The United States men’s national team is preparing for the start of the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. About a year ago SSFC’s Depth Chart series explored the USMNT player pool. Now, a year later, the team has improved tremendously from a horrid 2015, but how has the outlook on the pool changed? So with that in mind, as the Americans gear up for the Hex, we attempt to create a depth chart for the team, position by position. Figuring out what Klinsmann is thinking is a fool's errand, so this is what our depth chart would be and we'll talk about how we landed here.
Rob: Welcome to the 2016 USMNT left back scene, a replica of basically every year since DaMarcus Beasley retired. The birthplace of every USMNT fan's Fabian Johnson headache, the left back pool is as cloudy and uncertain as it's ever been. With a natural winger as your far and away best option, it leaves Jurgen Klinsmann with tough lineup choices every time he fills one out. What is to be made of the USMNT left back this year and heading into the Hex?
Brendan: I'm not sure what the best option is. Some want Fabian Johnson to play left back, others want him in the midfield (a group that probably includes the player himself). It's not going to be perfect, but that's how it is.
Rob: There's no point in turning this into another Fabian Johnson's best position debate. It's all philosophical at this point and the only person's opinion that matters is Jurgen Klinsmann's. The fact is, he's the best option and by far No. 1 on the depth chart. The mystery about this position is, who is there to replace him if he is to move to the midfield, or god forbid gets hurt.
Klinsmann gets a lot of flack for playing guys out of position, but when you have veteran players like Matt Besler available who can do a job and you can rely on, you'd be foolish not to utilize him. That's why we have him so high on our depth chart. He can do the job and won't be a liability when called on.
Brendan: Formations are pretty fluid. You can put a third center back on the outside, and tilt the formation so he doesn't venture up the field as much in the attack. It's not ideal, but Besler works out there. Klinsmann has also enjoyed putting Acosta at fullback, although many will tell you that he's better as a defensive midfielder.
Speaking of flack, Jorge Villafana cannot get a look with the national team. Although perhaps Klinsmann is right on this one because the former Portland Timbers man has been relegated to the reserves for Santos Laguna.
Rob: It's been frustrating to see Villafana ignored, especially when he looked so good in the MLS Playoffs last year and was vital to the Timbers lifting the cup. He has fallen off a bit as of late, though. Still, here you have a natural left back playing at a high level and willing to come in and help the squad, yet he hasn't even been given a whiff in a meaningless friendly. It's a bit of a weird situation, but that's nothing out of the norm under Klinsmann's reign as manager. He's just dead set on his guys and doesn't rate him apparently.
Brendan: Tim Ream continues to occasionally float in and out of rosters, but I don't think he'll be making an impact this cycle. It's another Klinsmann decision that one agrees with or despises. There's also Eric Lichaj and nobody knows what the situation there. Edgar Castillo received a call up for the Copa America and Klinsmann seems to like him.
But circling back to Johnson, does Pulisic's emergence relegate him to the back line?
Rob: I'm firmly team Fabian at left back. I've said it many times so I won't regurgitate my jargon. It just just doesn't make any sense to start an inferior player like Castillo or Besler at left back to leave talent on the bench. Fabian is more than capable of playing left back and with Pulisic's emergence, it would be a shame to waste him as a late substitute in favor of lesser players. That's my feeling. Some will agree, some will call me dumb. Where you do stand?
Brendan: It depends on the formation. I don't know if there's a way to get Johnson and our best attackers on the field at the same time unless he is playing defense. So if it helps the team avoid Pulisic vs. Johnson or Altidore vs. Johnson, then he should be at fullback. Even if it is his second best position, he's one of the best left backs we have.
Rob: He’s the best left back we have.
Brendan: Then he should play left back.
Depth Chart Series: