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:

Championship Focus: Bluebirds flying, Villa second-last

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The wild 46-game slate that is the Football League Championship is already howling, with all 24 teams three matches deep into their campaigns toward Premier League promotion (or avoiding relegation to League One).

The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season all sit within the Top 8 after three match days. Sunderland is unbeaten with a win and two draws, while Hull City is 1-1-1.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

Middlesbrough has two wins from three matches, three points behind three sides who’ve started a perfect 3-0.

Wolves and Ipswich Town are two of the three, and Cardiff City leads the way. Owner Vincent Tan has seen his club score six goals without conceding once in defeats of Burton Albion, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United.

Burton is 0-3, while Steve Bruce‘s Villa is just one point better and sits 23rd.

As for individual superlatives, Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has four goals to lead the league while familiar names Lewis Grabban (Sunderland) and Abel Hernandez (Hull City) are among a quartet of players to score thrice.

Meanwhile, PL transfer target Jota of Brentford continues to impress with three assists through three matches. Will he remain in the second tier by the close of the transfer window?

MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 3-0 Chicago Fire

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The game in 100 words (or less)Ignacio Piatti is very good at soccer, and Chicago backstop Matt Lampson is going to see him deep into his dreams. Piatti beat Lampson up close on a turnover and then, with Montreal ahead 2-0 off a PK, the Argentine curled a surprise shot from distance around the keeper. Game, set, match, and it wasn’t even halftime. The loss keeps Chicago from using its match-in-hand to catch second place New York City FC, while the three points move Montreal to within two points of the East’s final playoff position.

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Piatti starts the party — Gifted a chance with the keeper by a sloppy missed clearing attempt, the Argentine deftly pops the ball over Fire keeper Matt Lampson.

36′ — Lampson hurts his cause — Chicago’s backstop wasn’t at fault on the opening goal, but he was for the second. After chopping down Matteo Mancosu in the box, Lampson guessed wrong on the striker’s penalty kick and the Fire went down 2-0.

38′ — It’s not your night, Lamps — Pretty sure you can anyone named Lampson, Lamps. Anyway, this time it was one of MLS’ top newcomers who set up Piatti for a goal. “Nacho” has his 12th of the season thanks to Blerim Dzemaili, and my goodness did Piatti do well here.

Man of the Match: Piatti.

Forbes ranks the top supporters in Major League Soccer

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Forbes claims the shared honor will give two Cascadia Cup rivals one less thing to argue about, but we completely disagree.

The celebrated magazine says their metrics show the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders tied for the honor of who has the best fans in Major League Soccer.

The post says the determination was made through four factors: attendance, local TV ratings, merchandise sales, and social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Attendance was weighted heaviest, which certainly gives Atlanta United hope to go charging up the rankings in the future. For now, the “Five Stripes” are not included in the list.

The Galaxy finish third in the rankings, while the sixth-place New York Red Bulls edge New York City FC by one spot.

For the report and full explanation, head here.

Europa League preview: Everton, Milan, Marseille take next steps

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The UEFA Europa League playoff round takes full flight Thursday, a day after Utrecht struck a blow for the Eredivisie with a 1-0 win over Zenit Saint-Petersburg in a Wednesday first leg.

Premier League participants Everton will be seeking a result at home against Hajduk Split, the third-place team from Croatia’s top flight.

Gylfi Sigurdsson passed his medical at Goodison Park but will not be available for Everton on Thursday.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

As for the match, manager Ronald Koeman knows the Thursday matchdays for the UEL will try his club’s endurance and depth. From EvertonFC.com:

“We know English teams have some problems. I think it is more mental than physical because if you play in the Champions League – so Wednesday and Saturday – you have the same amount of days to recover. I try to put out the strongest team to start the game. That will take into account the tactical aspects of each game. That will mean different players start and different options in terms of substitutions.”

Captained by Zoran Nizic and managed by Joan Carrillo, Hajduk has a young star in the making in the form of 19-year-old attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic, but Everton is heavily favored at home with Hajduk given 12:1 odds by bookmakers.

[ MORE: Barca GM says Coutinho, Dembele “close” ]

Those numbers are a relative sure thing compared to AC Milan’s visitors. Macedonia club Shkendija are a 33:1 underdog for its trip to Italy.

Elsewhere, Slovenian side Domzale is a longshot at home to visiting Marseille.

Speaking of bookmakers, Arsenal won’t enter the competition until the group stage but is considered the favorite to win the UEL by a hair over Milan. Everton, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao are level with third-best odds.

UEFA Europa League playoff first legs
Utrecht 1-0 Zenit — Weds.
BATE Borisov vs. Oleksandriya — 1 p.m. ET Thursday
Apollon Limassol vs. Midtjylland — 1 p.m.
Krasnodar vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Skenderbeu — 1 p.m.
FH vs. Braga — 1:45 p.m. ET Thursday
PAOK vs. Ostersund — 2 p.m. ET Thursday
Vardar vs. Fenerbahce — 2 p.m.
Plzen vs. AEK Lamaca — 2:15 p.m. ET Thursday
Altach vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Suduva — 2:30 p.m.
Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m.
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday
Osijek vs. Austria Wien — 2:45 p.m.
Viitorul vs. Red Bull Salzburg — 2:45 p.m.
Ajax vs. Rosenborg — 2:45 p.m.
Legia Warsaw vs. Sheriff — 2:45 p.m.
AC Milan vs. Shkendija — 2:45 p.m.
Club Brugge vs. AEK — 2:45 p.m.
Partizan vs. Videoton — 3 p.m. ET Thursday
Everton vs. Hajduk Split — 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday