USMNT Depth Chart: Left Backs
Left Back was an enormous problem for the United States Men’s National Team before Jürgen Klinsmann took over as head coach because normally a right-footed right back had been used as a left back, and under Klinsmann, Fabian Johnson was the preferred left back until recently.
Now, DaMarcus Beasley has been the preferred left back even though he is a left winger, and Fabian Johnson has been deployed as a left winger recently, which seems to suit his playing style better.
Despite starting as a left back for Hoffenheim, Fabian Johnson seems to lack the natural tendency to aggressively mark and tackle as a left back. Johnson’s excellent overall technical ability and athleticism mask the fact that his tackling and overall defensive fundamentals not might be not as good as the United States needs to get to the next level.
Certainly, Fabian Johnson knows how to force attackers out wide, chase attackers down, and dribble and pass out of the back, but it always seems like a more aggressive defender is needed to play left back.
Fabian Johnson would be an excellent choice to use as a left wing back if the United States were to use three center backs, but Chris Klute is looking like the only known player in the entire pool who can bring the needed combination of strong and clean defending, excellent athleticism, and attacking ability from the left back position.
With all of that being said, here is World Soccer Source’s depth chart of American left backs:
1.) Chris Klute (Colorado Rapids)
Chris Klute is a two-way left back and an excellent tackler and 1v1 marker with exceptional athleticism in a tall lean frame.
Klute is remarkably fast (even by international soccer standards), and Klute runs a 4.3 40-yard dash time. Just for comparison, Bo Jackson ran a 4.12, and Deion Sanders ran a 4.2.
While Klute is known for his speed, he excels at tracking down attackers and tackling them without fouling them. He uses his great vertical leap to clear out crosses and passes played over the top of the defense, and he is good at clearing balls out of the danger zone, if there isn’t the time or space to dribble or pass the ball out of the back.
Klute uses his dribbling and speed as a weapon to disrupt defenses when he makes his frequent marauding runs down the left sideline, and he can cross with either foot or cut inside toward the middle of the field to play passes or shoot with either foot.
In short, Klute is the most complete American left back on the radar screen, but he is inexperienced at the international level. The best thing Jürgen Klinsmann can do is to let him start games to start gaining experience and go through the process of learning from mistakes before the 2014 World Cup.
2.) Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim)
Fabian Johnson was discussed above in the introductory section. Johnson is a Bundesliga left back who is a more gifted soccer player and attacker than he is a gifted defender. Johnson has likely been made a left back because of his left foot.
For a national team that lacks left backs, Johnson is a fairly safe choice to be entrusted with the left back position because he possesses the skill-level and athleticism to not be victimized or easily dispossessed by top national teams. Nevertheless, Johnson is not a particular aggressive or noteworthy tackler or 1v1 defender.
3.) Jonathan Spector (Birmingham City) & Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest)
These two players are essentially a tie, and so together they are ranked as third, due to the lack of left backs in the American player pool.
Jonathan Spector and Eric Lichaj are lumped together because they are two right backs who can play as left backs, and both players are more experienced international and club defenders that DeAndre Yedlin and Andrew Farrell listed below.
Yedlin and Farrell might be better, but Spector and Lichaj are outside backs who are experienced in the English Premier League and at the international level; Spector is the more experienced and proven of the two.
When selecting four outside backs, the United States will likely have to pick two or three outside backs who are right backs but who can play as left backs.
4.) DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders) & Andrew Farrell (New England Revolution)
Like Lichaj and Spector, both Yedlin and Farrell are listed together, but they are given the unscientific collective ranking of fourth.
World Soccer Source ranked two players at third and two players at fourth, in order to form two groups of more-experienced and less-experienced players.When using right backs as left backs, it’s difficult to distinguish two similar players who have a somewhat equal level of skill and experience.
Yedlin and Farrell were discussed in detail in World Soccer Source’s article about the depth chart at right back. Both players are young, modern, two-way outside backs who can attack and defend equally-well. Both players are exceptionally fast, and both players are very technically-skilled.
Along with Klute, they are a new crop of American outside backs who seem to have more of the tools to be legitimate international-caliber outside backs who can perform against top national teams. All three players lack international experience, and it will be interesting to see how they compare to one another on the international-level.
It’s hard to imagine that all three wouldn’t be incorporated into the United States Men’s National Team now that the U.S. has qualified for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
On a side note, it would be interesting to see who the fastest of the three young outside backs is, but Klute looks to be the fastest.
*Another Outside Back to Watch: Kellyn Acosta
The United States Men’s National Team has the option of calling up Chris Klute and Fabian Johnson to play as left backs, and the likely best option for four outside backs in total on a roster is to call up Klute, Johnson, Yedlin, and Spector, with Farrell being listed as a center back.