By IVES GALARCEP
There were some pretty nervous U.S. Men’s National Team fans not too long ago, when the roster for March qualifiers were announced and long-time captain Carlos Bocanegra was left out. His absence meant an inexperienced group would be responsible or trying to accrue valuable points in the CONCACAF Hexagonal.
Two games and four points later, the feelings about the U.S. centerback pool are much, much different. Omar Gonzalez has the look of a defense anchor for years to come while Matt Besler’s showing against Mexico has him looking like a perfect long-term centerback partner for Gonzalez. Throw in Clarence Goodson’s admirable showing against Costa Rica in the snow and you now have centerback looking like it is a position with a variety of options.
The centerback pool has its share of veterans, as well as a promising crop of younger players who could be pushing Gonzalez and Besler before long in the race to lead the next generation of central defenders.
Then you have a prospect like German-born John Anthony Brooks, who is playing regularly for Bundesliga 2 leaders Hertha Berlin and attracting attention from the German Youth National Team set-up.
With the summer stacked with national team matches, from World Cup qualifiers to the Gold Cup, there will be a plethora of opportunities for players in the centerback pool to boost their stock and move up on the centerback depth chart.
Here is a closer look at where the top centerback options stand on the USMNT central defender depth chart:
USMNT CENTERBACK DEPTH CHART
1. OMAR GONZALEZ
His considerable improvement in recent qualifiers have him looking like a sure-fire World Cup starter. The big question now is just where he will be playing a year from now. His MLS contract is up in January and he won’t be lacking for options.
2. GEOFF CAMERON
Still a first-choice option at centerback when the regular right back choices are healthy, Cameron sure did look solid at right back, which makes you wonder if Klinsmann might consider a move there if Matt Besler keeps impressing. One way or another, Cameron is a starting defender.
3. MATT BESLER
Climbed up the charts with his head-turning outing against Mexico. Some might think Clarence Goodson should still be ahead of him, but Besler’s handling of ‘El Tri’ has to have Klinsmann thinking about keeping Gonzalez and Besler together for June qualifiers.
4. CLARENCE GOODSON
Was outstanding in the snow vs. Costa Rica, and his selfless act of pulling himself out of the lineup ahead of the Mexico match because of a gimpy leg earned him considerable points under Klinsmann. The question is whether he’ll ever get another chance to start in qualifying. It might be tough to stay ahead of Bocanegra on the depth chart, let alone staying ahead of the surging Matt Besler.
5. CARLOS BOCANEGRA
Omar Gonzalez’s rapid maturation has left Bocanegra looking like less of a necessity. He is still a viable option when he’s playing regularly, and his experience is invaluable, but if the younger options impress in June, Bocanegra might be on the outside looking in for good, though a role as leader and captain of the Gold Cup team could await him if he doesn’t feature in qualifying. Don’t go ruling him out of the HEX just yet.
6. MAURICE EDU
Still a high-level defensive midfield option, though he didn’t exactly shine vs. Mexico. If injuries decimated the centerback pool the way they did left back, you can bet Edu would get the call to play there.
7. OGUCHI ONYEWU
Collecting big bucks to ride the pine for UEFA Champions League quarterfinalist Malaga, Onyewu is someone Klinsmann has to consider for the Gold Cup in order to get a long look at him. In fact, don’t be surprised if Klinsmann takes a look at him in the May camp ahead of the June qualifiers. He may not be getting regular minutes, but when healthy he’s still a solid USMNT option.
8. GEORGE JOHN
Off to a great start to the 2013 season, John has been a bit of a forgotten man when it comes to the USMNT, but if he keeps playing the way he’s been playing lately, he will absolutely merit consideration for the Gold Cup.
9. JOHN ANTHONY BROOKS
First thing’s first. We don’t even know if he’s ready to commit to the United States. Secondly, despite what some might tell you, he is NOT ready for the senior team (not yet anyway). What he does have is great potential and if he plays for the United States in the Under-20 World Cup it would go a long way toward establishing him as someone who could climb up this list significantly over the next year.
10. AMOBI OKUGO
He’s just 22, and still learning the centerback position, but anyone who has watched him play regularly for the Union at centerback over the past year can tell you he has the tools to be a special one. Now that it looks as though he will remain in central defense for Philadelphia, he should only continue to improve, and a Gold Cup roster spot is a very realistic possibility if he keeps playing well.
OTHERS TO CONSIDER: Michael Orozco Fiscal, Matt Hedges, Chris Schuler, A.J. Soares, Austin Berry.
What do you think of the current USMNT centerback pool? Who should be higher on the list? Who didn’t make the list that you feel should be on it?
Share your thoughts below.