The United States' 2015 has been a disaster, from a failed Gold Cup to a CONCACAF Cup loss. But things start anew on November 14 with the start of 2018 World Cup qualifying. Jurgen Klinsmann needs to turn the team around, and he's said he wants to get younger as part of his continued evolution of the team. So with that in mind, as the Americans gear up for qualifying, 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.
Ryan: It’s 2015 and the United States still don’t have a left back. We actually had to pull DaMarcus Beasley out of retirement (and it looks like he may go back into it so let’s assume he will) and Jonathan Bornstein is actually back in the picture. Even at the top, our No. 1 option is currently feuding with Jurgen Klinsmann. Is this really as dire as it looks?
Rob: I wouldn't call it dire, but it's not a great situation. Especially since the hands down favorite Fabian Johnson is in Klinsmann's doghouse for asking to be substituted without a supposed severe injury. If he's out of the picture, then it's really time to panic. After a few years of being left in the wilderness by Jurgen, it appears that Tim Ream has worked himself back into the conversation. Along with the Liga MX options Bornstein and Greg Garza, those three seem to be the most viable candidates. Who do you think is next in line behind Johnson?
Ryan: Assuming he returns to full fitness, I’d take Garza. He provides a lot going forward and while he has defensive deficiencies, he’s not entirely inept there. He gives you a legitimate threat and, with some better tactics and instruction, he can be reined in a bit more so he’s not as much of a risk going forward when he leaves space behind him. Ream is right there too and I’m cool with him as well. I think it’s just a matter of what you want from your left back in any given match.
Rob: I agree with that. If we're playing a CONCACAF team who is bunkering he's a fine option to add width. However, if we're playing an important game I believe Ream is the better option. He's much better defensively and he's not a liability in attack. With the struggles our back line has gone through recently I'd prefer the defensive option. Ream came up as a center back, but often got shrugged off the ball too easily at the international level. His move to left back has done wonders for his chances of increased USMNT minutes.
Ryan: After that, things are … murky. But Bornstein is actually a real option now! This isn’t even in a joke way and, while it is somewhat of an indictment of the Americans’ left back options, he is having a bit of a career renaissance. He’s a regular for Queretaro now and helped them to the Clausura final in the spring. Bornstein may still be a punchline, but he’s also a decent player again.
Rob: If you say so. I, like many, still remember his punchline days and haven't been exposed much to his new and improved self. Our options are bleak after the Top 3, so I'm more than ready to forgive and forget and give him another chance. Speaking of renaissances, what in the world happened to Eric Lichaj? He emerged onto the scene under Bob Bradley when he was an Aston Villa player, but we haven't seen him in nearly four years! What gives? And does he have any hope of getting another call up?
Ryan: He should. He’s been a solid player for Nottingham Forest ever since he joined them two years ago and the U.S. isn’t exactly in a position to overlook dependable Championship players, especially at fullback. Lichaj has hopped back and forth between left back and right back so even though he’s playing right back right now, he’s an option at both. He’s still only 26 years old and you can’t convince me that the U.S. shouldn’t be looking at a consistent fullback.
Rob: Absolutely. If Klinsmann is serious about overturning the player pool he needs to start giving proven guys who have earned it a chance.
One guy that I'm really high on is Robbie Rogers. He plays left back for one of the best clubs in MLS every week and while he's not the best defender, I feel he's adequate enough. What I really like about him are his technical qualities. I feel having a full back who is comfortable with the ball at his feet is extremely important. You are a Galaxy fan, what do you think of him?
Ryan: I'm not that high on him for the U.S. I spent a decade wanting to see him at left back and, had he been moved there earlier, I think he could have been a fixture there for the national team, but it didn't happen until last season. The result is a naive defender, whose problems are often masked by teammates that clean up his messes. He's good enough going forward, but he's not a world beater there and he probably needs to be considering his defending.
I like Rogers in MLS, but most of the hype around him seems to be around the idea that he recently started playing left back so he'll get better. But we're nearing the end of Year 2 and his progress has stalled and he's 28. I think this is who he is. If you want to give him a look in Cupcake, that's fine and maybe he takes it to another level, but I don't think there's a ton there.
Rob: That's fair. At sixth on the depth chart it's highly unlikely he's a legitimate option unless a massive slew of injuries occur. While the left back pool isn't what it should be, I don't think it's extremely awful. I'd feel comfortable with the Top 3 guys if we had a big game tomorrow. Hopefully the strength of this depth chart beyond the first options improves in the next two years.
Ryan: I think there are two really scary things:
1) Johnson isn’t that good. He seems really good because there isn’t much competition for him, but he’s not great. He also happens to be first choice at multiple positions. So while I like him and I’m perfectly happy starting him in a match, it’s not like he’s incredible and for someone of his quality to have a giant gap between him and the rest is … woof.
2) Garza is the only player on this list who will be under 30 years old at the 2018 World Cup. This isn’t just a group lacking quality, it’s also an older one. Hopefully John Requejo comes good and soon.
Rob: He's a good young option that was, for some reason, was benched in favor of a defensive midfielder playing left back in the U-20 World Cup. The pool is, like you say, murky for sure. But, aside from the Beasley-era it's been that way for a long time.
Ryan: At least the uncertainty is a feeling we're used to.
Depth chart series: