USMNT Does Not Answer Defensive Depth Issues

By Matthew Evans
John Brooks US Men's National Team
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Getting a result was not the priority when the United States Men’s National Team took the field on Wednesday night in Cyprus for their international friendly against Ukraine. Sure, a result would have been nice to see, but the ultimate goal for this match was to let Jurgen Klinsmann get a good look in a game atmosphere at his European-based players. The match was originally supposed to be played in Kharkiv, Ukraine until violence from political unrest forced the match to be moved.

The team had gathered in Germany this past weekend with a few training sessions together before the trip to Cyprus and the lack of cohesion showed throughout the ninety minutes. Klinsmann will try to find silver linings from the match, but he will not be able to find any from the back four, especially from the center back pairing of Oguchi Onyewu and John Brooks. Both of these players were long-shots to make the squad. as it is with a solid starting pairing of Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez with Clarence Goodson leading the way in terms of reserves.

Brooks is young though, with plenty of time to continue to grow his game and learn from club and United States teammates in order to put himself in position for a trip to Russia in 2018. Onyewu, on the other hand, just ended his chances of making another appearance in the FIFA World Cup for his country. The two of them lacked communication and found themselves occupying the same space at critical moments. If Brooks had kept his position more centrally, then there is no space for the run that set up the first goal from Ukraine.

Two players whose stocks rose tremendously from the match were DaMarcus Beasley and Brad Evans. The two did not feature for Klinsmann on Wednesday, but the play from Edgar Castillo on the left and Geoff Cameron on the right pretty much guarantees that Beasley and Evans will flank the defense come June. Castillo was pulled in the 63rd minute to make room for an attacking option in fellow fringe player Brek Shea.

So, the question now becomes, where is the depth defensively for the USMNT? By my count, I have five defenders that are locks to make the trip to Brazil. Those players are Besler, Gonzalez, Beasley, Evans and Cameron, with Goodson in the pretty good category; after that though, the picture is extremely fuzzy. Cameron is considered a lock, in my opinion, because of his ability to play solidly at multiple positions (center back, right back and defensive midfielder).

The projections seem to show that Klinsmann will take either seven or eight defenders to Brazil, effectively leaving one or two spots up for grabs; the backup roles for the wing defenders. The front-runners for those spots as of right now, taking the friendly into consideration, are Michael Parkhurst of the Columbus Crew and Tim Ream of Bolton Wanderers.

Parkhurst was involved in the January training camp, even earning a starting spot at left back in the friendly against South Korea on Feb. 1. He has been capped 24 times by the United States, including five starts at right back in the Gold Cup during the summer of 2013.

Ream was called into the squad for the Ukraine friendly, but ended up having to leave due to the birth of his child. He has eight caps for the United States but has not appeared for the Red, White and Blue since a friendly against Ecuador in October 2011. He usually plays center back but has made 13 consecutive starts at left back for Dougie Freedman and Bolton.

The United States has one more friendly scheduled before Klinsmann will have to name his provisional 30-man squad in May, that being the match with Mexico in early April in Glendale, AZ. The match does not fall on an official FIFA matchday, so it is unlikely that any European players will make the trip over meaning that we will see rosters filled with players from MLS and Liga MX.

Matthew Evans is a soccer writer for “Like” him on Facebook, Follow him on Twitter, or add him to your network on Google

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