TYAC USMNT Depth Chart Series: Full-backs
Now that the Gold Cup is back in American hands and the Yanks are CONCACAF champs once again, the national team will focus on doing one thing, and one thing only, killin’ Nazis! Er, rather, qualifying for the World Cup, preferably in dominant fashion. So with the “B plus” team’s tournament-long offensive onslaught fresh in our minds that we present part two in our USMNT Depth Chart Series, wherein we focus on defense.
Here at The Yanks Are Coming we write a lot about the harsh realities of small sample size inherent in the game at national team level. So few matches, so much riding on each one, and hardly any opportunities to evaluate without consequences.
That’s why we’re including notes made prior to this most triumphant summer for the USMNT as we embark on our latest series. It’s our TYAC USMNT Depth Chart Series, and it’s a little like time travel, minus the DeLorean and the historically cool destinations (May 2013 wasn’t all that interesting was it?). Hopefully the contrast in our depth charts between May and present day will speak to how big a difference relatively few matches can make in the world of international soccer.
Please note we made these valuations based on who we would start at each position given the current player pool, not who we think Jurgen Klinsmann would start. Otherwise we’d have Danny Williams ranked number one at each position.
In part one of our series we ranked center-backs and goalkeepers just prior to the start of the 2013 Gold Cup. You can read that post here. Today we tackle the wing defenders, or full-backs. And we know we’ll never have a most triumphant national team until we have a most triumphant right back.
MAY 2013 RB DEPTH CHART AND NOTES:
RB: Steve Cherundolo, Timmy Chandler, Geoff Cameron, Fabian Johnson, Eric Lichaj, Jonathan Spector, Michael Orozco Fiscal
The World Cup qualifying games against Costa Rica (Snow Classico) and Mexico (Azteca 0-0 draw) would have presented great opportunities for young Timmy Chandler to show off both his ball skills and his defensive acumen, possibly wresting the position from Stevie C’s cold, not-yet-dead hands. Instead, both the old American and the young Germerican were injured. So Geoff Cameron seized the opportunity to display his versatility and discipline. That said, it’s clear he doesn’t offer much in the way of link-up play going forward from the right back position, and those qualities are necessary in a starting fullback on Jurgen Klinsmann’s team. So the competition is still between Cherundolo and Chandler, unless Jurgen decides that the old man’s had it and omits Stevie like he did Bocanegra this time around.
AUGUST 2013 RB DEPTH CHART AND NOTES:
RB: Steve Cherundolo, Timmy Chandler, Brad Evans, Geoff Cameron, Eric Lichaj, Michael Parkhurst, Tony Beltran
Obviously the headline here is that the top two on the depth chart at right back haven’t changed despite neither of them donning the national team jersey this summer. You’d think that means the other guys who’ve suited up at right back have played poorly. While that’s not the case at all, each of the other contenders has a major drawback of some sort. Brad Evans, while he played really well as a fill-in defender, is really a midfielder. He’s slotted in the third spot, though, and it is interesting that after the qualifiers this summer, Jurgen Klinsmann said he’ll have every opportunity to go and grab the right back job.
Geoff Cameron is rightfully Klinsmann’s Swiss army knife, but he’s a better defensive midfielder and center-half than he is a right back. Parkhurst plays similar to Cameron at RB, no-nonsense defending but limited overlap and offensive interplay (though he did get forward more than he’s used to during the Gold Cup). Eric Lichaj could be the biggest competition for “Chandlerdolo,” if only he could stay healthy and rack up enough consecutive starts at club level to catch Jurgen’s eye. So despite the fact that the US Men’s National Team had perhaps its most successful summer ever, we’ve still got status quo at the top of this table.
Let’s jog fifty yards to the other side of the field…
MAY 2013 LB DEPTH CHART AND NOTES:
LB: Fabian Johnson, DaMarcus Beasley, Eric Lichaj, Timmy Chandler, Edgar Castillo, Michael Orozco Fiscal
Seemingly the US finally found itself a solid do-everything left back in Fabian Johnson. Now he needs to stay healthy. Meanwhile, DaMarcus Beasley put in a couple gritty and impressive performances out of position as a left sided defender in the key World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica and Mexico. He was reliable in the snow in the first match, and was damn G.I. Joe at the Azteca, taking a beating, but proving equal to the challenge that was Javier Aquino. I’m sure that performance made Landon Donovan smile. And I’m still waiting got Eric Lichaj to get a Klinsmann call. He was one of the players of the 2011 Gold Cup at left back for the US, but his up and down club form must be a red flag for Jurgen.
AUGUST 2013 LB DEPTH CHART AND NOTES:
LB: DaMarcus Beasley, Fabian Johnson, Timmy Chandler, Eric Lichaj, Edgar Castillo, Corey Ashe
This summer Run DMB has gone from “guy that’s willing to put in a shift playing out of position” to “guy who’s new national team identity is rejuvenating his career.” The Yanks Are Coming was on-hand, and in the USMNT press box for the first time, on that fateful night in Nashville back in 2009 when Jozy Altidore hung a hat trick on Trinidad and Tobago. What most people don’t remember is that Bob Bradley was so in fear of T&T’s speed on the wings that he played DaMarcus Beasley at left back. Beasley looked fast and slightly lost in that match, but he ran with Carlos Edwards, a longtime Premier league veteran on the wing. Four years later he’s taken to the position like a duck to water, especially so in Jurgen Klinsmann’s system that urges full-backs to get forward. I still think Fabian Johnson is the better left back, and I still think he’s the American left back of the future. But right now Fabian the defender is the USMNT starting left-sided midfielder, and DaMarcus the midfield winger is the USMNT starting left back. You don’t mess with what these guys have going, especially not in Beasley’s case.
I’m a big proponent of athletes getting better by fighting their nature, whatever that may be. That’s a hard-punching boxer like Amir Khan dedicating himself to defense and foot-movement, knowing the power in his fists will be there when called upon. That’s a mid-career Michael Jordan improving his jump-shot knowing he can always drive the lane, and an early career Kobe Bryant finding his game in the lane, knowing he’ll always be able to stop-and-pop from distance. And in the case of Jurgen Klinsmann’s starting LB, it’s DaMarcus Beasley using his speed to constantly maintain responsible defensive positioning, knowing he’ll have plenty of opportunities to get forward down the wing throughout the course of any match.
Truth be told, what happens with this spot will largely depend on where Jurgen Klinsmann decides to play Landon Donovan. If he slots Donovan wide and to the left in the midfield, behind Clint Dempsey, Jurgen will have to decide if he wants Fabian Johnson on the field for the overlap and distributions he offers or if he wants the better positional defender, DaMarcus Beasley. It’s not an easy decision, but it is a great one to have to make.
That’s it for part two in the TYAC USMNT Depth Chart Series; join us next time when we crown Michael Bradley the king of the world and somewhat begrudgingly include Danny Williams on one of these here lists.
Jon Levy is Co-Founder and Co-Editor of The Yanks Are Coming. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at the TYAC_Jon link above.