For the first time in a long time, I feel completely confident in knowing who will start along the back line on an ideal day for the U.S., and that is a good, good feeling. The consistency of a solidified depth chart, especially in defense, just makes me more comfortable than an always-rotating cast of characters. Even if one of those defenders isn’t playing in what I think is his best position, at least he’s returning to that position with a pre-existing relationship on how the line and its players work together. That’s chemistry that just comes with time and repetition. And it feels like this U.S. back line might just have that.
As always, these grades do not refer to my personal depth chart, but rather relate to the player’s current form.
John Brooks - B+
John Anthony Brooks is the only U.S. defender that has the potential for stardom. Cameron is a wily journeyman, and Yedlin and Fabian Johnson have had and will likely continue to have productive careers for good sides, but when Brooks is on, he seems like an entire defense unto himself. Coming back from injury niggles, he helped Hertha Berlin keep leading European goalscorer per minutes played Anthony Modeste quiet enough to notch a win against a tough FC Koln side, but couldn’t get past third place Hoffenheim last weekend, falling 1-0. Will be the pillar of the U.S. defense for years to come regardless.
DeAndre Yedlin - C+
Yedlin’s had an interesting go of it at Newcastle. Despite carrying a hefty pricetag for the Championship side, he’s spent chunks of the season as a second-choice right back, although he’s looked good when he’s been played, and Rafa Benitez has deployed him as a winger on more than one occasion. After seeing his nonexistent touch and patience as a midfielder against New Zealand, I’m hoping Jurgen Klinsmann sticks to his original guns and moves DeAndre back to D.
Geoff Cameron - C
Cameron continues to be the ultimate utility man, seeing time at center back, right back, and defensive midfield this season for his club. Stoke got a bump from 17th to 12th place in the table with a win over Bob Bradley’s Swansea City on Monday, but Cameron played no part in it.
Hopefully Cameron’s ready to go for November.
Fabian Johnson - B-
It’s a bit difficult to rate Johnson’s form as a defender since he plays as a winger for his club. Borussia Monchengladbach have had a rough start to the season, finding themselves in 11th place and 3rd in their Champions League group behind Manchester City and Barcelona. Johnson initially looked to be second-choice when the season started, but he’s worked his way back into the squad and has a goal and an assist on the season. What does that say about him playing a left back? ...not really a lot.
Steve Birnbaum - C+
Birnbaum is an aerial monster, and brings instant solidity to the side’s set piece defense and danger to its set piece attack. However, he still tends to look lost at times when the ball’s not being put into the box from a corner or a free kick. D.C. lost 4-2 to Montreal at home, with Birnbaum being personally brutalized by Matteo Mancuso’s stutter-near post run for the Impact’s third goal. Birnbaum was not the worst of DC’s defenders on the night by a longshot, but he has to be better there.
Omar Gonzalez - B+
Life is good for Omar right now. His starting position in the center of Pachuca’s defense is rock solid, the defending champs are second so far in the Liga MX standings, and any injury worries were assuaged by assurances that Omar’s just been playing a lot of games lately.
Been told by Pachuca that US international Omar Gonzalez was rested for game vs. Atlas due to "muscular overload." No major issue.— Tom Marshall (@mexicoworldcup) October 31, 2016
Honestly, the fact that he got a little break right before the Hex is probably a good thing for him and the USMNT.
Timmy Chandler - A-
I know, I know. We’ve seen this song and dance before. Chandler impresses with his club and then makes an obligatory 1-3 boneheaded errors in a U.S. shirt shortly after. But the fact of the matter is, Chandler has been playing very good ball for an Eintracht Frankfurt side that sit in a cushy seventh place in the Bundesliga after needing to win a playoff to avoid being relegated last year. With no other major outside back options around, don’t be surprised to see him on this roster.
Matt Besler - B-
It was a really odd season for Besler. He struggled with injury, briefly lost his starting spot in the Sporting KC lineup, and then scored his first ever USMNT goal and managed to have a kid on the same day. Besler is a pretty safe, predictable player, and might be used as makeshift left back cover is Klinsmann has designs on starting Timmy Chandler over DeAndre Yedlin on the right.
Kellyn Acosta - C-
Still needs plenty of seasoning if he’s going to be a left back (like Klinsmann has used him exclusively), and he looked very green against New Zealand. Chances at this roster are very slim.
Matt Miazga & Cameron Carter-Vickers - N/A
While it’s great that Miazga looks to have earned a spot on Vitesse’s team and CCV is getting some minutes with Tottenham’s first team, both need muuuch more playing time to crack this roster (and to really give them a proper form grade, for that matter). Might see them in January or the spring, depending on their club’s whims.
Michael Orozco - **poop emoji**
Still here. Still talking about him. Still might make this roster. Sorry.
Eric Lichaj and Tim Ream - C and a sad face
Both these guys have been playing decently in the Championship, but it seems the ship has sailed for them with Klinsmann at the helm, even though there is an absolute dearth of viable outside backs in the player pool, especially on the left, and both of these guys can play that position.