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US Soccer Vibe Check: Cade Cowell - will he break the “anyone can play left back” spell

Just because anyone can, doesn’t mean everyone has to

Tijuana v Chivas - Torneo Clausura 2024 Liga MX Photo by Gonzalo Gonzalez/Jam Media/Getty Images

The USMNT has a long and glorious history of producing defenders who have produced at the top level. Even when there weren’t a noticeable number of attackers plying their trade in Europe, Geoff Cameron and Timmy Chandler were regular starters abroad while John Brooks was soon to become a rising star with the USA.

Meanwhile, attacking players have been a bight more difficult to come by. The number of players who were the next big things or who thought of as becoming the American Radamel Falcao could fill several buses driving on the bridge to nowhere. This seems troubling, but America is nothing if not resourceful and many of those players become the next existing American defender.

One name that wasn’t mentioned above is Fabian Johnson who was already an established attacker and possibly for a time in the discussion for being a top 5 winger in the Bundesliga according to a hot take that I have. FabJo perhaps embodied why this phenomena is so prevalent. He was a good player who was dangerous and could cause some damage to an opposing defense. The downside was that as an attacker he didn’t always fit the profile of what Jurgen Klinsmann wanted but the manager still wanted him on the field.

This prompted Klinsmann to make one of the great proclamations summing up the innovative strategy of putting an attacker in a defensive role when he said, “anyone can play left back” or something to that effect.

On the other hand, not every attacker turned right back has the distinction of being such talented attackers that they just have to be on the field. The more common reason though is that their attacking is not so good and... “anyone can play left back.”

Let’s take a look at some other not so potent notables that became anyone who can play left back. Or right back.

Brooks Lennon - His career path went something like - OMGGGGG THERE’S AN AMERICAN TEENAGE WINGER IN THE LIVERPOOL ACADEMY -> Oh, they loaned him to Real Salt Lake, maybe he’ll tear up MLS and go back to Liv -> Permanent deal to RSL -> No longer a winger with RSL, now a right back with RSL -> Atlanta United right back -> A must own player in MLS Fantasy since he plays as a defender but also as a winger and gets a lot of attacking bonus points.

Brek Shea - A BIG, FAST, STRONG WINGER WHO RUNS PAST EVERYONE AND BLASTS THE BALL AT THE GOAL WITH HIS GLORIOUS LEFT FOOT - IS THAT ACTUALLY THOR’S HAMMER? -> Oh, he’s going to Stoke City, the place most notable for being a punchline in a joke about the best soccer player in the world not being able to play well because of the weather -> They’re mad at him because he’s wearing an American flag shirt and holding two huge guns in the air -> Orlando City (Anyone Can Play Left Back) -> Potentially other dimensions -> Vancouver -> Atlanta United -> Miami -> I rather like his art though.

Then there’s Tommy Thompson. Remember Tommy Thompson? His career went -> San Jose -> San Jose, but a defender.

There have been others. Tim Weah, Pulisic, McKennie - they’ve all gone big club -> huge club -> wingback at some point in their careers.

Cade Cowell recently went from exciting winger with San Jose who lacked an end product -> big international transfer, kinda, to Chivas...

I bring him up in this article about wingers who became defenders because of lacking something a winger should be able to do for no reason really.

At least he got in a good position.

For those keeping score, that’s moral victories 2-0 scoring goals. Is it a not good sign for his future as a winger that he changed his hair to look like if John Tolkin got swoll.

This was concerning until this week when Cowell went and did this.

And this.

He ended the night by making the score Cade Cowell 2.5 - Something Called Forge FC Hamilton 1.

The US Women have done something similar at times. Kelley O’Hara went from a top college striker to a world class right back and Crystal Dunn could play any position on the field and had the distinction of being the best international left back through the 2019 World Cup cycle.

OK, so it’s worked out a lot differently for the USWNT.

Perhaps, Cade Cowell will be a player who will break the spell of the young USMNT winger becoming a mid-career MLS wingback. His misses against Tigres are encouraging, Cowell got into good spots and he did it against one of the best teams in Liga MX.

Cowell also has something in his golf bag that might see him break that spell. His skill package of big, strong, fast, and good with the ball means he can do things on his own. Things like run past everyone, cut inside with speed and create a shot on the run. No simple feat.

LigaMX isn’t Europe but he’s in a good place to put these pieces together and start turning these impressive runs into impressive goals.