Defense hasn't really been a strong suit for the U.S. over Jurgen Klinsmann's tenure, and frequently it seemed the USMNT made last-ditch defending Plan A against stronger teams. However, there's something of a renaissance occurring at the club level for many United States defenders both at home and abroad, and there's no reason to think that the defense can't solidify itself before the Copa America starts this summer. Let's take a look at the pool.
Has shown some very nice resilience at Sunderland after being benched midseason by Sam Allardyce, regaining a spot in the starting XI at first because of injury, then keeping that spot through his play. He even grabbed his first Premier League assist against Crystal Palace (even though Fabio Borini's shot was admittedly much more impressive than Yedlin's pass). That's the type of learning curve Spurs brass and U.S. fans want to see. Grade: A-
Klinsmann's forever second-choice right back has seen more of the recovery room than the field as of late, as a shoulder injury has kept Evans's season from really starting. He looked decent as ever in January camp, though. Grade: C+
Still getting looks for Jurgen Klinsmann. Still an ok defender with a knack for getting on the end of set-pieces. Getting infrequent time with Tijuana. Not much else to say here. Grade: C
Birnbaum showed both his strengths and weaknesses almost simultaneously in the January camp: he can get lost positionally whether he's playing right back or in the center, but man can the kid win a ball in the air. Still on the outside looking in, as it stands. Grade: C+
Gonzo seems to go from center back savior to pariah every six months or so. He's been very sharp for Pachuca in Liga MX, however, and appears to still be improving. Definitely making the case to play against Guatemala this month, at the very least. Grade: B+
Cameron's best quality for his club has always been his versatility. Not many people are completely capable starters for Premier League clubs across the backline and in the center of midfield to boot. However, that club strength is something of an international weakness: where exactly does Cameron fit? Regardless, he's still finding time at Stoke, who are challenging for European qualification this year, and that can only be a good thing. Grade: B+
Once one of the safest defenders of the bunch, Besler's recent caps have been prone to uncharacteristic lapses in concentration. Is that an anomaly? Or a sign of things to come? He's looked more solid with Sporting Kansas City through two weeks of MLS play, so one can hope it's the former. Grade: B
Brooks has been one of the more pleasant surprises of the Bundesliga season. He's finally laid down a long stretch of consistency that's helped Hertha Berlin climb to third in the table after being in relegation territory just last season. Grade: A
Tim Ream is basically like the left-footed version of Brad Evans that happens to play in the Championship. He looks competent for Fulham, but the rest of the team is not very good, and Ream continues to be second-choice for the U.S. at best. Grade: C+
Villafana rocketed into USMNT contention after a stellar season with Portland, a playoff clinic in locking down two of MLS's most dangerous wingers in Fabian Castillo and Ethan Finlay, and continued success after a big money move to Santos Laguna. The dual-national has said he'd be happy and proud to play for the U.S. or Mexico, but neither country has capped him yet. The U.S. should. Grade: A-
After a season of success with Club America, Alvarado just can't get onto the field right now. Grade: D+
Needs to actually play defense if he wants to play it for the U.S., which he claims he does. Grade: Probably something neon-colored.