Using your best defenders regardless of age or international experience within reason is a customary and logical tactical game plan for competing in a World Cup.
Every national team in the world uses its best defenders either based on club performance, international performance, or skill-level regardless of their youth or lack of youth.
If the best American defenders are young players with plenty of club experience but not a wealth of international experience, then so be it. Soccer is a skill sport, and international experience doesn’t guarantee that defenders won’t make mistakes in a World Cup.
There are no guarantees in soccer; the best thing a national team can do is to play its best players.
Eight defenders is the traditional number of defenders for a national team roster, but seven defenders would suffice if some players double as center backs and as defensive midfielders.
This is precisely the case with Geoff Cameron and Shane O’Neill, the latter of whom really demonstrated throughout an entire season in Major League Soccer plus the U-20 World Cup that he was just as good if not better than Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler.
The United States Men’s National Team likely has defenders who are good enough to hold their own and even excel at the 2014 World Cup.
While Neymar and the like are essentially unplayable, which means incapable of being marked, players below that level can be well-defended and marked by the USMNT with team defense.
Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones or some other defensive midfielder in front of center backs like Geoff Cameron, John Anthony Brooks, or Michael Orozco should really be equipped to mostly contain much of the World Cup competition unless elite attackers really turn up the intensity and the style points, which almost no defender can contain anyway.
Whether it’s Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Mario Balotelli, Thomas Müller, or Neymar, players of that level are capable of victimizing and embarrassing any defender, so the best thing the United States can do is field the defenders with the defensive instincts and fundamentals, the athleticism, and the technical ability to perform well on the international level.
Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez have done well as center backs under Jürgen Klinsmann, but Geoff Cameron, John Anthony Brooks, and Michael Orozco are likely better.
That would be five center backs on the roster unless one takes the view that Cameron and Orozco are doubling as outside backs. Furthermore, Shane O’Neill is an excellent center back, but he was listed as a defensive midfielder in World Soccer Source’s previous article on midfielders.
At this point, Brad Evans and DaMarcus Beasley have shown that they can do well enough as outside backs in a pinch, but starting them over natural outside backs or converted outside backs like Cameron is misguided.
Chris Klute, DeAndre Yedlin, and Andrew Farrell proved this season in MLS that they are likely the best outside backs available to the United States in addition to Eric Lichaj, Jonathan Spector, and Steve Cherundolo.
Fabian Johnson is also a capable outside back, but his defending and recovery defense seems outmatched by Farrell, Yedlin, and Klute. Johnson is an excellent player who attacks with speed and two-footed skill, but from a defensive standpoint, Farrell, Yedlin, and Klute are better defenders.
Farrell and Klute looked better than Yedlin from a defensive standpoint for most of the MLS season, but over the last few months of the season, Yedlin has evolved into an effective defender who has improved his ability to tackle and dispossess attackers.
Klute, Yedlin, and Farrell would be new to the United States Men’s National Team set-up, but that’s not a good enough reason to exclude them for players that are not only not as good but that are also being played out of position.
If the United States selects seven defenders with either Cameron or O’Neill listed as midfielders, then Brooks, Cameron, and Orozco add up to three defenders, and Yedlin, Farrell, and Klute make six defenders. The final spot should go to Eric Lichaj who is an experienced, young, and talented outside back that can play as a right or left back, and he has the club and international experience to be considered by and large a proven performer.
Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, Brad Evans, and DaMarcus Beasley didn’t make World Soccer Source’s list of preferred defenders for the World Cup, but Cameron, Brooks, and Orozco are all more complete center backs who aren’t a liability in terms of defending, speed, or technical ability.
Gonzalez isn’t quite as fast or as skilled defensively as any of those three, and Besler falls just slightly below Cameron, Brooks, and Orozco in terms of his overall package as a center back. Besler is certainly an upgrade from Carlos Bocanegra or Clarence Goodson, but anything that Besler can do, Cameron, Brooks, and Orozco can do better.
Shane O’Neill and Andrew Farrell are also better center backs than Gonzalez and Besler because there’s no weak area for O’Neill and Farrell as defenders. Both are tall, strong, fast, quick, and technically-skilled, and both are outstanding defenders who aggressively tackle without fouling.
Youth and international inexperience shouldn’t be qualities that disqualify Farrell, O’Neill, Yedlin, and Klute from the USMNT. All of these players were starters for their club teams for the entire season, and the international experience of Gonzalez, Besler, Beasley, and Evans as defenders was mostly against fairly weak competition.
The argument that many observers use for supporting Evans, Gonzalez, Besler, and Beasley as the starting Back Four is that they played for the United States during a nice winning streak, but the performance of all four of those players went down as the competition went up.
World Soccer Source would rather see USMNT defenders with the physical gifts and the tools to succeed against better competition, then just sticking with the status quo that looked shaky when the quality of the opposition went up.
With Shane O’Neill listed as a midfielder, Geoff Cameron, John Anthony Brooks, Michael Orozco, Andrew Farrell, Eric Lichaj, DeAndre Yedlin, and Chris Klute are the seven or really eight defenders that World Soccer Source believes have what it takes to perform at the 2014 World Cup.
Additionally, Gale Agbossoumonde is a center back prospect who is too promising to not be evaluated and seriously considered before the World Cup. Hypothetically, Agbossoumonde has everything one could ask for in a center back: excellent defensive instincts and fundamentals, refined technical ability with both feet, calmness, and great athleticism in a tall, strong physique.
As American soccer has continued to improve, it’s quite logical that newer American defenders are better than ones in the past. Major League Soccer has never seen a crop of defenders like O’Neill, Farrell, Yedlin, and Klute, and making them wait years for another World Cup is a waste of good talent that can help the United States to improve.
Starting a Back Four made up of DeAndre Yedlin, Shane O’Neill, Andrew Farrell, and Chris Klute with Geoff Cameron and Michael Bradley as the defensive midfielders is one of the boldest and best options for the United States in the 2014 World Cup, and another viable option would be to start Farrell, Cameron, Brooks, and Klute as the Back Four.
These are new Back Fours, but they are made up of better players than the Standard Klinsmann Back Four comprised of Evans, Gonzalez, Besler, and Beasley.
Finally, a Back Four comprised of Lichaj, Orozco, Brooks, and Klute with Cameron and Bradley as a two-man defensive midfield would be another option where basically everyone except Klute was experienced and by and large proven at the international level or at the high level of the Bundesliga in Brooks’ case.
Eight American Defenders Who Can Compete in the World Cup:
CENTER BACKS/DEFENSIVE MIDFIELDERS: Geoff CAMERON, Shane O’NEILL
CENTER BACKS: John Anthony BROOKS, Michael OROZCO, Andrew FARRELL.
OUTSIDE BACKS: Eric LICHAJ, DeAndre YEDLIN, Chris KLUTE, (Andrew FARRELL)