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

 

“This game belongs to the players” Wenger downplays Guardiola success

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Arsene Wenger has stressed that Pep Guardiola has not changed the game of soccer over the last decade or so, maintaining that the players are the ones who make a team truly great.

Asked if Guardiola has “raised the bar” of managing in his time at the top, Wenger said, “No, because you look at Barcelona and they are still the best team in Europe. You have to accept that the modern game has changed with the recruitment of the best players in a short number of clubs.”

[ MORE: EFL Cup final preview ]

“We, as managers, can maybe impart our philosophy but this game belongs to the players because the importance of the players has become bigger than ever before.”

In fact, Wenger showed a twinge of jealousy at all the attention Guardiola is getting with the team blowing out the rest of the Premier League this season, referencing trophies in the recent past Arsenal has hoisted. “We are maybe underdogs but we have to believe in our quality. The history, the fact we have done it before, shows why not do it again?”

“At the end of the day, you have to be cool,” Wenger said, “because Manchester City is dominating the league in the head of everybody and so maybe we are more underdogs than in the FA Cup semi-final [last season when Arsenal beat Man City].”

Deportivo wastes penalty kick, remains winless under Seedorf

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MADRID (AP) — Clarence Seedorf remained winless as Deportivo La Coruna coach after a 0-0 draw with Espanyol in the Spanish league on Friday.

Deportivo squandered chances including a second-half penalty kick taken by Lucas Perez. Its winless streak reached 10 games in all competitions.

It was the third game in a row without a victory since Seedorf took over to try to avoid relegation. Deportivo was 18th in the 20-team standings, in the relegation zone.

In addition to the missed penalty, Deportivo twice hit the posts in front of a supportive crowd at Riazor Stadium. The players left the field applauded by the local fans despite the setback.

Perez’s penalty attempt was saved by Espanyol goalkeeper Diego Lopez in the 65th minute. Lopez, who earlier this season stopped a penalty taken by Lionel Messi, dived to his right to stop Perez’s low shot.

The match marked the Deportivo debut of veteran Ghanaian midfielder Sulley Muntari. He played alongside Seedorf at AC Milan, and was signed this week after a trial period.

Espanyol, 15th in the standings, hasn’t won in seven matches, since it ended Barcelona’s 29-match unbeaten streak in the first leg of the Copa del Rey quarterfinals. Espanyol’s last league win was in January, seven rounds ago.

Barcelona defends its seven-point lead in the standings when it hosts Girona on Saturday. Second-place Atletico Madrid visits Sevilla on Sunday.

Conte says he believes in his selection regarding Willian

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Antonio Conte has lashed out at anyone questioning why Brazilian winger Willian hasn’t played regularly.

Conte fired back at reporters when he was asked about Willian’s earlier lack of playing time at his pre-match press conference ahead of Chelsea’s match on Sunday against Manchester United. “Do you think that I am stupid when I put Willy on the bench?”

[ MORE: Heynckes squashes Lewandowski to Premier League rumors ]

“I have to try and make the best decision for the team, no? Maybe last season we won the title, or did I forget something?”

The 29-year-old has made 29 Premier League appearances, but only 13 starts. He started in the midweek Champions League match against Barcelona and not only scored Chelsea’s only goal but also proved their most incisive player, prompting questions about his selection.

“Now he is playing because he deserves to play, not because there is some regret from the past,” Conte said. “For what? If a player deserves to play, and shows me during the training session that he is on top of his form, and wants to work defensively, he plays. If not, [he will] stay on the bench, stay in the stands.”

Instead of saying he wishes Willian had played more earlier in the season, he praised himself for giving the Brazilian the start at the appropriate time.

“He is playing now and I am very happy with my choice. Willian deserved to start in the previous game, and played well. I did a fantastic choice, and I want to take credit for that.”

EFL Cup Final preview: Arsenal, Manchester City fight for different types of glory

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  • These two clubs have never met in a major Cup final
  • With a win, Arsene Wenger would become the 8th PL manager to win all 3 major English trophies
  • Sergio Agüero has scored in all of his last 4 appearances against Arsenal

For Manchester City, it’s the first step of a potentially record-setting season. For Arsenal, it’s the Gunners’ best chance at securing a trophy.

The two teams are fighting for very different levels of glory as the two meet at Wembley Stadium on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. ET. Manchester City, despite losing to Wigan in the FA Cup just a week ago, would still be on track for a Double this season with a win against the Gunners. Meanwhile, Arsenal is outside the Premier League top four, and – as they have done each of the past two seasons in the FA Cup – could salvage an otherwise disappointing league season with a major Cup trophy.

Both teams will be struggling with selection in certain areas. Manchester City is likely missing Raheem Sterling, who could sit out due to an unspecified muscle injury according to Pep Guardiola in his pre-match press conference, while Fabian Delph is suspended after his sending off against Wigan in the FA Cup. That means either Danilo or 21-year-old Oleksandr Zinchencko would start at wing-back. Zinchenko is the likely candidate there, having appeared in four of City’s five EFL Cup games this season so far and playing almost every minute of those four matches. Gabriel Jesus, who missed more than two months with a knee injury, could be ready to make his early return. Claudio Bravo will continue to play in goal for the domestic Cup competitions.

Arsenal, meanwhile, is without new signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan who is cup-tied to his previous club Manchester United, while Alexandre Lacazette is not yet recovered from his knee injury suffered in the North London derby, and Mesut Ozil could miss out with an illness. The Gunners are likely, however, to get Aaron Ramsey back in midfield after recovering from a groin injury, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can return to the lineup after his own cup tied absence in the Europa League midweek.

What they’re saying

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola on playing Arsenal twice in a week: “We will be happy if we win, sad if we don’t but after the game we have another match against Arsenal. We are going to try and maintain our level, but finals are different, it is not what you have done in the past.”

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger on playing Manchester City: “Manchester City have so many players that you think you have to stop that it is better to focus on the team plan than rather than on any individual. It’s true that I always used to use this competition with a youth team. For us it’s an opportunity. We’ll play with all the regular players.” 

Prediction

Arsenal has often come up big in hotly contested Cup matches, despite poor form in the surrounding competitions, so it would not be surprising to once again see Arsene Wenger hoist a trophy on Sunday to temporarily distract the fanbase and media from larger struggles. However, picking against this Manchester City team would be selection suicide, even after their disappointment against Wigan and considering the absence of under the radar star Raheem Sterling. Manchester City wins 3-1 with a pair of late goals to sink the Gunners, with a newly healthy Gabriel Jesus providing an influential injection off the bench in the final 20 minutes. Pep Guardiola raises another trophy at the site where he won the 2011 Champions League.