the desire) to play in the center of the defense. Cameron’s speed, grit and experience make him feel like the right compliment to Belser but if this duo is to lead the Stars & Stripes in Brazil, they’ll need to begin fusing a proper partnership, and quick.

Parkhurst, starting at left-back, is another player who didn’t hurt his chances for Brazil. The Columbus Crew captain went 90 strong and generally held down his side of the field, which wasn’t easy considering the pouring forward of Mexico as the game matured. Yet given the presence of players like Johnson and Beasley, who remain the most likely left-backs to start in Brazil, Parkhurst is still a player on the bubble.

Beltran had some decent moments but was largely an inconsistent figure. His defending was average and Mexico looked to exploit him down the right side of the field. Yedlin was impressive when he came on for Beltran in the 71st minute, putting together a few trademark scampers up the pitch although his inexperience remains a worry. One for the future, no doubt, but as far as selection for this summer goes, Yedlin is another who will need a big spring to punch his ticket to Brazil.

As the USMNT enters its final prep phase for World Cup 2014, the time has come for Klinsmann to settle on a back four that can gel. Besler and Cameron feel like a solid combination, although Goodson could also do the job if Cameron is used as a right-back with Johnson on the left. If Cameron stays in the middle, Johnson on the left and Evans on the right could work, or, Beasley could go left with Johnson right.

Either way, Besler, Cameron and Johnson remain the three key pieces to the Nats back four. Who that fourth player is and what permutation the USMNT will ultimately feature in Brazil remains in the trusted hands of Klinsmann.


  1. givemethehighgear - Apr 3, 2014 at 9:02 AM

    Those uniforms look like they came from a Domino’s Pizza garage sale.

    • rafibomb10 - Apr 3, 2014 at 9:20 AM

      I liked them but too much red! The shorts should be white or something.

      • riverschuylkill - Apr 3, 2014 at 11:14 AM

        ….that’s exactly what I was thinking, the red is overtaking the whole kit. White shorts would balance the tri-color effect

  2. guerojose - Apr 3, 2014 at 9:44 AM

    HA! I was thinking maybe the Dutch flag, but you hit it – Domino’s!

    Let me guess: FIFA decided that these would look better in HD during the World Cup.


  3. dfstell - Apr 3, 2014 at 10:10 AM

    Those goals were a little concerning for Gonzalez. I still think he will come in handy in Brazil when the US are pressed back in the box the crosses are coming in. He has the ability to win almost every header in the box.

    He obviously has a problem with being a little too passive and losing focus later in games. It’s hard to maintain focus for the entire game. It should be obviously to his teammates to give him a little kick in the pants at certain moments to refocus him and get him aggressive. That’s what teammates are for….to recognize where you need help (everyone needs help) and help you perform at your best. Obviously Beasler doesn’t do it. Two new fullbacks probably didn’t recognize it. You’d think Rimando could do it, but he hasn’t played behind Gonzalez much. When he sees him in MLS, he’s always trying to score on him.

    • godsholytrousers - Apr 4, 2014 at 12:18 PM

      Omar’s problems are not Besler’s problems.
      Omar is a ball watcher, something that is almost impossible to fix.

      Solution: Clarence Goodson

  4. jucam1 - Apr 3, 2014 at 10:26 AM

    This US team has almost a zero chance of getting past Germany, Portugal, and Ghana. I’ve always known that Jurgen was focused on 2018, but these friendlies, even if they are just friendlies, have shown everyone that he wants to get the young guys experience and find out who will be projected to that ’18 team. This is a super weak Mexico squad, That made it to the WC because Concacaf stinks, and this US team let them tie it up in home soil. The positive news is that getting these foreign players Visas like Green, will speed up Jurgen’s plan for 2018. He wants players to play in strong Latin American or really strong European leagues so that by ’18 the US can make some noise. Maybe the US can get a decent result against Ghana, but I hope Jurgen keeps his goal in view of getting the young guys experience in Brazil so that he’ll have leaders for 18′

    • jdfsquared - Apr 3, 2014 at 12:40 PM

      Cliche Eurosnob criticism of the US game that will be passé in no time, if it isn’t already.

      • lyleoross - Apr 4, 2014 at 2:54 PM

        Not sure you’re right. Eurosnob or not, the US is very likely to be pounded by G and P, and Ghana is a toss up. If you’re trying to tell me we have the tools to put up against the top four from either G or P, I’d have to doubt you. Them’s the facts. If you look at those two programs out of the corner of your eye, ignoring the pieces they have, you can convince yourself we might stand a chance. But if you do any real analysis, you know it’s gonna be a good old fashion whipping.

        It was good to see MB perform to level, but even he isn’t enough to put together the points to move up at the WC. It is great to see what JK is laying down for the future. He has three or four players now, and the potential to build a world power, but not before the WC.

  5. midtec2005 - Apr 3, 2014 at 11:35 AM

    That first half was amazing, Mexico didn’t get a sniff. Maybe one of the best halfs ever from a U.S. team? Of course the problem is that they didn’t do it for two halves.

    I have to agree that Gonzales may have just played his way out of the starting rotation, being switched on for 90 minutes has always been his weak point. But we will see… he will get another chance.

    I was fairly happy with both Beltran and Yedlin because they both looked massively better than the last time they each played. Yedlin may be a good choice to just throw in, with his touch and athleticism I bet he would swim rather than sink.

  6. midtec2005 - Apr 3, 2014 at 12:14 PM

    Oh yeah, +1 for MLS. This was basically MLS allstars vs. Liga MX allstars. With EJs goal MLS wins.

    Now about raising that salary cap…

  7. nappy25 - Apr 3, 2014 at 2:37 PM

    Goodson over Gonzalez!

    • chesschum - Apr 3, 2014 at 4:16 PM

      Absolutely. I’ve always liked Gonzalez but he was beyond pathetic on the two Mexico goals. Did you see the looks Rimando gave him?

  8. godsholytrousers - Apr 4, 2014 at 12:21 PM

    Omar > Goodson

    Everything Else:
    Goodson > Omar

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