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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

 

Guradiola “so happy” to see Man City “achieve another step” as a club

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Josep Guardiola manager of Manchester City reacts as Leonardo Jardim head coach of AS Monaco looks on during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Manchester City FC and AS Monaco at Etihad Stadium on February 21, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
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In the past, when faced with adversity in the UEFA Champions League, Manchester City could do little more than wilt and crumble as their European dreams when up in smoke year after year, typically in embarrassing and/or heartbreaking fashion.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

On Tuesday, when faced with 2-1 and 3-2 deficits late into the second half of their round-of-16 first leg against Monaco, deja vu was quickly setting in for anyone who’s followed Man City’s rise from middling afterthought to mega-rich conglomerate with aspirations of world domination. Then, something strange (based on years of recent history) happened: Sergio Aguero fired City back to level at 2-2 in the 58th minute. Sure, more shocking defending saw the deficit restored three minutes later, but again, Aguero dissented.

For this reason, and perhaps this reason alone considering the putrid defensively display over the course of 90 minutes, first-year City manager Pep Guardiola should be heartened by Tuesday’s events at the Etihad Stadium. In his mind, it was a massive step forward in the club’s psyche — quotes from the BBC:

“I am so happy for the result, we are still alive. These kind of things help this club to achieve another step. We attacked in small spaces. That’s why they wanted me to come here. Everybody has to be congratulated.

“We are going to fly to Monaco to score as many goals as possible. If we don’t score in Monaco we will be eliminated.”

UCL: Aguero, Falcao bag braces as Man City edge Monaco, 5-3

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Sergio Aguero of Manchester City (C) celebrates with John Stones (L) and Leroy Sane of Manchester City (R) as he scores their third goal during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Manchester City FC and AS Monaco at Etihad Stadium on February 21, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
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  • Sterling gives Man City an early lead
  • Falcao hits back with a brace
  • Aguero’s brace breathes life back into City

Radamel Falcao and Sergio Aguero bagged dueling braces, while the defenders and/or goalkeepers from their respective sides engaged in dueling disasters, resulting in a bonkers UEFA Champions League round-of-16 first leg for the ages: Manchester City 5, Monaco 3.

Leroy Sane, David Silva and Raheem Sterling combined to put Man City in the lead after 28 minutes (WATCH HERE). Sane danced brilliantly and effortlessly past four defenders before playing Silva to the endline. The cross was simple for Silva, with Sterling arriving into acres of space in the goalmouth.

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]

That’s as good as the first half would get for City, though, as their annual Champions League meltdown commenced six short minutes thereafter (WATCH HERE). The Nicolas Otamendi-John Stones-Bacary Sanga triangle of deadly defending fell asleep in unison, which allowed Falcao all the time and space in the world to size up and head home his 23rd goal (in 29 games — all competitions) this season.

Eight minutes later, everyone else in sky blue joined the aforementioned trio for nap time. Fabinho, who also whipped in the cross for Falcao’s goal, dropped the most delicate of long balls onto the foot of Kylian Mbappe, and the 18-year-old fired his first-time shot past Willy Caballero without a single defender five yards from him in any direction.

[ MORE: FA Cup QF draw — Chelsea vs. Man United; Arsenal vs. Lincoln City ]

The second half began just as disastrously for City as the first ended. Otamendi tripped Falcao inside the penalty, and after discussing with his assistant on the endline, referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz awarded Monaco a penalty kick — City felt hard done by after Aguero wasn’t awarded a clear-cut penalty in the first half — which Falcao then proceeded to hit weakly into the waiting arms of Caballero. The tide had turned back in City’s favor.

Ageuro fired City back onto level terms just short of the hour mark, with many thanks to the horrendous howler of Danijel Subasic. Aguero’s effort on goal was tame, and right at the Croatian international, but the ball went right through his hands and found the back of the net to make it 2-2, a scoreline which lasted all of three minutes.

Stones tried his very best Otamendi impression, which looked like halfhearted defending as Falcao left him for dead and chipped Caballero in the 61 minute. The renaissance of Falcao will almost certainly result in a summer full of transfer stories linking him with a move back to the Premier League.

Aguero brought City back to level terms again in the 71st minute, unleashing a stunning volley from David Silva’s corner kick. Stones tapped home at the back post six minutes later to put City 4-3 ahead, and Sane completed the epic comeback with an empty-net finish in the 82nd minute.

In the end, City still have plenty of work to do in the second leg, having conceded not one, not two, but three away goals. One thing is a near certainty: no extra time shall be needed.

UCL: Atletico Madrid blitz Bayer for 4 away goals, win 1st leg 4-2

Atletico's Antoine Griezmann, front, is congratulated by his teammate Saul Niguez after scoring their side's second goal during the Champions League round of 16 first leg soccer match between Bayer Leverkusen and Atletico Madrid in Leverkusen, Germany, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
AP Photo/Martin Meissner
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  • Four away goals for Atleti
  • Niguez, Griezmann, Gamerio, Torres on the scoresheet
  • Bellarabi, Savic (OG) give Bayer a lifeline

If you spent your Tuesday glued to Manchester City’s thrilling 5-3 victory over Monaco in the UEFA Champions League, you may now direct your attention to the day’s other first-leg festival of goals: Bayer Leverkusen 2, Atletico Madrid 4.

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]

Saul Niguez opened the scoring with a stunning curler after 17 minutes (WATCH HERE), and Antoine Griezmann doubled Los Rojiblancos‘ advantage eight minutes later to put Diego Simeone’s side in a commanding position with two early away goals.

[ MORE: FA Cup QF draw — Chelsea vs. Man United; Arsenal vs. Lincoln City ]

Karim Bellarabi pulled one back for Bayer just three minutes into the second half, but Kevin Gamerio converted from the penalty spot to restore Atleti’s two-goal lead just before the hour mark. Stefan Savic gave one back to Bayer in the form of an owl goal in the 68th minute, before Fernando Torres brought the visitors’ away-goals haul to four in the 86th minute.

AT THE HALF: Man City 1-2 Monaco; Atleti lead in UCL round of 16

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Radamel Falcao Garcia of AS Monaco celebrates as he scores their first and equalising goal during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Manchester City FC and AS Monaco at Etihad Stadium on February 21, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
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We’re only halfway through the first leg of Manchester City versus Monaco, and Bayer Leverkusen versus Atletico Madrid, in the UEFA Champions League round of 16, but the goals are coming fast and furious from England to Germany.

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]

Man City found themselves 1-0 up at the Etihad Stadium, when Leroy Sane turned on video-game mode to set up Raheem Sterling for the opening goal in the 28th minute. But, as City have so typically done in the Champions League, they began self-destructing four minutes later. Radamel Falcao‘s diving header brought Monaco level in the 32nd minute, and Kylian Mbappe’s finish over the head of Willy Caballero put the visitors 2-1 up eight minutes later.

[ MORE: FA Cup QF draw — Chelsea vs. Man United; Arsenal vs. Lincoln City ]

As for Tuesday’s other round-of-16 tie, Saul Niguez simultaneously opened the scoring and snatched the soul of every Bayer defender who dared to contest him. Antoine Griezmann added a second for Atleti, who hold their 2-0 lead at halftime, seven minutes later.