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: The United States’ inability to find left backs has been well-documented and continues to this day, but right back hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows either. The constant, excellent play of Steve Cherundolo really hid the fact that, after him, there wasn’t much. The U.S. just has a fullback problem, which we’ve seen since Cherundolo called it a career, and is on full display here — Fabian Johnson is the team’s best left back … and the team’s best right back.
Rob: It's surprising that the U.S. are having so much trouble producing quality fullbacks. Typically those positions are reserved for your best athletes and we're usually known for having great athletic ability. Much like all of the defensive positions there are two or three good options and then there's a real fall off after that. Right back may be the most severe because our best option is also the best at other positions. Our number two option, DeAndre Yedlin is young and raw at the position and arguably better in attack. Then our third option is also better at other positions. It's a real conundrum to have and one that must be solved soon.
Ryan: Ideally, Johnson plays there and that’s that, but if he needs to play on the left (or in the midfield, which just makes it even more concerning), then Yedlin is the guy. Asking him to defend for 90 minutes with something on the line is downright terrifying, but is that better than what the non-Johnson options are at left back? It might be. And Geoff Cameron is the team’s best centerback right now so Lichaj really needs to enter this conversation.
Rob: Yedlin is an extremely talented player. His upside is huge and I really think this loan stint with Sunderland will do him wonders as long as he gets the minutes. Contrary to what a lot of people believe, I don't think he's a complete liability defensively. He gets caught out of position a lot, but so does every USMNT right back. At least he shows the desire to get back and recover. Hopefully he continues to improve and claims the right back spot as his own come 2018. I'm optimistic that he will.
Ryan: The talent is obviously there. I don't think anyone questions his upside, but would you take him to Costa Rica and throw him out there for 90 minutes tomorrow? That's a situation right around the corner for the U.S. Hell, Guatemala isn't far off. That's where the concern is and, in addition to his defense, there's also the matter of giveaways that force the U.S. to defend more than they want to. He's still a project who should be coming off the bench in situations where his flaws can be hidden somewhat, but the right back situation doesn't allow for it.
Rob: Fair point. At least his giveaways are a mental problem that can be solved and not a technique issue. That's why I'm optimistic.
Geoff Cameron is probably the most steady option if Fabian is forced into another position. He's always reliable defensively, but doesn't offer much going forward aside from the occasional cross. Sort of the opposite of Yedlin. I suppose it's a pick your poison type situation once we get into the tough games.
Ryan: The problem is in those tough games you need him at centerback. That’s a significantly more important position than right back so, assuming he has to play centrally, it becomes Yedlin and … who? I say Lichaj.
Rob: He's experienced and doesn't have a problem playing in big games (2011 Gold Cup). I'd be perfectly fine with him at right back in World Cup qualifying. But it's not ideal to have someone who hasn't been apart of the USMNT picture for four years as your primary option in important games. It's not a great situation to have.
Ryan: It's not ideal, but there aren't really any ideal scenarios right now. I'd take Lichaj's lack of recent international experience over what we've seen from Timothy Chandler in a U.S. shirt. Lichaj has played well on the international level before and is playing well and dependably for Nottingham Forest. He's still only 26 so it's not like you're dragging someone in their mid-30's out of retirement here.
Chandler has to keep getting looks because, well, the U.S. isn't in a place to shut out a guy who plays pretty well in the Bundesliga, especially at right back, but you don't want him in an important match right now. So Lichaj looks to be the guy, however unideal it is, and if he starts getting call-ups then that lack of recent experience won't be a problem come Copa America.
Rob: It's evident that Chandler is talented. You don't become a consistent starter in the Bundesliga without being a good player. For whatever reason it just hasn't clicked for him with the USMNT. I'm not sure it ever will. He has to keep getting chances like you said, but he's already on his second or third chance as it is. I'm not sure how many more he gets if he doesn't start proving something at the international level soon.
Ryan: So to recap, the U.S. right back choices are a player needed somewhere else, a developing player with glaring holes in his game, another player needed somewhere else, a player who has played a total of 27 minutes with the team in four years and a player who is being held onto almost out of obligation. That's delightful.
Desevio Payne needs to rescue this sad group.
Rob: Oh, man. He was an absolute revelation at the U-20 World Cup this summer. He was one of the best players on the team. It's very unfortunate that he's been slowed by an injury to start the Eredivisie season or he could possibly already be in the USMNT discussion. Obviously, you can never predict the future of young soccer players, but judging from what we saw from him with the U-20's he's got a chance to be really, really good.
Ryan: He, like Johnson, is capable of playing both fullback positions, which is nice. Anytime the U.S. can get a teenager playing for a club's first team in a quality league, it's a big deal and Payne was doing that at the end of last season for Groningen. It's worth being a bit cautious, seeing as he only played for the first team twice last season before injuries sidelined him this season so he's hardly a regular in the Netherlands and he needs a lot more experience. Still, this right back crop needs hope and he's it.
Depth chart series