It’s the problem position. It always has been. Left back is the home of David Regis, the Eddie Lewis experiment, and Jonathan Bornstein starting a knockout round game at the World Cup. It’s also seen DaMarcus Beasley and Jose Torres have their turns. It is the merry-go-round, the shot in the dark – the problem the U.S. can never seem to solve.
Recently, however, the problem has been less personnel than health. There’s no question who’s number one on the U.S. Men’s National Team’s hypothetical depth chart, but with injuries and illness forcing Jurgen Klinsmann to improvise, some of the team’s recent starters have been appropriated from other positions. Though this list goes five deep, Klinsmann’s going to think outside the left back box once it goes beyond three.
But if Klinsmann were kept from improvising? We’re guessing the order would look something like this:
1. Fabian Johnson, 24, Hoffenheim (Germany)
After a spell where every left back candidate was somebody who couldn’t beat out Steve Cherundolo on the right, Fabian Johnson has claimed the spot as his own. For a U.S. team that often seems desperate for an impact player on the flanks, Johnson’s been as much reprieve as relief. His ability to get up the field allows the U.S. to lean away from his side knowing Johnson can still provide a presence.
2. Timothy Chandler, 22, Nuremberg (Germany)
“Why is he even here?” Do you mean at left back? Or on the list at all? He’s at left back because this is still where he’s more likely to contribute, even if the right side is his normal home. If Chandler were in the U.S. setup, you might see Johnson pushed into midfield (it would at least be an option). Of course, Chandler’s not in the team and doesn’t look to be any time soon. That doesn’t mean he’s off Klinsmann’s radar (or missing from his hypothetical depth chart).
3. Edgar Castillo, 26, Tijuana (Mexico)
While Castillo’s national team performances have been up-and-down, he seems to be improving. Whereas his initial appearances raised doubts he could effectively serve as a traditional left back, recent appearances hint he might be a decent second choice – better suited to be spot starter or a tactical sub than somebody you have to lean on throughout qualifying.
4. Jonathan Spector, 26, Birmingham City (England)
Of all the U.S.’s utility knives, Spector may be the most versatile, though that’s admittedly part of the problem with this ranking. Since leaving West Ham two years ago, Spector’s spent very little time at left back, getting most of this minutes in midfield or on the right. He’s only seen spot duty on the left for Birmingham City, but given the U.S.’s frailties at this position, left back is where Spector’s impact is most likely to be felt.
5. Justin Morrow, 25, San Jose Earthquakes
It’s been a big year for Morrow, unseating Ramiro Corrales at San Jose while earning an all-star nod. He’s also worked his way into the national team radar, if only peripherally. Like a number of fringe options playing in MLS, January will be a big month for Morrow. If he’s called in and impresses Klinsmann, Morrow will give the coach reason to actually replace left backs when they go down.
Previous depth charts: