The O’Neill-Brooks Center Back Tandem

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World Soccer Source is more than willing to come right out and declare that both Shane O’Neill and John Anthony Brooks are better center backs than both Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler.

Since World Soccer Source would like to see Geoff Cameron playing as the midfield destroyer, Shane O’Neill is the center back partner being proposed for John Anthony Brooks.

This declaration doesn’t mean that Gonzalez and Besler aren’t international-caliber center backs or that they shouldn’t be on the roster, but this writer is voicing the opinion that O’Neill and Brooks are better center backs and better soccer players than Gonzalez and Besler.

When Brooks played against Edin Dzeko and Vedad Ibisevic, he really wasn’t guilty of making any serious mistakes.

On Bosnia’s first goal, Eddie Johnson was stripped of the ball in front of his own penalty box as he was trying to find a way to get the ball out of the danger zone, and Bosnia stole the ball and played a pass through John Anthony Brooks and Geoff Cameron, which both players got their feet on. So, both Brooks and Cameron both blocked an expertly played through ball, but the ball managed to ricochet through a crowd.

That’s hardly a mistake, and when Brooks and Cameron were blamed for not crashing the net to stop the second attempt after Tim Howard blocked the first shot, it is very possible that both defenders were trying to keep their marks offside.

On Bosnia’s second goal scored by Vedad Ibisevic, Geoff Cameron was likely expecting John Anthony Brooks (who was ball side of Cameron) to head a ball played in both of their directions out, but Brooks was pushed in the back in the process of going for the header. This push not only prevented Brooks from jumping, but it also threw Cameron off. There is also the argument that Vedad Ibisevic was offside, and Cameron was behind him because he was trying to keep him offside.

On Bosnia’s third goal, Geoff Cameron was closer to a cross coming in Brooks direction and Cameron jumped really high to attempt to head the cross out, but he wasn’t able to get up high enough. This writer would argue that it’s likely that this jump obstructed Brooks view of the ball coming in for a split-second, but an elite striker like Dzeko was equipped to still finish the cross with his head, even with his view obstructed for a split-second.

The point of reviewing these three goals is to demonstrate that both Cameron and Brooks put in a very good defensive performance against an elite Bosnia-Herzegovina side where their only mistakes were being beaten to two headers by fractions of a second, and on both headers, there is a strong case to be made that their timing was thrown off by the situations described above.

As John Anthony Brooks is a Bundesliga starter, the question is now, “Why should Shane O’Neill start at center back for the USMNT?”

The answer to this question is simple. O’Neill is a more talented defender than both Gonzalez and Besler because he not only has a more complete set of defensive and overall fundamentals, but he also has the athleticism and understanding of the game to play as a center back, right back, left back, and defensive midfielder.

O’Neill brings a greater amount of agility in terms of his ability to keep up with quicker and craftier attackers, whereas against Germany even Matt Besler was easily rounded by André Schürrle. Besler is certainly fast and talented, but the same degree of quickness and mobility isn’t there.

This writer would argue that the actual defensive timing and positioning of O’Neill is well beyond that of Besler and Gonzalez, and even Tab Ramos is a big Shane O’Neill supporter.

It shouldn’t be forgotten than Shane O’Neill performed very well against France’s U-20 World Cup squad, which was stacked with elite European players, whereas Gonzalez and Besler have really only played fairly well against a Germany B Team, that in all honesty took it very easy until they decided to take the scoreline from 4-1 to 4-3 in a matter of minutes.

There’s a strong argument to be made that Germany wasn’t really trying very hard until the prospect of suffering an embarrassing loss to the United States became possible.

To be fair to Gonzalez, he has had the misfortune of coming up against some forwards who almost everyone has trouble defending, including Neymar, Romelu Lukaku, and Christian Benteke

While Gonzalez and Besler are definitely international-caliber center backs, the combination of technical ability, defensive timing and fundamentals, and athleticism seen from both Shane O’Neill and John Anthony Brooks looks to be superior to that of both Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler.

Many observers view Gonzalez and Besler as locks at center back, but two realities remain: O’Neill swam with the sharks against France’s ruthless U-20 World Cup squad and Brooks is a Bundesliga starter for a major club who faced off against an elite Bosnia and Herzegovina side without showing any nerves or real weaknesses.

Gonzalez and Besler are players who are strong candidates to start at center back for the USMNT, but whether or not they are the best American center backs remains to be seen.

Jürgen Klinsmann should strongly consider the possibility that not only is John Anthony Brooks better than Gonzalez and Besler, but Shane O’Neill is as well.


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