The Center Back Depth Chart for the United States Men’s National Team:
1.) Geoff Cameron (Stoke City)
Geoff Cameron is a level above Jürgen Klinsmann’s current favorite American center backs: Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, and Clarence Goodson. Cameron’s smooth running and technical ability in a tall frame instill confidence that the United States no longer has to use center backs who are prey for international strikers.
There’s simply no way to watch Besler, Gonzalez, and Goodson in action and come to the conclusion that they have the same athleticism and defensive instincts and fundamentals as those of Geoff Cameron.
How else would Cameron be able to play as an outside back and as a defensive midfielder in the English Premier League?
Cameron is a superior soccer player in terms of his touch, technique, movement, and vision compared to Besler, Gonzalez, and Goodson, and Cameron’s tackling, defensive instincts, and agility make him a far more qualified center back to face off against better attackers. Cameron is more equipped to deal with attackers who come at him with tricks, changes of pace, speed, and movement off the ball than Klinsmann’s preferred center backs are. Cameron brings a defensive package of size, skill, and athleticism, and it’s very possible that his skills are better suited to play as a defensive midfielder.
2.) John Anthony Brooks (Hertha Berlin)
John Anthony Brooks starts for Hertha Berlin at 20 years old, and he’s fast, agile, technically-skilled, defensively-sound, comfortable on the ball, and 6’4.”
Looking toward the 2014 World Cup, Brooks possesses the tools needed to give the United States a center back that won’t be totally victimized by the better forwards and midfielders in the 2014 World Cup.
Jürgen Klinsmann played Brooks with Cameron against Bosnia and Herzegovina, and both players were only guilty of being beaten to headers by a few inches against two elite strikers when Cameron and Brooks had never played together before.
3.) Shane O’Neill (Colorado Rapids)
Shane O’Neill proved himself in the 2013 U-20 World Cup when he played against a stacked French national team that was loaded with extremely-skilled winners of the genetic lottery.
O’Neill performed well in a trial by fire, and his play in MLS this season has proven him to be a 20-year-old versatile defender who has all of the requisite tools to excel at the international level as a defender: skill, strong defensive fundamentals, agility, good instincts, smooth technical ability, size, and good athleticism.
O’Neill’s performances in MLS this season speak for themselves; all one has to do is watch his games on MLS Live. O’Neill proved he was ready for international play when he faced off against Yaya Sanogo of France and Arsenal. Any questions about O’Neill’s ability to mark a quick, fast, skilled, and tall freak of nature like Sanogo were answered in the U.S.’ tie against France in the 2013 U-20 World Cup.
4.) Andrew Farrell (New England Revolution)
Andrew Farrell brings skill on the ball, blazing speed, excellent tackling, a complete set of fundamentals, and impressive strength. Farrell has a ruthless streak in him where he chases down opponents and dispossesses them with hard but clean tackles where he frequently keeps possession of the ball and gets up to dribble off with it.
Farrell owes a big thank you to the Peruvians with whom he grew up who are probably the reason that rather than just being athletic and physically-imposing that he’s also technically smooth. Kick and run and boot ball are simple illegal in South America. That style of play was surely strongly discouraged in Peru.
Despite being a center back, Farrell has been playing as a right back, but Farrell can give the United States Men’s National Team a needed combination of speed and skill that has been lacking from the center of the American defense. Farrell passes and dribbles well out of the back, and he chases down opponents with no mercy.
Cameron and Brooks did well against Bosnia and Herzegovina, and it’s hard to imagine that players like Gonzalez, Goodson, and Besler would have been able to hold their own against players like Edin Dzeko. Farrell, like O’Neill and Brooks, is new, but his skill-set, speed, and controlled defensive aggressiveness are a level above those of Besler, Gonzalez, and Goodson.
The center back rankings listed above do not mesh with the conventional wisdom of the American soccer media, but the center backs listed above have the tools necessary to give the United States more talented and athletic center backs with good defensive instincts and fundamentals. It’s better to be good than to just be experienced in recent CONCACAF games.