United States national team depth chart: No clear-cut winner at left back

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Five U.S. matches over the last month has generated significant movement on the U.S. depth chart – perhaps more shuffling than in any month-long stretch in Jurgen Klinsmann’s time in charge, which is now approaching two years.

Over the next few days we’ll continue to examine the U.S. depth chart, making our best educated guesses at how things stack up on Jurgen Klinsmann’s big board inside the manager’s Home Depot Center offices.

Next up: LEFT BACK

Left back has always been the riddle that can never quite be solved around the United States national team, the little mosquito that can never quite be squashed. That’s not just under Jurgen Klinsmann. That’s not just under Bob Bradley, either. It goes back to Bruce Arena’s.

Heck, even before that, Steve Sampson had to dig up David Regis as he scanned the lands for lefty who could defend adequately and still provide some offensive umph up the flank.

But it is a different puzzle to piece together these days, at least. Previously it couldn’t be solved because, to broaden the metaphor, all the pieces weren’t available. There just weren’t enough options able to do the deed at international level.

Now Klinsmann has options, at least, even if no one has quite put a choke hold on the position.

Fabian Johnson (pictured) is probably closest, even if he has played more out of the midfield lately. (See how things quickly get weird when we discuss this position?) DaMarcus Beasley was a stop-gap during the Snow Clasico in Denver  — and when it worked so well, Klinsmann was inclined to keep the party going. Hence, Johnson sprung up on the left side of the attack once he regained health.

Beasley’s absence last week vs. Honduras due to suspension reminded us that Johnson, now 25 years old and coming into the sweet spot of a professional career, can provide offense and supply the some damn solid defending.

It was Johnson’s assertive run (behind Graham Zusi devilish dummy) that set up last week’s game-winner versus the Hondurans. All in all, he was among the best in a U.S. shirt Tuesday at Rio Tinto Stadium.

(MORE: U.S. player ratings from U.S.-Honduras)

So based on that, and because he’s a better and more natural defender, we’ll put him just ahead of Beasley in the current ordering.

Timothy Chandler is a wild card, isn’t he? Yes, he’s hurt. Yes, there may be lingering trust issues over his wishy-washy-ness in 2011 and 2012. Yes, his better position is along the right, although the German-born defender certainly can and has performed on the left. And finally, yes, he was hurt and didn’t even make the latest round of qualifiers.

But the kid can play! He 23 years old and already lumped in with the better Bundesliga outside backs. So, he’s on the list.

Edgar Castillo? Klinsmann likes the kid, who never seems to quite get the job done defensively and only occasionally makes something happen with the ball in a U.S. shirt. But Klinsmann sees something, so there he is.

(FYI, you don’t understand how tiny that young man is under you stand next to him. He’s maybe 5-6 and cannot possibly top a buck 40.)

Don’t forget, Justin Morrow started the first U.S. match this year, the friendly down in Houston against Canada. He was OK; not great and not bad – but not so long ago he was in the mix, at least. (On the other hand, not being named to the Gold Cup provisional roster cannot be good news for the San Jose Earthquakes defender.)

Geoff Cameron appears on the list because, barring injury, he’ll be in Brazil. The man’s versatility is pure gold on a World Cup roster. Plus, he played left back occasionally for Stoke City, so it’s really not big stretch to see him in the position in a match that might call for a bunch of defending (Spain, Germany, Argentina, etc.).

I’ve got Carlos Bocanegra on the list, but there is a big asterisk attached. Two or three, in fact. There might need to be an injury here and there for the former U.S. captain to land in Brazil, for that’s when Bocanegra’s versatility kicks in; he could be useful as an emergency left of center back.

There is also a question of whether Bocanegra would accept a very limited role in Brazil? You cannot take a player who will rock the boat when he’s not selected, so Klinsmann would need certain assurances from the 34-year-old defender, and only Bocanegra could answer that one.

Finally, what does his club situation look like for the next 11 months? Because neither Spanish second division soccer nor Scottish third tier soccer will prep the man for a World Cup.

U.S. LEFT BACK ordering

  • 1. Fabian Johnson
  • 2. DaMarcus Beasley
  • 3. Timothy Chandler
  • 4. Edgar Castillo
  • 5. Justin Morrow
  • 6. Geoff Cameron
  • 7. Carlos Bocanegra
  • 8. Corey Ashe

In review:

U.S. Goalkeepers

U.S. right backs

Later today: Center backs

 

La Liga: Real Madrid win wild one, now just 17 points behind Barca

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ MORE: Barcelona ties club-record 31-game unbeaten run ]

Real Betis 3-5 Real Madrid

So long as they manage to hold off Sevilla for fourth place (Champions League qualification), Real Madrid will quickly move on from their disastrous 2017-18 season, spend a half-billion dollars in the summer and pretend like the 12 preceding months never even happened.

For a brief period on Saturday — nearly 30 minutes including the halftime intermission — that plan appeared fatally flawed and at risk. After going 1-0 up away to Real Betis courtesy of Marco Asensio’s 11th-minute opener, Los Blancos found themselves in big trouble after Aissa Mandi leveled things up in the 33rd minute, followed by a Nacho own goal four minutes later.

Five minutes into the second half, Sergio Ramos drew the visitors level, followed by another from Asensio in the 59th minute. Cristiano Ronaldo made it 4-2 six minutes later, at which point Madrid appeared home free.

Sergio Leon pulled Betis to within one in the 85th minute, but Karim Benzema restored the two-goal lead in the 91st, less than two minutes after replacing Ronaldo.

Atletico Madrid 2-0 Athletic Bilbao

With Barcelona still unbeaten on the La Liga season, the title is all but decided with more than three months still to play. That hasn’t stopped Atleti, though, as Diego Simeone’s side, which has lost just once in the league, continues to pursue Lionel Messi and Co. Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Athletic Bilbao moved Los Rojiblancos back to within seven points of Barca with a dozen games, and one head-to-head matchup, still to play.

Kevin Gameiro scored what turned out to be the winner in the 67th minute, followed not long after by Diego Costa‘s second league goal of the season (fourth in all competitions) to make it 2-0.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Real Sociedad 3-0 Levante
Espanyol 1-1 Villarreal

VAR provider apologizes for wrong image of offside Man Utd goal

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Whether or not you’re in favor of the use of video-assistant refereeing the world over — and, more specifically, English soccer — one thing on which we can all agree has become abundantly clear: VAR’s maiden voyage has been a chaotic, poorly conducted mess.

[ MORE: Jose Mourinho demands VAR calls be “perfect” ]

Any change to the game’s century-old rules and practices — especially of VAR’s monumental proportions — must be implemented and executed without a hitch. Any issues that had arisen prior to this weekend were minor in significance and import, but that all changed on Saturday, when Manchester United’s Juan Mata had a goal wiped away by VAR (WATCH HERE).

Mata appeared to have timed his run perfectly and been onside before slotting home to put Man United 2-0 ahead of Huddersfield Town in the FA Cup fifth round. After consulting the off-site video assistant, the goal was taken off the board. While the slightest bit of Mata’s knee appeared to have been in an offside position, the issue lies in the fact that the images provided to television broadcasters, by VAR provider Hawkeye, displayed a clearly crooked line of demarcation.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

Hawkeye issued a statement on Sunday, acknowledging and apologizing for the faulty image provided to broadcasters, but insisted that a correct version of the image was seen by the refereed:

“A technical error led to an incorrect graphic being provided by Hawkeye to BT Sport on Saturday. To confirm, the VAR saw the correct image with the correct lines to make the decision. This was a case of the wrong image being provided to the broadcaster and we apologize.”

In the end, by the most stringent interpretation of the law, VAR got the call correct. But that won’t matter one iota in the court of public opinion, as one mistake as simple as a crooked line gives the impression that the entire operation is haphazard and not fit for practice.

Juventus suffers blow with apparent Higuain injury

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The back-and-forth battle at the top of Serie A continued on Sunday as Juventus topped Torino at the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino, however, the visitors suffered a big injury scare in the process.

[ MORE: Man United draws Brighton, Chelsea gets Leicester in FA Cup ]

Alex Sandro‘s winner came in the 33rd minute, but the focus of the match will leave all eyes on Gonzalo Higuain — who exited after just a quarter of an hour.

The Argentine international was looking to latch onto a through ball from Miralem Pjanic in the fifth minute, before jumping over an oncoming Salvatore Sirigu — goalkeeper for Torino.

Higuain appeared to land awkwardly on his ankle, though, and while he attempted to continue on in the match he was substituted off for Federico Bernardeschi 10 minutes later.

The extent of Higuain’s injury is unknown to this point, however, it comes at a very bad time for Juventus.

The Italian giants are heavily involved in the Serie A title race, holding a two-point lead over Napoli at the top of the table.

Additionally, Juve has important fixtures coming up in both the Coppa Italia and Champions League against Atalanta and Tottenham, respectively. Higuain and Co. are level at 2-2 with Spurs heading into their UCL second leg in early March, and Juve will surely need the striker’s presence to have a shot at advancing to the quarterfinals.

Rochdale 2-2 Tottenham: Davies stuns Spurs late

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A valiant effort from a League One side has rewarded the minnows with a replay set to be played at Wembley Stadium.

Tottenham Hotspur looked on its way towards the FA Cup sixth round on Sunday, but a late finish by Steven Davies gave Rochdale a 2-2 draw with the Premier League club at the Spotland Stadium.

[ MORE: Willian stars as Chelsea routs Hull in FA Cup ]

Harry Kane — who scored his 34th goal on the season in all competitions — converted from the penalty spot in the 88th minute, however, Davies had the final say deep into stoppage time to send the two sides towards a replay.

Ian Henderson’s finish in the 45th minute gave Rochdale a gift at the conclusion of the first stanza, after the hosts capitalized on a Spurs giveaway near midfield.

Meanwhile, Tottenham managed to level the match at 1-1 on the hour mark when Lucas Moura calmly slotted his close-range shot past goalkeeper Josh Lillis after a timely through ball from Moussa Sissoko picked out the former PSG man.

The visitors began pressing on in the second half, with Mauricio Pochettino‘s side having trailed at the halftime break.

The two sides will now meet on either Feb. 27 or 28 in the reverse fixture to decide which team advances. The winner will either meet Sheffield Wednesday or Swansea City in the quarterfinals.