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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

 

Premier League Preview: Arsenal vs. Stoke City

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 02:  Stephen Ireland of Stoke City shoots a volley during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Southampton at the Emirates Stadium on February 2, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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  • Arsenal has won last 14 matches against Stoke
  • Gunners are currently unbeaten in last 13 PL fixtures
  • Stoke has gone unbeaten in eight of last nine matches

Arsenal looks to remain hot on Saturday as the Gunners host Stoke City (10 a.m. ET, NBCSN and streaming via NBC Sports Live) from the Emirates Stadium.

The Gunners remain in contention at the summit of the Premier League as Arsene Wenger‘s side sits second behind league leaders Chelsea on 31 points. In addition to Arsenal’s recent success in the PL, the Gunners have progressed to the final 16 in the UEFA Champions League as well, making 2016/17 a potentially strong year for the London side.

Alexis Sanchez continues to lead the way for the Gunners attack, with the Chilean international notching 11 goals so far this season. In his last 25 PL matches for the club, Sanchez has either scored or assisted on as many goals for the Gunners.

[ MORE: Everton heads to Vicarage Road to face Watford ]

Stoke remains without several top pieces in its lineup, including U.S. Men’s National Team defender/midfielder Geoff Cameron and Ryan Shawcross, however, Bruno Martins Indi and Marko Arnautovic are expected to play for the Potters.

The Emirates has not been friendly to Stoke though in recent years, with the Potters only scoring three goals in their last eight visits while conceding on 19 occasions.

What they’re saying

Arsene Wenger on Arsenal’s progression throughout the season: “We have a good team dynamic, we have a very strong team spirit and we have more maturity, definitely. Unfortunately, the teams around us have more as well. You can assess the Premier League as very open and very interesting… December is a very important month and for us even more because we have some big games. Stoke is another challenge for us [to show] that we can reset, refocus and continue our development and take the points.”

Mark Hughes on Stoke’s solid play against PL’s top sides“In the past as a club we’ve struggled to get results at places like Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge but we’ve been able to do that in recent times. This is the only one left standing so it would be great to get it out of the way. Our recent form is good and we’re in good heart so confidence is high, that is huge in football, so we’ll be able to benefit from that. It’s up to us to restrict them to minimal chances and make sure we’re creating chances when going the other way.”

Prediction

The Gunners can make it 14 straight matches unbeaten on Saturday, and while Stoke has done well to start the season, it’s highly likely that Arsenal will continue its winning ways. Alexis Sanchez is a Golden Boot contender in England, while the backline has improved every match for the Gunners. While the club has received its deserved criticisms in the past for faltering at critical junctures of the season, 2016/17 could be the year that Arsene Wenger and co. break through in the PL. Arsenal 3-1 Stoke

Premier League Preview: Watford vs. Everton

WATFORD, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 09:  Jose Holebas (1st R) of Watford scores his team's first goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Watford and Everton at Vicarage Road on April 9, 2016 in Watford, England.  (Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images)
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  • Everton are unbeaten in 11 straight matches vs. Watford (all comps)
  • Troy Deeney is one goal shy of 100 in Hornets kit
  • Toffees have won just one of last nine in PL

Watford hosts Everton on Saturday (7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN and streaming via NBC Sports Live) from Vicarage Road as the two clubs look to keep pace in the running with the Premier League’s top six.

The Hornets have lost three of four in the PL and currently sit 11th in the table on 18 points. In that span, Watford has been outscored 11-4, including the team’s brutal 6-1 defeat at Liverpool in early November.

Etienne Capoue leads the way for Watford in the goals department, with five on the season, while Troy Deeney has three of his own and sits just one away from notching his 100th for the club. Defending his been a bit of an issue though for the Hornets — who have conceded 24 in 14 matches — with only four teams allowing more goals this season.

[ MORE: Swansea remain committed to Bob Bradley despite struggles ]

Everton could potentially have to deal without Yannick Bolasie for the remainder of the season after suffering a knee injury, while Seamus Coleman is expected to play after sustaining a head injury a week ago.

The Toffees enter Saturday with just one win out of their last nine, and while one point separates Ronald Koeman‘s side from sixth place Manchester United, a victory is very much needed for the Merseyside club. While Romelu Lukaku continues to carry the load up front for Everton with seven goals thus far, the Toffees rank mid table in terms of goals scored this season (17).

What they’re saying

Walter Mazzarri on importance of upcoming fixtures for Watford: “It’s very important. The next six games will probably decide our future and decide if we are going to be in the Premier League. It will decide in a certain way, if we are going to be up or playing in a different way and struggling more. These games will decide this. We have been unlucky on injuries and have been in a bit of an emergency for a couple of months.”

Ronald Koeman on Everton striker Romelu Lukaku’s form: “You can have a good run of scoring goals and then have a bit of time where you don’t really get big chances to score. The players around him need to create more and he can improve in his movements – it’s a team question to create more chances. But if he gets the chances, we always know he will score goals.”

Prediction

Both sides enter Saturday’s encounter in desperate need of a victory, but Everton’s last time out against Manchester United was a bit more encouraging. It won’t be an easy task to take points at Vicarage, however, I expect the Toffees to come away with something against the struggling Hornets. Watford 2-2 Everton

Strootman has 2-match ban for Rome derby melee lifted

ROME, ITALY - DECEMBER 04:  Kevin Strootman of AS Roma celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the Serie A match between SS Lazio and AS Roma at Stadio Olimpico on December 4, 2016 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)
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ROME (AP) Roma midfielder Kevin Strootman has had a two-match ban lifted on appeal, clearing him to play key matches against AC Milan and Juventus.

Strootman had been banned for instigating a melee after scoring during Sunday’s Rome derby.

After the goal and an extended celebration, words appeared to be exchanged as Roma’s players walked back onto the field alongside Lazio’s bench.

[ MORE: MLS Cup Final preview ]

Strootman appeared to toss water from a bottle at Lazio’s Danilo Cataldi, who reacted by tugging the neck of Strootman’s shirt as the Netherlands midfielder walked away.

That prompted both benches to get involved.

Cataldi, who had been on the bench, was given a red card while Strootman was shown a yellow.

The two-match ban was decided on Monday, with league officials deciding that Strootman simulated falling to the ground after Cataldi grabbed his shirt.

However, the football federation’s appeals court determined that the simulation could not be proven.

Besides a one-match ban for the red card, Cataldi’s full punishment has not been announced yet.

Roma won the derby 2-0.

The second-place Giallorossi host Milan on Monday and then visit Serie A leader Juventus.

Watford “Behind The Badge” airs third installment; Catch up on Episode 2 here

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Catch up on Watford’s look “Behind The Badge” ahead of Sunday’s third episode of the four-part glimpse into one of the Premier League’s promoted sides.

The Hornets sit 11th, currently 7 points clear of relegation danger, and are giving fans a better idea of what’s been going on at Vicarage Road.

[ MORE: Behind the Badge archive

In an exclusive series, NBC Sports followed around the Hornets in a very similar fashion to HBO’s Hard Knocks which joins the preseason camp of one NFL team each summer.

Below is the schedule for the three remaining episodes on Watford, which you can watch on NBCSN and live online via NBCSports.com in the coming weeks, plus a link to watch episode one in full from last week.


First episode: Watch full episode, here
Second episode: Embedded above
Third episode: Sunday, Dec. 11, 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Fourth episode: Sunday, Dec. 18, 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN

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