USMNT Profiles: Defenders
The USMNT back line is, in my opinion, the weakest area of the team. That is not, however, due to lack of talent but mostly a lack of experience and a unique mix of styles.
Defenders such as Fabian Johnson and DeMarcus Beasley appear to be more suited for the midfield than the back line with their ball control and ability to push the play back up the field. Johnson, born in Munich to an American father and German-American mother, has been honing his skills exclusively in his home country of Germany, turning professional in 2004. Whereas, Beasley has played all across the globe with stops in MLS, Bundesliga, the EPL and most recently Mexico’s Liga MX for club Puebla.
Both defenders provide a much needed skill to be sure, but one that is better suited to be matched with a solid defensive pairing. With both Johnson and Beasley likely to be in the starting lineup, finding that defensive pairing can be a challenge. John Brooks (23 years old) and Timothy Chandler (24 years old) are talented but they have only 16 USMNT appearances between them. Matt Besler of Sporting KC and Geoff Cameron of Stoke City are the most solid defenders on the roster but having them paired together would leave perhaps the most versatile and valuable defender off the pitch.
That defender would be 6’5”, MLS Defender of the Year in 2011 Omar Gonzalez. Gonzalez played for the University of Maryland Terrapins from 2006 through 2008 winning a national championship in ’08 as well as numerous personal awards before being drafted by the LA Galaxy of MLS in 2009. Gonzalez’s talent and skills earned him a short term loan to Bundesliga club FC Nuremberg in 2012 but an injury to his ACL in training prevented him from making any appearances for the club.
Recovered from his injury, Gonzalez help lead the LA Galaxy to their second consecutive MLS Cup in 2012. Gonzalez uses his size to his advantage on corners, regardless of the zone. Offensively, Gonzalez has proven to be very capable getting to the ball in the air for a header. Defensively, Gonzalez does a good job position himself to block more of the goal and reduce the angles for opposing attackers. Because of his experience winning titles in college and MLS, Gonzalez is likely to be more comfortable with the pressures of this World Cup despite only being 25 years old than some of the other youngsters on the roster and Gonzalez will need to be.
Neither Besler, Cameron, nor Gonzalez can afford to be sloppy with the ball or have bad giveaways in the defensive zone. All three will have to be at the top of their game to compliment the styles of Johnson and Beasley on the outside. Substitutions will be very interesting for the USMNT’s back line with Seattle Sounders standout DeAndre Yedlin looking to add a spark off the bench.
Born in Seattle, Yedlin is the Seattle Sounders first homegrown player, meaning he was able to sign with the club directly from their academy without having to enter the draft. Yedlin played collegiately for the University of Akron Zips for two years before joining the Sounders in 2012. Yedlin is an offensively gifted defender with a seemingly endless supply of energy.
Despite only being 20 years old, Yedlin plays like a veteran, rarely getting overshadowed by the moment. That is not to say he is not prone to making rookie mistakes but only that Yedlin carries himself on the field with a confidence normally found only in the more experienced. Yedlin is a dynamic force on the pitch and will be expected to add a spark off the bench for the USMNT. Eventually, I would expect that Yedlin will find himself positioned more in the midfield than the back line, similar to Johnson.
Yedlin has shown himself to be a quick study for the Sounders, having already made himself invaluable to their roster. Depending on how much he has absorbed in his short time watching and training with Johnson and Beasley, Yedlin may very well leave his mark on this World Cup. The USMNT first match with Ghana could very well provide opportunities for Yedlin to break into the attack and impact the game with his speed and energy.
Yedlin appears poised to have an extended run with the USMNT but I would not be surprised to see him contributing in Brazil.