Friday, February 26, 2021

Middle Men

On the heels of Jason Kreis releasing the USMNT provisional pool roster for Olympic qualifying, we soldier on with this special edition of the Clipboard by sorting out the center back slots. As a change of pace, let's begin on the left side...

Mark McKenzie*
Aboubacar Keita
Erik Palmer-Brown*

Auston Trusty

If I'm being frank, there's not a whole lot to discuss here. McKenzie is the clear starter, and we have a battle for second best (actually, the tournament roster could end up with three right center backs, but we'll get to that in a minute). This summer, the new Genk acquisition will chase down everything and act as the main distributor out of the back.

Of course, he won't be available for qualifying duty, which means Keita will need to convince the coaches that he's better suited to start than the guy that stands second on the RCB depth chart. The fact that he's not unlike McKenzie in playing style and top attributes (though obviously less experienced) could work in his favor.

Palmer-Brown isn't a lefty, but he has played plenty there (and one could argue better than he has on the right this season). I wasn't not even slightly a fan of Man City's choice to send him on a two-year loan at Austria Vienna, and would testify that he has definitely stagnated there. Actually, that might be an overly polite "at best" description of his trajectory. Trusty has also had a bit of a bumpy road last season, but if I'm being honest that was largely due to unwise coaching decisions. His performances were mostly worthy of a regular starting place, and hopefully that's all in the past now.  The thing that hurts him most in the Olympic frame is that he probably has the weakest aerial game of all eight players listed in this post.

Miles Robinson*
Henry Kessler
Justen Glad

Rising fast: Cameron Carter-Vickers
In the frame: Chris Richards*, Donovan Pines

Man oh man, the battle for the start here promises to be a proper dogfight, both next month and for the tournament in Japan (yes, I'm operating under the assumption our boys clinch a place). I could make strong arguments for each of the top three guys listed above. In the end, though, I had to think about who'd mesh the best with McKenzie (now you know why I started on the left this time). It's subject to change once the MLS season gets underway, but for the moment Robinson holds a slim edge. I like him to bounce back from a rough 2020 to remind everyone how strong his positioning and gap closure are.

Fresh off an entirely impressive rookie campaign, Kessler is nipping at his heels. He's tidy, tough to beat in the air and underrated for his safe, uncomplicated possession support. Of course, Glad is highly capable, but I kinda wish he'd been dealt away from RSL this offseason. Somehow, they don't seem to understand what they have in him (and he's not the only one you can say that about over the last couple seasons).

Carter-Vickers has quickly made himself indispensable at Bournemouth. The locals are clamoring for management to make his loan deal permanent, and with good reason. It would be great if club teams would play Richards in his ideal central position, but that hasn't been happening. Nevertheless, he's definitely another guy who could charge up the ranks as summer approaches. Pines is a monster in the air and the best set piece target named on this page, but still a work in progress. There would need to be a confluence of peculiar happenings for him to make either of the two Olympic squads.

UPDATE: With Robinson now unavailable for qualifying, Kessler slides into the line-up.


Tomorrow, we'll shift into midfield for the #6 and #8 charts, which are each major ass pains to rank. For reals.

- Greg Seltzer

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