Hello Soccer Pal’s let’s take a quick dive into the current state of the USMNT’s back four. First I would like to start by saying the make-shift backline held up very well in the last two qualifiers. Jorge Villafana played extremely well and for my money has earned the left back spot moving forward. His 1v1 defending was great and he provided adequate support in attack. Most importantly, Villafana holding down the left back spot allows Fabian Johnson to play in his preferred position on the left wing, where he can have more impact on the game.
Moving from left to right John Brooks is absolutely the choice for the left side of central defense. Brooks had a coming out party for the national team this past summer in Copa America where he shined. His form for the USMNT has dipped below the standard he set for himself last summer but not enough to warrant a removal from the starting XI. There are three things I LOVE about Brooks, the first being his size, having a big body to target on set pieces is such a luxury, as proven by his game winning header in the 2014 World Cup to finally exact revenge against Ghana. Another way his size is quite useful is in the defensive third, stopping attacks before they can start by clearing long balls with his head or stopping crosses and corners from reaching their target with a well-timed header is exactly what you want from your center back.
The second thing I love is Brook’s athleticism, he is quite quick for his size and that allows him to pressure opposing players higher up the field knowing he has the speed to get back, and that is not something to be overlooked. And finally is the fact that he’s naturally left footed, it seems like such a simple thing but it can make a world of difference. I know what you might be thinking aren’t all professional players able to use both feet? Not even at all, so Brooks being naturally left footed pays its dividends when you see him drifting left under pressure and playing a ball to feet instead of hoofing a long ball forward and giving up possession.
Now moving on the right side of the defense is where some debate has taken place. In my eyes, there is no debate Geoff Cameron is the best option at center back in this player pool and is a perfect partner for Brooks. Cameron has been playing defensive midfielder for Stoke City, and I know our biggest complaint under Klinsmann was playing guys out of position, but Cameron is a center back, he is the glue of this defense and the veteran presence this backline needs with the amount of youth currently manning the other 3 spots. Cameron, like Brooks, likes to push high up the field and because of his comfort with the ball at his feet and ability to pick out passes I don’t mind that all. And as with any center back pairing if one goes the other needs to stay and Cameron understands that and you can be certain he makes sure Brooks knows that as well.
Let’s not forget Cameron is also a big guy himself, just another weapon for set pieces. And last but not least who plays right back? Yes, you guessed it Deandre Yedlin, my favorite loose cannon in USMNT player pool (sorry Jermaine Jones). Now I know Yedlin can be a bit worrisome but you can’t keep that speed off the field. His ability to pounce on balls nobody else can get to is worth the occasional mental lapse we get from him. I’ll be honest, I actually don’t think Deandre Yedlin is that good of a defender. His 1v1 defending has improved but still needs a lot of work. That’s something that can still be taught over time, but what you can’t teach is speed, and Yedlin is a certified burner. Which is why he actually doesn’t need to be that great of a 1v1 defender, because his recovery is almost instantaneous.
Sure, an attacker might get by him but he’s back on them in 3 steps, he is unrelenting and once an attacker realizes they can’t get far enough away from him they have two options, play a quick ball without the accuracy they’d have if given more time or take a quick shot because they know Yedlin is right behind them. He also gets extremely involved in the attack and anytime you can push an extra body forward you take that. Knowing Yedlin can get back also allows Cameron to stay more central instead of shading over to cover to space and opening channels down the middle of the field.
So what’s the current state of the USMNT back four? With all four of those guys healthy its very, very good I’d venture to say it’s in quite good shape and possibly the best back four in CONCACAF.