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


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 side-steps blame, calls USA-Mexico one of world’s best rivalries

Jurgen Klinsmann, USMNT
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The rivalry between the national soccer teams of the United States and Mexico is one of the fiercest and most unique of its kind in the world of sports. Anyone who’s participated in, or simply attended, a competitive fixture between the two sides will immediately attest to that.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage ]

Speaking to FIFA.com ahead of Saturday’s clash against Mexico at the Rose Bowl, it’s quite interesting to hear current USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann describe the rivalry from his point of view, both before and after having coached in it on a number of occasions.

Before we get to that, though, Klinsmann had a bit more blame side step regarding his side’s fourth-place finish at the 2015 Gold Cup, the USMNT’s worst-ever showing at the tournament for CONCACAF nations.

Q: What did you learn from this summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, where you lost to Jamaica in the semi-finals?

A: There were so many things that happened in the tournament and decisions that were made that affected the outcome. It was difficult for the players to know what to expect. For Mexico and for Panama it was the same thing. The lesson is that you just have to roll with it and try to control the things you can.

What’s the no. 1 thing players can’t control? Who gets called into the team/plays in the games.

What was the no. 1 problem for the USMNT at this summer’s Gold Cup? Who got called up/played game after game despite performing very poorly. Ultimately, it’s what undid them in the semifinals and third-place game.

Just once — once — would it hurt Klinsmann to answer a question with an “I,” or “me,” or even “we?” The question was “What did you learn,” yet the answer always come back to “the players,” or “they,” or “them.” At this point, Klinsmann either believes he’s infallible, or he’s simply trying to see how many ridiculous statements he can get away with.

Q: You’ve been in the top US job for almost five years now and you’ve met Mexico many times. How would you define the rivalry between these countries on the pitch? Can you compare it with others you’ve experienced?

A: The USA-Mexico rivalry is one of the greats in world football. For me, it compares to Germany-Holland in terms of the intensity and emotion it brings out in the fans. As USA coach, it was a learning curve to understand how much this rivalry means to our fans. We had won some games against big nations, but the reaction from everyone to when we went down to [Estadio] Azteca and beat Mexico there for the first time was just amazing.

Q: What makes the rivalry unique?

A: What is unique is that there are so many Mexican-Americans living in the United States, so the rivalry crosses borders. We have seen many times in these last years that younger Mexican-Americans will wear a Mexico jersey to our game, and when we start doing well they take it off and have a U.S. jersey underneath! More and more they’re supporting us, and we hope to continue to win them over.

Klinsmann gets this one absolutely right. With the two countries situated right next to each other, the aforementioned immigration of so many Mexican soccer fans into the U.S., and the classic battles between the two sides over the years, USA-Mexico not only feels amazing to get one over on your rivals, but perhaps more than anything it’s avoiding that feeling of defeat, of embarrassment, of being taunted and haunted for days, weeks, months and sometimes years, that makes beating the old foe so satisfying.

Ozil, Coquelin: Arsenal can win the title this season

Mesut Ozil, Arsenal FC
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I suppose, in theory, that any Premier League club that fields a team could win the league title for a given season, so the above headline could have been written in reference to any one of 20 teams a few short weeks ago.

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Fast forward eight rounds of fixtures to the present day, and it’s becoming clearer and clearer with every passing week that it’s a three-horse race — Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United, who currently sit 1-2-3 atop the league — for the 2015-16 Premier League title.

So — and stick with me for just a second — why not Arsenal? [The crowd gasps loudly] Arsenal midfielders Mesut Ozil and Francis Coquelin believe the Gunners have what it takes to win the title this year, so why doesn’t anyone else?

Ozil and Coquelin, on Arsenal’s progression to title contenders — quotes from the Guardian:

Ozil: “We have a great team with many world-class players. Our goal is to win the Premier League and I think that this season it’s possible to do it, if we all stay healthy. But the season is long.”

Ozil: “I didn’t expect [Bayern Munich] to beat Dortmund 5-1. Their recent results show they are simply in great shape … But our victory against Manchester United was a sign: when we play and want it 100 percent, then we can beat Bayern.

“We are playing at home. Although we have respect for them, we don’t have any fear. We know how to score goals against Bayern and we can be successful. It will be difficult – but we have the potential to beat any team.”

Coquelin: “We proved a lot of people wrong. Inside the dressing room we knew we could do good things this season. We knew we could be contenders, but obviously we have to be consistent.

“We are getting stronger against the big teams. We beat City last season, now United. It’s all about consistency. The league is getting tougher, so we need to be getting results every week … We knew we had to put it right after Olympiakos and that’s what we’ve done.”

Coquelin is absolutely right — no one expected Arsenal to throttle Man United the way they did on Sunday. The Gunners acquitted themselves quite well, though it should be mentioned that Louis Van Gaal set up United to fail miserably with the immobile midfield duo of Michael Carrick and Bastian Schweinsteiger against a quick, dynamic Arsenal unit.

[ MORE: “Super computer” predicts final Premier League standings ]

That’s not meant to take anything away from Arsenal’s scintillating performance, because they did exactly what they should be doing against a poorly planned side — that’s not always been the case for Arsenal against top teams. The Gunners will play hosts to Man City on Dec. 19; perhaps we’ll better be able to dub them contenders or pretenders based their showing that day.