Caleb Porter has just wrapped up the second of what will be four U-23 training camps ahead of 2012 Olympics Qualifying which begins for the United States this coming March. The teams’ first camp, this past November, was held in Duisberg, Germany and due to Porter’s commitment to the University of Akron, the camp was run by US Soccer Youth Technical Director Claudio Reyna, US U-20 Head Coach Tab Ramos, and US U-18 Head Coach Richie Williams. The second camp, held this past December, was Porter’s first actually being in charge and held in Lakewood Ranch, FL. The squad plans on having a January camp in Los Angeles, CA parallel to Jurgen Klinsmann’s Camp Strudel, after which they plan on playing two friendlies. A final camp will be held in February as a final look at players for Porter to finalize his roster for Olympic qualifying.
As a point of reference, here are the defenders we have seen called in so far: (players called for both camps are in BOLD)
Gale Agbossoumonde (Eintracht Frankfurt, or so the Germans would have you believe), Royal-Dominique Fennell (Stuttgarter Kickers), Sebastien Ibeagha (Duke), Kofi Sarkodie (Houston Dynamo), Zarek Valentin (Montreal Impact), Jorge Villafana (Chivas USA), Andrew Wenger (Duke), Sheanon Williams (Philadelphia Union), John-Anthony Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Sean Cunningham (Molde), ), Greg Garza (Club Tijuana), Perry Kitchen (D.C. United), Will Packwood (Birmingham City), Ethan White (D.C. United)
Getting straight in to it, the defenders called in for the two camps so far comprise the position group that has seen the fewest number of players relative to the amount of positions on the field. My logic being four defenders on the field at a time and right now we’ve only seen 14 defenders called in, three of whom seem to have their futures, at least in the short term, with Tab Ramos and the U-20 team (those players being Molde’s Sean Cunningham, Hertha Berlin’s John Anthony Brooks, and Birmingham City’s Will Packwood). So with eleven players having received looks so far, let’s start breaking everything down with the left back options.
Always the Trouble Spot
The only true left backs who’ve made appearances in the two camps are the aforementioned Cunningham and Chivas USA youngster Jorge Villafana (aka Jorge Flores prior to changing his name). Villafana’s story is a popular one; he was the winner of Sueno MLS in 2007, a reality show that led to a try-out with Major League Soccer. Flores beat out around 2,000 other competitors to earn a spot on Chivas USA’s U-19 squad. Since then he’s made 52 appearances for the Goats, notching a couple goals and an assist along the way. He’s also featured in 15 matches for the US U-20 team recording a single goal. His professional experience makes him a good bet to make the Olympic squad as a straight left back. By all accounts he impressed during the most recent camp. His Chivas USA teammate Zarek Valentin is capable of slotting in at left back but seems to prefer his right foot. New Club Tijuana signing Greg Garza has a chance to make it if he can quickly impress with his new club.
In the center of the field, the options are relatively scarce. Eintracht Frankfurt man Gale Agbossumonde has reportedly been the most impressive of the centerback’s for the last two camps, followed closely behind by Duisberg camper and DC United Jack-of-all-Trades Perry Kitchen. The news on Agbossumonde’s promising play is excellent– this is a player who was more or less nomadic (without a club) for months last year and his playing time remains limited. Knowing that at least in a camp setting his form seems to not be affected is a good thing– the concern for a prospect who many hope will anchor the Senior team backline one day remains how he’ll adjust to game speed again for ninety-plus minutes, particularly in a short tournament format.
How Porter aims to use Kitchen will be interesting, as he impressed this past MLS season in the center defense for United, but many people consider his strongest position to be in as a center holding midfielder. I fully expect the center defense to see one of the three overage player additions. There just aren’t many quality options past Agbossoumonde and Kitchen.
Stuttgarter Kicker defender Royal-Dominique Fennell has reportedly been the most unimpressive of the lot in central defense. The Duke University duo of Sebastian Ibeagha and Andrew Wenger have seemingly played well, with Ibeagha possibly looking to turn pro soon. Wenger is a strange case, in that he hasn’t played defender in his two years playing at Duke. Outside chances still exist for Ethan White (DC United) or even the aforementioned John Anthony Brooks, who is a physically imposing centerback with a matching massive future it would seem. Look for an Omar Gonzalez, Tim Ream, George John, (insert other CB here) incorporated in here to help out.
Point of Strength
The right back position is absolutely loaded. Philadelphia Union right back Sheanon Williams has been most impressive amongst the right backs so far, with Zarek Valentin not far behind and Houston Dynamo youngster Kofi Sarkodie bringing up the rear, at least in this past camp. Williams has been a starter for Philadelphia all of this past year and looks keen on becoming a solid prospect at the top level with his speed and capability to get forward. Valentin also enjoyed a solid year in LA and will always be in the mix with his ability to play anywhere along the back line. Sarkodie’s lack of playing time in Houston hurts his chances, but none the less is a talented right back. Keep in mind that Timothy Chandler and Daniel Williams are age eligible for the squad and you realize that it’s entirely possible that some very good right sided defenders could be left out of the final 18 man squad come summertime.
Alfredo Morales of Hertha Berlin still stands with a chance, though he hasn’t made either U-23 roster so far, but did make the full team roster for the matches against France and Slovenia. Morales by all accounts is talented enough to make this team as a center back, so it will be interesting to see if Porter gives him some love in January or February. Some other names to keep an eye on are Colorado left back Anthony Wallace and San Jose center back Ike Opara, both of whom have suffered from the injury bugs early in their short careers so far, but remain highly talented and viable options to get called in to camps for a look. Also watch for Columbus Crew utility man Rich Balchan, another youngster who had a breakout year, able to play anywhere in the backline and central midfield, his best position is left back. I trust Porter to leave no stone unturned in defense, which in my opinion is the weakest of the position groups he has to work with.
Connor Walsh writes about the USMNT, Major League Soccer and Americans in Germany for The Yanks Are Coming. The jack of all trades can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can and should follow him on Twitter at @USAGunnerWalsh.