The announcement of Jurgen Klinsmann’s 30-man preliminary World Cup squad has given us some answers (most of them about Eddie Johnson) and a whole lot more questions (some of them about Eddie Johnson). One of the biggest questions, is who will start at right back where as many as six of the eleven classified defenders called into camp can stake a claim. That each of Ghana, Portugal, and Germany has a dynamic left winger means that whomever Klinsmann chooses will have a huge say in whether the Americans advance to the knockout rounds.
Let’s run down the candidates that got invited to Klinsmann’s pre-game and see who should be starting when the full party begins.
Parkhurst’s legs have always been two steps too slow, but his ability to think three steps ahead has made him a standout defender in MLS and Denmark for over a decade. As smart as Parkhurst is, open field isolation against the likes of Christian Atsu and Cristiano Ronaldo would prove to be asking too much. Still, his versatility, experience, and tidy passing ability make him a great candidate to be the fourth center back – the position he’s played for Gregg Berhalter all season long.
He’s a good bet to start and has largely played right back for Hoffenheim this season, but Johnson has thrived when given freedom to get forward with the Stars and Stripes. Landon Donovan being stuck in first gear (and being labeled a forward by Klinsmann) means I think we see Johnson as the left midfielder in the Yanks’ first eleven.
Young, fast as hell, and a threat to stretch play on the overlap, Yedlin exists here as pretty much the polar opposite of Parkhurst. I like Yedlin and was happy to see him called into camp, but I think this tournament came a year or two too early for him. He’d bring attacking thrust from the back, but his propensity to get caught too far forward (most recently exploited by Diego Fagundez in the Revs 5-0 thumping of Seattle) is a genuine risk. One for the near future to be sure, though.
Actually the invite that most surprised me, Chandler hasn’t played for the USMNT since the 2-1 WC Qualifying loss to Honduras back in February of last year. The team moved on without him (or so I thought) and his World Cup hopes seemed to be completely over after busting his knee with club-side Nuremberg. His pre-injury form was good however, good enough that he grabbed an invite after proving his fitness in Nuremberg’s final two Bundesliga fixtures.
If this was FIFA 14 and we could make selection decisions based exclusively on a neat set of numerical ratings, Chandler would be heading to Brazil as the team’s more attacking right back option. That’s not a world we live in however, and Chandler treating the Yanks like his back-up prom date for two years pissed off just about everyone. The core of this team is mature enough to accept his (hypothetical) inclusion in the final 23, but collective toughness and togetherness becomes everything when World Cup adversity heads your way. I think that rules out in the end and I think Chandler watches this tournament on television like the rest of us.
One of MLS’s standout midfielders (his Sounders teammate Yedlin appearing on this list), Evans’ conversion into the national team’s right back has proven to be one of Klinsmann’s most fruitful experiments. Even without the buccaneering style of Yedlin and Chandler, Evans’ sharp delivery, intelligent positioning, and 90-minute stamina make him a more logical heir to Steve Cherundolo’s throne than initially expected. He’s gotten over the nagging injuries that dogged him to start the MLS season and seems a good bet to go bushwhacking in the Amazon.
So, after that praise for Brad Evans, I’ve put Geoff Cameron’s name at the top of my list and it’s not just because he reps Attleboro, Mass. Simply put, I don’t know how you ignore the two consecutive seasons he’s had at right back for Stoke City.
Klinsmann’s initial knock on Cameron was that despite playing right back, he was essentially rendered an auxiliary center back in Tony Pulis’ rugby system. Fair enough, but Cameron was given significantly more freedom to get forward under Mark Hughes this year and still doesn’t have much love to show for it (I’m not counting the disastrous Ukraine friendly in which the rest of the back line read “Castillo – Onyewu – Brooks,” woof).
His delivery from the flanks may not be as cultured as Evans and he won’t be doing any step-overs like Yedlin and Chandler, but Cameron has proven to be a reliable, if simple, option moving forward in possession. The former Dynamo is the best defensive option on this list. Taking into account the Americans’ aforementioned opposition and the likelihood of Graham Zusi starting on the right wing, simple but solid possession play with excellent defending should be good enough.
I’m taking all of Parkhurst, Johnson, Evans, and Cameron. Parkhurst is my fourth center back/defensive glue guy, Johnson is my starting left winger, with Cameron starting at right back and Evans a more than capable replacement. Yedlin looks like he could have a real role to play moving forward, maybe that 2016 Copa America is his coming out party, and I think that means the end for Chandler.
Then again, I’m not Jurgen Klinsmann and that’s probably a good thing.