By: Colin Reese
As of right now, if the goal of the United States Men’s National Team is to start international-caliber defenders that are proven on the club and international level, then Jürgen Klinsmann would be wise to start this Back Four: Jonathan Spector, Michael Orozco, Geoff Cameron, Eric Lichaj.
The United States will also need capable substitutes, and with Maurice Edu and Fabian Johnson listed as midfielders, then the United States has those two players in addition to other capable substitutes who are either internationally-proven or who possess the skill-set and physical gifts for high-level international soccer.
This list attempts to include both internationally-proven defenders as well as new talents with the qualities to play international soccer.
Below are the eight defenders that offer the United States the greatest chance for World Cup success, and many of these defenders are not highly-regarded by Jürgen Klinsmann:
Geoff CAMERON (Stoke City)
Geoff Cameron is likely the very best center back in the American player pool. Cameron was a central midfielder that was converted to play as a center back – and now as an outside back for Stoke City. Cameron’s technical ability with both feet is very high, and his athleticism and midfield skill-set make him the type of center back that the United States has been looking for. Cameron is without a doubt better than Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler, Jürgen Klinsmann’s starting center backs.
Michael OROZCO (Puebla)
Michael Orozco’s overall combination of defensive skills and instincts, technical ability, and solid athleticism has gone underrated for too long. Orozco has demonstrated that his game translates to the international game, and his ability to play in Mexico for so long demonstrates that he has the ability to perform in a more-technical league than MLS. Like Cameron, Orozco is a better center back option than both Gonzalez and Besler, which is quite noticeably when watching him play.
John Anthony BROOKS (Hertha Berlin)
John Anthony Brooks has been selected to the Bundesliga Team of the Week on several occasions at just 20 years old, and that has to be taken very seriously. Brooks has all of the qualities needed in a center back whether they be defensive, technical, or athletic, and excluding him from the United States’ World Cup roster would require that some new MLS defender like Andrew Farrell did a lot to really outperform Brooks. Taking nothing away from Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler, Klinsmann’s center back pairing of choice, Brooks is quite simply a level above them.
On a side note, Andrew Farrell of the New England Revolution might prove to be a more agile and mobile center back then Brooks, which isn’t to say that Brooks is some sort of lumbering mastodon. Anyone who has seen Brooks play can see that even at 6’4″ or taller, Brooks is laterally-quick and athletic.
Shane O’NEILL (Colorado Rapids)
Like Chris Klute and DeAndre Yedlin, Shane O’Neill did enough to impress Klinsmann to earn a spot in the United States’ January camp, but the cutting of both Klute and O’Neill was very questionable, especially when Michael Harrington was kept and Michael Parkhurst was added before the friendly against South Korea. O’Neill is a converted defensive midfielder, and he also can play well as an outside back. O’Neill is backed by Tab Ramos, and O’Neill provides quality defending in addition to good skill on the ball with a level of athleticism that are all above center backs like Clarence Goodson, Omar Gonzalez, or Matt Besler. O’Neill, along with Cameron and Orozco (and Edu for that matter) is more of a prototypical modern center back, which means he has the skill-set and qualities of a defensive midfielder or central midfielder.
Andrew FARRELL (New England Revolution)
– Plays as a center back or as an outside back
Eric LICHAJ (Nottingham Forest)
Eric Lichaj was on his way to being a regular starter as a right back or left back until Klinsmann took the reins of the United States Men’s National Team. Lichaj is two-footed, fast, and his defending is a level above MLS. Lichaj has been a constant snub under Klinsmann’s tenure, except for a some very limited minutes. Most observers of American soccer don’t question Lichaj’s ability or experience as he has demonstrated that he can perform well internationally or in Europe. Like Jonathan Spector below, Klinsmann’s refusal to use Lichaj over Brad Evans or DaMarcus Beasley can be described as nothing less than bizarre.
Jonathan SPECTOR (Birmingham City)
Despite his lack of games under Jürgen Klinsmann, Jonathan Spector is a proven international outside back who can play as a right back or left back, in addition to being able to play center back or defensive midfielder. Anyone who has watched the United States since 2006 or 2007 is well-aware of Spector’s ability to play against top national teams.
DeAndre YEDLIN (Seattle Sounders)
A modern two-way outside back who starts over Brad Evans at right back for the Seattle Sounders. Technically-skilled and two-footed, DeAndre Yedlin is an outside back with electrifying speed and quickness, and his marking and tackling are very underrated.
Chris KLUTE (Colorado Rapids)
Chris Klute is the best left back prospect in the American player pool. Klute is the best left back in MLS, and if other Klinsmann regulars earned their USMNT roster spots because of their play in MLS, then Klute deserves his as well. Klute is an even faster two-way outside back than Yedlin, and Klute’s marking and tackling is much better than Yedlin’s. Klute can play as a right back or as a left back, but his ability to play left back so well makes him a logical contender for the starting left back spot, even if many observers are concerned about his lack of international experience. Klute’s ability to track down attackers and tackle well combined with his attacking threat and service from out wide make him too good to be brushed aside as “raw” or “promising.” The United States isn’t strong enough or deep enough at left back to exclude Klute.
Kofi SARKODIE (Houston Dynamo)
– One of the best and most exciting outside backs in MLS
Timothy CHANDLER (Nürnberg)
-Chandler will be injured until right before the World Cup roster is selected.
The 8 Best USMNT Defenders for the World Cup:
CENTER BACKS: Geoff CAMERON, Michael OROZCO, John BROOKS, Shane O’NEILL
OUTSIDE BACKS: Eric LICHAJ, Jonathan SPECTOR, DeAndre YEDLIN, Chris KLUTE