Photo by Howard C. Smith/ISIphotos.com
By AVI CREDITOR
HARRISON, N.J. — The more U.S. national team defender Timmy Chandler plays at left back, the more it looks like the long search for a dependable option at the position has come to an end.
Never mind the fact that Chandler's performance at the position against Ecuador Tuesday night was just his third with the national team after primarily playing on the right side for both club and country.
Building off a strong showing against Honduras on Saturday, the 21-year-old Chandler neutralized Ecuador's main attacking threat, Antonio Valencia, as part of his 90-minute showing in a 1-0 U.S. loss at Red Bull Arena, earning indivdual accolades from U.S. national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
"He didn't allow Valencia not even one thing, and you're talking about a player that plays for Man. United and is a very, very good player," Klinsmann said. "But you couldn't see him at all, because Timmy Chandler closed him completely down."
Chandler's comfort level on the left appears to be increasing, as does his long-term grip on the position, which has arguably been the biggest spot of uncertainty for the national team program over the last few years.
"To play against (Valencia), he didn't have so many chances or do anything. The whole team from Ecuador didn't do much in the first half," Chandler said. "It's two games now we play good, and I'm getting comfortable."
Chandler's trademark attacking qualities are emerging from his station on the left as he continues to get a feel for his bearings. His forays forward on the right were what made him such an intriguing prospect when he first started playing for the United States, and he is starting to get more and more forward as he banks minutes at his new position.
"I'm very happy with how he presents himself on the left side," Klinsman said. "His job was taking out Valencia. He did that job, and then he went into the attack. He did two jobs, actually. It seems like he's just enjoying himself. He's a very curious player that wants to know 'How can I improve? What do I have to do?'
"Obviously he can play both sides. We can shift him over to the right side and he'll be exactly the same."
Even though it's clear that he's more comfortable crossing with his favored right foot, Chandler is making strides in transitioning to his left foot. There was a point early in the loss to Ecuador during which Chandler delivered a teasing left-footed cross to the center of the box that nearly led to a U.S. chance.
His ability to maintain a high work rate throughout also showed, as evidenced by his 74th-minute strip-and-run down the left flank that eventually ended in him drawing a foul and leading to a U.S. free kick in dangerous territory with the game still scoreless.
"I think he did very well getting forward," U.S. centerback Carlos Bocanegra said. "He took some good positions defensively tonight, especially on the some of the long balls covering inside. He's got good energy. He's got a good tank in him."
Chandler's emergence on the left has been helped by his partnership with Brek Shea on that side. The two have developed a strong chemistry and have a sense of timing each other's runs and covering for each other despite playing very few matches together.
"He has what I like in a left back, and I have what he likes in the guys that play in front of him," said Shea, who roomed with Chandler during the September U.S. camp. "We're good friends off the field, so it definitely translates onto the field. We're kind of similar people. We like to have fun and we joke a lot. The off-the-field stuff has helped our relationship grow."
Klinsmann has taken notice of that relationship as well, and his praise for both players along with pronouncing that Shea has "secured his spot in the starting lineup" should lead to a consistent pairing of the two in future matches.
"They start to develop an instinct for each other," Klinsmann said. "Timmy's doing a good job reading (Shea). These types of partnerships … those take time."
Like Chandler's transition to left back, though, perhaps it doesn't take that much time after all.