During the Copa America, against the best, most consistently good level of competition the U.S. has played against since the 2014 World Cup, Jurgen Klinsmann rolled out one first-choice defense when he was given the option and no injuries or suspensions forced his hand: Fabian Johnson at left back, a center back pairing of John Brooks and Geoff Cameron, and DeAndre Yedlin at right back. This made sense. All were starters in either England or Germany (even if Johnson plays midfield for ‘Gladbach...I digress). There were signs of real partnership forming between Brooks and Cameron, and given the options Klinsmann brought with him in his final roster, it appeared he was putting the best options on the field.
The offseason and subsequent start to the new season have unchecked some of those boxes, however. Yedlin’s future obviously doesn’t lie with Spurs, and Cameron is also struggling to see the field. So with the first string options less iron-clad than they’ve been in months, how does the pool look?
DeAndre Yedlin - C+
Yedlin appears to be on the brink of sorting out his club situation, popping up in Newcastle (which is sure to make the Sunderland faithful less than pleased) for reported negotiations and possible medical. The Championship might not be where fans want to see Yedlin, and it is a literal step down from the Premier League, but at least there’s a better chance at consistent minutes.
Steve Birnbaum - B-
Birnbaum isn’t a rock-solid defender by any stretch, and gets lost a bit with the ball on the ground, but only four teams have given up less goals than DC United this season, and Birnbaum’s aerial presence is monstrous on both sides of the ball- he has a goal and an assist from set pieces in the last two weeks.
Geoff Cameron - C
Cameron’s situation is a bit different than Yedlin’s: he’s got a club, and a move isn’t imminent, but he’s not playing, either. That’s a little bit more concerning than knowing a move would need to be made. Cameron made his season debut in the League Cup, but it appears for the moment that he’s not in Stoke’s first-choice XI.
Edgar Castillo & Greg Garza - C-
Both aren’t playing. Castillo’s hurt and Garza might be a victim of Liga MX’s new rule that designates him as a foreign player (Garza holds dual-citizenship, but that’s inconsequential under the new 10/8 rule). Hard to fault them for it, but both look like they’re on the shelf, and that’s two less options at left back.
John Brooks - B
Brooks got 45 minutes in the first round of the Pokal, didn’t have a ton to do, got a yellow card, and got subbed out. The Bundesliga starts this weekend, and if Hertha has any shot of duplicating their success from last year, John Brooks will be at the center of it.
Fabian Johnson - B
Has grabbed a few minutes in early Champions League action, but once again, is playing exclusively in the midfield for Borussia Monchengladbach. At this point, I don’t see any other option Klinsmann realistically brings along at left back, so he’s grouped with the defenders for now. There’s also the possibility that Johnson doesn’t get the same playing time as he did last year, since Gladbach isn’t short on talent.
Omar Gonzalez - B-
Gonzalez has survived the advent of the 10/8 rule, and he’s still locked into the starting XI for Pachuca. Andre-Pierre Gignac did just put him on his highlight reel for the season, though (which, I guess there are worse people to get And1 Mixtape Tour-ed by).
Matt Besler - B-
Besler was out for more than a month due to injury. Good news is, he’s back playing for Sporting KC, and he even racked up a clean sheet in his first game back. Might be a longshot for these qualifiers due to the long injury layoff, though.
Matt Miazga - D
Not playing and still no loan. Miazga just needs minutes at this point.
Cameron Carter-Vickers - B
Ok. This grade is definitely inflated, since CCV hasn’t played a competitive minute for Spurs yet. But the fact that, at 18, he’s making Premier League rosters for Tottenham and appears to be as high as third on the center back depth chart is most definitely cause for cheer. Could be a dark horse candidate to be brought into camp. Definitely a very long shot, but it could be fun.