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PST U.S. Men’s National Team Depth Chart: Central defense

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Central defense may be the United States’ deepest position, but it’s also the spot with the least certainty at the top. Whereas every other depth chart has a clear number one, central defense is evolving, with a converted midfielder recently affirming his place at the top of the pecking order. That a 27-year-old with little national team experience has been able to vault to the top of this list reflects the changing demands on a U.S. central defender.

A better example of that change may end up being Maurice Edu. We still rank Edu as a central midfielder, but Jurgen Klinsmann continues to intimate the Stoke-man’s future may be in defense. Part of that potential shift is due to the States’ logjam in the middle, but it also reflects a shift in approach. The athleticism, speed, and ability on the ball Edu possesses are now in greater demand at the back.

For that reason, this list looks like a mix of two worlds – the players who were the cornerstones of Bob Bradley’s defenses combining with a handful of names reflecting the position’s evolution.

1. Geoff Cameron, 27, Stoke City (England)

One year ago, Cameron wasn’t even sure his future was in defense. He was the solution that kept coming up after the disappointment of the 2011 Gold Cup, but the then-Dynamo all-star still thought of himself as a midfielder (as he’d tell anybody who’d ask). Now Cameron’s started three straight matches in central defense, at the same time finding a new position at Stoke: right back.

2. Carlos Bocanegra, 33, Racing Santander (Spain, on loan from Rangers, Scotland)

The captain’s stock looked to be dropping last month, but between a Clarence Goodson suspension (for Jamaica in Columbus) and Fabian Johnson’s illness, we haven’t been able to see if Bocanegra’s truly fallen in the pecking order. His benching in Kingston could prove to be a one-time thing, though if Goodson’s picked over Bocanegra the next time everybody’s available, this order will have to change.

3. Clarence Goodson, 30, Brondby (Denmark)

Goodson stepped into the void created by Oguchi Onyewu’s injuries, but with Geoff Cameron emerging, the Brondby captain is back in a fight for a first team spot. Even if Goodson loses his place in the starting XI, he’s a reliable option off the bench and as a spot-starter.

4. Michael Orozco Fiscal, 26, San Luis (Mexico)

While fans have yet to warm to his increased national team profile, Orozco Fiscal has been recalled twice since Klinsmann took over. That’s more than you can say for most names on this list. Because of the presence of players like Michael Parkhurst and Maurice Edu (players who can play in central defense), Orozco Fiscal’s unlikely to be called in for a competitive match soon, even if his August goal at Estadio Azteca made him a part of U.S. national team history.

5. Matt Besler, 25, Sporting Kansas City

Besler was also recalled to the squad for August’s friendly against Mexico, though he’s yet to earn his first cap. His continued strong performances for Sporting leave him on the cusp of an international breakthrough, with January shaping up as an important point for Besler’s national team future.

6. Omar Gonzalez, 24, LA Galaxy

Just over three months after his return from major knee surgery, Gonzalez has resumed his MLS dominance, though as it concerns his national team future, the pre-injury obstacles remain. His distribution must continue to improve, while his lack of foot speed will have to be overcome. Though Gonzalez has a large contingent of support, it’s unclear whether he’s destined to earn a spot or, like Chad Marshall and Michael Parkhurst, fail to translate MLS success into a consistent role with the national team.

7. Oguchi Onyewu, 30, Málaga (Spain, on loan from Sporting CP, Portugal)

“Gooch” has never been the same since suffering a knee injury in 2009. Since, he’s moved from Milan (Italy) to Sporting (Portugal), been loaned to Twente (Netherlands) and Málaga (Spain), and only managed to appear in 41 games. It’s possible regular playing time could see Onyewu return to his pre-injury form, though it’s unclear he’ll get that in Andalusia.

8. Heath Pearce, 28, New York Red Bulls

The last time Pearce adorned the stars and stripes, he was out left during the January camp. Since then club life has shifted him to central defense, a place which might be a better fit internationally. Pearce’s skillset offers Klinsmann something he seems to be looking for with a player like Orozco Fiscal; however, until we see Pearce back in the national team (potentially in January), it’s difficult to know if he should be listed here, at left back, or not at all.

9. George John, 25, FC Dallas

Nine may seem low for a player who was close to a English Premier League move 10 months ago, but the gap between nine and four isn’t as big as these rankings imply. It wouldn’t be too hard for John to surge back up this list, but having lost much of the momentum that made him a hot commodity a year ago, John’s fallen behind the likes of Orozco Fiscal and Besler.

10. Jay DeMerit, 32, Vancouver Whitecaps

DeMerit hasn’t been a factor in the national team under Klinsmann, and at 32 years old, time may be running out on the man who was a starter in South Africa. But as we’ve seen with the callups of Eddie Johnson and Alan Gordon, Klinsmann’s willing to look to Major League Soccer for solutions (even if a general misconception says otherwise). Among MLS central defenders, few U.S.-eligibles have performed better than DeMerit. With experience at the international level, DeMerit would still be an in-a-pinch option.


Previous depth charts:

Klinsmann names USMNT preliminary roster for 2016 Copa America

United States Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann instructs his team against Guatemala during the first half of a World Cup qualifying soccer match Tuesday, March 29, 2016, in Columbus, Ohio. The United States beat Guatemala 4-0. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)
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Youth is well served as Jurgen Klinsmann has named the U.S. national team’s 40-man preliminary roster ahead of next month’s 2016 Copa America Centenario.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage ]

Youngsters Christian Pulisic, Darlington Nagbe, Matt Miazga and Jordan Morris, along with 36 others, will take part in the USMNT’s pre-tournament training camp, beginning May 16 in Miami, Fla., as Klinsmann makes his final decisions in order to trim the squad from 40 to 23 before the May 20 roster deadline.

Along with the aforementioned newcomers (relative so) is most of the regular cast of characters from Klinsmann’s nearly six years in charge — Jermaine Jones, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Fabian Johnson, Kyle Beckerman and Mix Diskerud, among others.

[ MORE: Dortmund’s Pulisic scores in second consecutive Bundesliga game ]

The USMNT will play three warm-up games ahead of their group-stage opener (June 3, vs. Colombia in Santa Clara, Calif.): at Puerto Rico (May 22), vs. Ecuador (May 25 in Frisco, Tex.) and vs. Bolivia (May 28 in Kansas City, Kan.).

The full preliminary roster is as follows…

Goalkeepers: David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Ethan Horvath (Molde) Tim Howard (Everton), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

Defenders: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Ventura Alvarado (Club America), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Edgar Castillo (Monterrey), Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest), Matt Miazga (Chelsea), Michael Orozco (Tijuana), Tim Ream (Fulham), DeAndre Yedlin (Sunderland)

Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Mix Diskerud (New York City FC), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Monchengladbach), Jermaine Jones (Colorado Rapids), Perry Kitchen (Hearts), Alfredo Morales (Ingolstadt), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution), Danny Williams (Reading), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders), Ethan Finlay (Columbus Crew SC), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund),Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Bobby Wood (Union Berlin), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)

MLS Snapshot: Portland Timbers 2-1 Toronto FC (video)

Portland Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri (8), celebrates his equalizer goal in extra time against Los Angeles Galaxy, Sunday May 11, 2014, at Providence Park in Portland, Oregon.  (AP Photo/The Oregonian, Thomas Boyd)  MAGS OUT; TV OUT; LOCAL TV OUT; LOCAL INTERNET OUT; THE MERCURY OUT; WILLAMETTE WEEK OUT; PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP OUT
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The game in 100 words (or less): The defending champion Portland Timbers are slowly but surely hitting their stride after a less-than-ideal start to the season saw Caleb Porter’s side start their 2015 MLS Cup title defense with just one win in their first six games. With Sunday’s 2-1 victory over Toronto FC, the Timbers are now three games unbeaten (two wins), and quickly ascending the Western Conference standings (started the day in 9th, finished the day in 7th). Just a heads up: Diego Valeri is still the best (24 goals, 38 assists in 94 MLS appearances). Also, backup goalkeeper Jake Gleeson turned in one of the best goalkeeping performances in recent memory, with no fewer than three jaw-dropping saves in the second half alone. As for TFC, their eight-game road trip to start the season is, mercifully, finished. They’ll head back to BMO Field for next Saturday’s home opener with 11 points in the bag and a claim on the no. 3 spot in the Eastern Conference.

[ MORE: Monday’s MLS Rewind column  ]

Three moments that mattered

17′ — Adi takes the feed from Valeri, makes it 1-0 — Diego Valeri to Fanendo Adi [insert any Timbers forward here] has been a thoroughly productive formula for the Timbers since his arrival in the Rose City four years ago. Big props to Darren Mattocks with the ball to put Valeri into all that space.

40′ — Johnson keeps it low, makes it 1-1 — Sebastian Giovinco attracted the attention of four Timbers defenders, none of which were quick to pounce on the loose ball after the Italian went down under a crunching challenge. Will Johnson was quickest to the ball, and equalized against his former club.

74′ — Valeri’s stunning free kick is a worthy winner — Enjoy!

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Diego Valeri

Goalscorers: Adi (17′), Johnson (40′), Valeri (71′)

Ronaldo back in training ahead of Champions League decider vs. Man City

Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo watches the math at the bench during the Champions League semifinal soccer match between Manchester City and Real Madrid, at the City of Manchester stadium in Manchester, England, Tuesday, April 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
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Cristiano Ronaldo is in a race against time in order to be fit for Real Madrid’s UEFA Champions League semifinal decider against Manchester City on Wednesday.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s UCL coverage ]

With just 72 hours to kickoff of the two sides’ return leg (0-0 draw at the Etihad Stadium last week), Madrid’s superstar attacker is back in training with an eye toward taking the field on Wednesday after missing the last three games with a hamstring injury. Ronaldo has been unavailable for selection since last featuring on April 2.

He has since downplayed the severity of the injury, saying of last week’s first-leg clash, “If it were a final, I’d play.”

[ MORE: Man City, Real Madrid draw | Atleti top Bayern at home ]

Also on the mend for Madrid is Karim Benzema, who was forced off at halftime (hamstring injury) in the first leg. The Frenchman missed Saturday’s La Liga triumph over Real Sociedad, and his availability seems much more in doubt than that of Ronaldo.

La Liga roundup: Barcelona, Atleti, Real Madrid separated by one point

Barcelona's Ivan Rakitic, left, celebrates with teammate Jordi Alba, second left, after scoring against Betis during their La Liga soccer match at the Benito Villamarin stadium, in Seville, Spain on Saturday, April. 30, 2016. (AP Photo/Angel Fernandez)
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A roundup of the weekend’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Real Betis 0-2 Barcelona

Barcelona wobbled; they stumbled; they even went down to one knee so as to avoid being knocked out a couple weeks ago. From nine points ahead with fewer than 10 games remaining in the season, to suddenly level on points with Atletico Madrid, the season was slipping away, and in stepped Luis Suarez with back-to-back four-goal games to end a three-game losing streak, followed by Saturday’s 2-0 away triumph over Real Betis.

Ivan Rakitic (50th minute) and Suarez (81st minute – 35 league goals, 15 assists) provided the goals for Luis Enrique’s side with absolutely zero margin for error between now and the end of the season two weeks down the road. The math is simple: if Barca win their remaining two games, they’ll be crowned champions for a second consecutive season, all thanks due to their obscene goal differential.

Atletico Madrid 1-0 Rayo Vallecano

How much longer can Atleti keep hold of Antoine Griezmann, Los Rojiblancos‘ brilliant talisman for the last two seasons (43 goals, 6 assists combined)? Still just 25 years old, the Frenchman is a surefire top-10 player in the world right now, and will surely be the subject interest from Europe’s freest-spending clubs once again this summer.

Griezmann bagged the only goal in Atleti’s 1-0 home victory over Rayo Vallecano on Sunday, keeping the Spanish capital’s “other” side level on points with Barca. It was a stunning strike that, in a just world, would wipe away 10 or 15 of Barca’s 31-goal advantage in the goal-differential column.

Real Sociedad 0-1 Real Madrid

“Hey! Hey, guys! Don’t forget about us!” It must be so difficult to be a Real Madrid fan right now, what with Barca and Atleti currently sitting first and second, and everyone seemingly forgetting about Los Blancos and the fact they’re a measly point behind their two most hated rivals. Sure, it’ll require a fatal slip-up by both of the sides ahead of them, but stranger things have happened.

Saturday’s 1-0 victory away to Real Sociedad saw Zinedine Zidane push his record as first-team manager of Madrid to 15W-2D-1L in league play (47 points – best in La Liga during that period). With Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema once again out injured, Gareth Bale scored the game’s only goal with fewer than a dozen minutes remaining in regular time.

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Barcelona 36 27 4 5 104 29 75 15-1-2 12-3-3 85
Atlético Madrid 36 27 4 5 60 16 44 14-3-1 13-1-4 85
Real Madrid 36 26 6 4 105 32 73 15-1-2 11-5-2 84

Elsewhere in La Liga

Valencia vs. Villarreal (ongoing)
Athletic Bilbao 2-1 Celta Vigo
Espanyol 1-0 Sevilla
Granada 3-2 Las Palmas
Deportiov La Coruña 0-2 Getafe
Sporting Gijon 2-0 Eibar