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: Centerbacks have been a problem for the United States, to say the least. For years, they knew they had an established pairing in Oguchi Onyewu and Carlos Bocanegra, but Onyewu’s injury broke that up. Bob Bradley made a workable duo out of Bocanegra and Clarence Goodson in 2011, but ever since Jurgen Klinsmann took over, it has been four years of rotating centerbacks and poor play. What does the U.S. have in the center of their defense?
Rob: Quite simply, they have a ton of question marks. Like you mentioned it's been a gigantic game of Musical Chairs at the centerback position. Lets examine this more closely. Geoff Cameron, the guy on top of our depth chart and inarguably one of the two best options at the position, plays for his club there on rare occasions. Then the number two slot, Matt Besler, is fresh off a visit to Klinsmann's doghouse for a horrid run of form after the World Cup. This position is easily the most worrisome for the USMNT and the one that needs the most improvement between now and 2018.
Ryan: Yeah, it’s not good, but I think it’s also worth noting that it’s also not that bad. Cameron and Besler are perfectly fine centerbacks and, with a solid team in front of them, are more than capable of doing the job. John Brooks, as inconsistent as he’s been, is only 22 and a legitimate Bundesliga player. Go all the way down to seven or eight players down and there’s either really promising players or at least adequate players. That kind of depth, as mediocre as it might be, is not disastrous. You can work with that.
Rob: It's not exactly something to panic about yet, I agree. Thankfully there are signs of young talent on the horizon, but we must bridge the gap. My worry is the form of the players behind our top two. Brooks and Omar have proven to be good defenders in the past but currently they both are struggling with fitness (Brooks) and form (Gonzalez). I have little confidence in Ream at centerback against good teams. He's a fine player, but a little too weak to play in central defense for my taste. For right now this crop will suffice in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, but it doesn't give me a lot of confidence against really good teams.
Ryan: Brooks is all about consistency. He’ll get fit and be fine, but this is still a guy who looks like a dominant player for Hertha Berlin one week, then two weeks later get benched. Maybe that’s just a matter of maturity, but that inconsistency is also on display for the U.S. and they can’t have that. Gonzalez’s form has been similar, of late, but he’s had stretches of really dominant play in MLS. Unfortunately, he doesn’t fit Klinsmann’s system especially well and has had some issues with the manager before so he’ll probably never be the linchpin that we hoped he’d be a few years ago.
Rob: So, with the top 5 all having question marks next to them, that brings us to Matt Miazga. He's been nothing but impressive for me this year both with the U.S. Youth National Teams and leading the Red Bulls to the MLS Supporters' Shield. He's big, mean, smart, and not bad technically either. I think his future is very bright. Why is he not higher on the depth chart?
Ryan: We’re still talking about a 20-year-old with 30 career professional starts to his name. Miazga is an undeniably tantalizing prospect who, more than any other young American at any position, looks closest to making a serious impact for the national team, but there’s still a lot of unknown there and growth. As good as he’s been, there are still cringey moments, even at the youth international level. Would you feel comfortable throwing him into a qualifier tomorrow?
It’s time for Miazga to start getting pushed more. That means a call-up, even if just for Cupcake, where he would get to train with the national team for weeks and play in a match or two. The thing about being 20 is Miazga hasn’t gotten to really prove himself enough. He needs those chances if he’s going to leapfrog guys like Cameron, Besler or even Ream so start with Cupcake and go from there. A move to Europe may be coming too so while he’s sixth right now, he could be much higher at this time next year.
Rob: That's more than fair. He's an exciting prospect for sure. Hopefully we see what he can do in the next year. The rest of the list leaves a lot to be desired. Ventura Alvarado entered the scene with tons of hype after being a part of the Club America team that won the Apertura in 2014. He's had a few encouraging performances for the USMNT, like the Mexico friendly in April, but the rest of his caps have been filled with moments that make you want to rip your hair out. However, he's still young and could improve. Do you see him having any kind of role with the USMNT in the future?
Ryan: At this level of play, no chance. He’s simply not good enough or close to it. He’s not good enough for Club America right now. But he’s also only 23 years old and has been playing consistently in the first division for less than a year. Alvarado has some ball skills, sometimes reads the game very well and is big enough to handle playing in the center internationally. There are tools there for him to be good down the road and maybe he improves enough to become a viable option for the U.S. It’s just not there now.
Rob: You won't get much argument for me there. The final two players are from MLS and are relatively overlooked players in the pool. Matt Hedges got a cap in the most recent Camp Cupcake and was forced to play right back in his few minutes of action. He's had an up and down season with FC Dallas, but they just won the Western conference, so he must be doing something right. With current options extremely thin, he has to be in the conversation solely on the fact that he's one of the most consistent American defenders year in and year out.
Andrew Farrell is a bit of a longshot. He's a fullback turned centerback who has a ton of athletic ability but is still a novice at the position. He's shown some promise this season with the Revs and could be worth a Cupcake look in January. At this point though, we're scrapping the bottom of the barrel trying to uncover options. What are your thoughts on these two?
Ryan: If you really had to get to the eighth and ninth players, you want someone who has shown you enough to be dependable with room for growth or wild upside. Hedges is the former and Farrell the latter.
Rob: It's not a star-studded list by any means. Hopefully in a year's time we'll have a more optimistic outlook at this position.
Ryan: If we want to be the least bit excited about the centerbacks, that means Brooks and Miazga. In the meantime, there are enough other options to get by. That’s not ideal, but it could be worse. And if Klinsmann lets players develop chemistry or understanding, it might actually work.
Depth chart series