Apr 3, 2014, 8:41 AM EDT
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.
Jul 26, 2014, 8:59 AM EDT
West Ham may be regretting their trip to Australia and New Zealand, while Newcastle are honoring fans’ memory with wins.
Jul 26, 2014, 8:06 AM EDT
Is the Chelsea manager gearing up for a season of back-and-forth with new United boss Louis van Gaal?
Jul 26, 2014, 7:13 AM EDT
The Brazilian will have a chance to prove himself once more, challenging Rob Green for the starting goalkeeper spot for QPR.
Jul 26, 2014, 12:01 AM EDT
Two goals in the first half hour allowed the Rapids to cruise at DSG Park.
Jul 25, 2014, 10:35 PM EDT
The 26-year-old will try to improve an attack that averaged fewer than one goal per game last season.
Jul 25, 2014, 9:11 PM EDT
Gonzalez resumed full training on Friday with the hope of starting in Seattle.
Jul 25, 2014, 8:32 PM EDT
Roberto Martínez is ready to spend close to $35 million to secure the 21-year-old’s return.
Jul 25, 2014, 7:44 PM EDT
Medical with Gunners and fee agreement has Chambers on the verge of departing for North London.
Jul 25, 2014, 6:48 PM EDT
LCL injury could sideline former Southampton star for six weeks.
Jul 25, 2014, 6:04 PM EDT
23-year-old brings another ball-winner to the Dynamo midfield.
Jul 25, 2014, 5:01 PM EDT
One of Alex Ferguson’s most notorious transfers has found a new home with Benfica.
Jul 25, 2014, 4:15 PM EDT
Five years of development by the Blues ends with the 23-year-old’s departure.
Jul 25, 2014, 3:11 PM EDT
From Sanchez and Luiz to Suarez and Sidwell, a breakdown of the top names to have come and gone from the Premier League.
Jul 25, 2014, 2:28 PM EDT
If anyone spots Will.I.Am with Willian, let us know.
Jul 25, 2014, 1:39 PM EDT
Things are looking dicey at Southampton, where yet another player is set to skip town.
Jul 25, 2014, 12:51 PM EDT
A one-year move and mutual respect between the coach and player could make this a relatively-shrewd move for the Blues.
Jul 25, 2014, 12:09 PM EDT
Jerry Bengston is going on loan to Belgrano, while New England president Brian Bilello is working on a number of attacking options.
Jul 25, 2014, 11:24 AM EDT
Dynamo president Chris Canetti made waves when he said the team would be adding to the DaMarcus Beasley signing soon with a World Cup starter.
Jul 25, 2014, 11:11 AM EDT
World Cup final, so what? Diego Maradona is not pleased with the way his nation played in Brazil.
Jul 25, 2014, 9:55 AM EDT
Barring something wild, young Eliaquim Mangala is taking his French national team talent to Manchester.
- Everton willing to set club transfer record to bring Lukaku back 3
- Arsenal on the verge of signing Calum Chambers from Southampton 1
- Knee injury will keep Lallana out of Liverpool’s Premier League opener 0
- A quick guide to who’s come and gone from Premier League teams 2
- Didier Drogba has officially rejoined Jose Mourinho at Chelsea 4
- FIFA says World Cup will stay in Russia, “can achieve positive change” 9