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: While the USMNT fullback pool is nothing to write home about, the center backs are looking surprisingly strong this year with actual competition for spots brewing. This summer proved that a healthy and hungry John Brooks is far and away the USA's best defender. The question is who is fighting for No. 2?
Brendan: I'm going to tentatively say the spot goes to Geoff Cameron, but he could always end up as a fullback or a defensive midfielder. There's always that weird element when making these lists that seems fairly exclusive to the U.S.: anyone can play multiple positions and usually does. For example, Cameron has been doing well at midfield for Stoke, and would prefer to stick to one position based on recent reports. However, much like Fabian Johnson and fullback, the U.S. might need him at center back because even out of position he's better than the alternatives.
We're still two years out from the World Cup, so I wouldn't be shocked to see Omar Gonzalez work his way back into a starting role. He's been slowly regaining his spot after his banishment.
Rob: It seems Besler and Gonzalez have been stuck in the same cycle since that Belgium match they started together. Both are either working their way up the depth chart or completely out of the picture. I'm not sure either one is the apple of Klinsmann's eye, just a means to an end until the younger guys prove themselves worthy of consideration.
Guys like Cameron Carter-Vickers and Matt Miazga, who most think are the center back pairing of the future, are waiting in the wings. The only problem is their club situations and not getting the appropriate playing time to justify getting called up.
Brendan: Matt Miazga is at sixth on the list, but I think he could be in the top three by next year. He's been playing with Vitesse, which is admittedly not the biggest club in the world. There's been a general fear that he'll become one of the "lost loan players of Chelsea" or whatever the colloquial name is. Klinsmann also clearly likes Birnbaum, but is still waiting for him to take that next step. Maybe that next step will be a rumored move abroad. But I agree, there's a slight feeling of "It's fine for now" with Klinsmann and Gonzalez. Besler has his uses as a utility player, so he'll be included in most rosters for the next two years.
Still, it's a lot easier to find a center back pairing when you already have one established. Brooks is a godsend for the national team.
Rob: The overall depth for center backs is actually very good. Arguably the deepest of any position for the national team. We've listed nine players but could've easily had at least 12 with the likes of Tim Ream, Matt Hedges, and even the emerging Walker Zimmerman. Are there any other fringe players we could've added and what will it take for them to catch Jurgen's eye?
Brendan: People love Tim Parker up in Vancouver. He's a relatively young (23) second-year professional out of St. John's. Parker was included on the roster for the match against New Zealand. It's probably still a little too early to pencil him in for a spot in 2018, but he'll definitely challenge for a reserve role in 2022.
Eric Miller, another player who spent time with the U-23 national team, could also get a look in the future. He started 23 matches with the Colorado Rapids this season.
Rob: So, the talent is there and appears it will be there for a while. Is it safe to say that center back is the position the USMNT is deepest at out of every spot on the field? Or am I being too optimistic?
Brendan: It used to be goalkeeper, but I think it's fair to say the U.S. has quite a few options at center back. Klinsmann just needs to figure out who will pair with Brooks.
Depth Chart Series: