A closer look at the USMNT depth chart: Left Backs

Fabian Johnson

Photo by John Todd/ISIphotos.com

By FRANCO PANIZO

Jurgen Klinsmann famously said back in summer 2012 that anybody can play left back.

We will soon see just how true those words were.

The U.S. Men’s National Team will head into the World Cup this summer not short on options at left back, a position that has long troubled the Americans. DaMarcus Beasley, Fabian Johnson, and Edgar Castillo are just some of the players Klinsmann will have at his disposal, but the tricky part will be in finding which one is best suited to take on the tough opposition the U.S. will face in Group G.

Whether it is a veteran like Beasley who has experience playing in three World Cups or someone like Johnson who can pin the opposition deeper in their half on a more consistent basis, Klinsmann needs to decide which player will give the Americans back line a strong presence on the left flank. The U.S. head coach might have more options than were available in tournaments past, but that does not mean it will be any easier in determining who should be the starter.

Here is a closer look at the current group of left backs that Klinsmann will have to choose from:

DAMARCUS BEASLEY

A veteran with three World Cups under his belt, Beasley has the experience that no other left back in the pool can offer. The soon-to-be 32-year-old Beasley also started at left back for much of the qualifying campaign, continues to see time at that position regularly with Puebla and his impact on the U.S. locker room is something that Klinsmann raves about. All that said, Beasley is not a natural left back by trade and he only recently started logging heavy minutes there. That makes starting him there in a World Cup a bit of a gamble, even if it is one that Beasley is up for.

FABIAN JOHNSON

It was not long ago that Johnson seemed like the player most likely to start at left back for the U.S. at the World Cup. Things have changed, however, as the 26-year-old Johnson has seen more time at right back in recent months with Hoffenheim. What bodes well for him is that he is an ambidextrous, dynamic weapon who can jump into the attack with regularity – something Klinsmann asks of his fullbacks – and that might be needed to help relieve some pressure against the quality wide attackers the U.S. will face in the group stage. Johnson could also be looked at as a wide midfielder, but it looks as if he might be needed more in defense.

EDGAR CASTILLO

Admittedly not the best defender, Castillo is an option mainly due to his ability to get forward. Castillo, 27, is earning heavy minutes at left back with Club Tijuana, making him the only other player aside from Beasley to be able to make that claim currently. Klinsmann has shown with his selections in the past that he likes what Castillo brings to the table regardless of his defensive shortcomings, and Castillo will be hoping that is the case again as he tries to play in his first World Cup.

MICHAEL PARKHURST

Parkhurst is not a natural left back and he does not sniff any minutes there with the Columbus Crew, but he has played decently at the position in a pinch for the U.S. in recent times. The 30-year-old Parkhurst is more of a stay-at-home defender than the options listed, but he did not look overwhelmed playing at left back earlier this year in friendlies vs. South Korea and Mexico. That might just be enough to convince Klinsmann that the veteran defender with hopes of playing in his first World Cup is worth taking to Brazil as a depth option.

TIMMY CHANDLER

Chandler, 24, only recently returned to action for FC Nurnberg from a knee injury, but he has shown in the past that he is a more than suitable option at left back. Whether he is healthy enough to be considered by Klinsmann for the upcoming pre-World Cup camp is not yet known, but Chandler’s speed, technical ability and crossing make him an interesting option, even if it is only as a reserve.

—–

What do you think of Klinsmann’s current options at left back? Who should be the starter at the World Cup? Think there is enough depth at this position?

Share your thoughts below.

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113 Responses to A closer look at the USMNT depth chart: Left Backs

  1. fifawitz1313 says:

    As much as I like Fabian’s contribution to the offense, I think he is a much stronger LB than Beasley and should play there. This would also give us the option of playing (not fat) Donovan on the left and Zusi/Bedoya on the right.

  2. Dainja says:

    Its gotta be Beasley at LB, so Fabian can play either RB or where I prefer Fabian: wide midfield. I know folks don’t rave about Beasley at LB, but we need Fabian much more in other areas. So Tricky Beas it is at LB.

    • Maykol says:

      As good as FJ is at attacking, theres no point in him playing there if beasly is gonna get burned by world class players and they score a bunch of goals.

    • Jesse says:

      I have the exact opposite opinion. We need Fabian at LB more than anywhere else. If you assume Fabian is starting at either LB, RB, or LM that means he bumps either Donovan, Beasley or Cameron from the starting lineup. I’d rather bump Beasley to the bench than either Donovan or Cameron. (I know some of you think Cameron is our starting CB) Beasley is a good option and belongs on the plane to Brazil. Fabina is my starter at LB though.

  3. Joe says:

    I honestly think Castillo should be played at left mid. Its one of the reasons I’d like to see him in the preliminary roster.

    • Maykol says:

      I agree he could be a good sub on the wing, he has always looked good in the attack and is one of the best dribblers the US has

    • KingGoogleyEye says:

      Castillo at LM and Beasley at LB invites the opponent to relentlessly attack that side…and break through. I know you didn’t suggest Beasley, but it’s highly likely that he starts at LB.

      I just don’t see a need for Castillo on this squad.

    • Ryan SATX says:

      I think Castillo should be left back at home.

  4. apw says:

    Throw Tim Ream into the mix. Not the fastest but still pretty quick, plus is a natural defender playing well in a good league. Would not go forward much though, so he would be ineffective with an inverted winger (which we will most likely use – Zusi, Bedoya, or LD) looking for an overlap. But if Fabian was ahead of him he wouldn’t have to worry about bombing forward. Just an idea.

    • Brian S. says:

      Speaking of Ream, he was just named Bolton Supporters POY. I think he has done as much as anyone to earn a spot in the 30.

    • James says:

      Ream COULD play left back, but he’s not a left back. If he’s included in the squad, it will penciled in as a CB, not a fullback.

      • John says:

        I think he’s actually played more left back then center back this year and has said it’s his preferred position at this point.

        • Jesse says:

          I don’t think he is the type of left back that Jurgen prefers though. He is more in the mold of Parkhurst. A natural stay at home player rather than an attacker up the wing.

          • John says:

            Well at some point Klinsmann might have a look at the group we are in.

            • Jesse D says:

              Ream is as much an outsider to this team as Chandler. Funny I see so many anti Chandler comments, but Ream is the Lichaj of left backs. An outsider who didn’t help in qualifying and who has been bad in top flight competition.

      • Chris says:

        Yeah, Ream was a LB in college before converting to a CB at NY, then back to midfield/LB with Bolton.

      • GW says:

        That is exactly what they said about Boca and he played left back and center back in the World Cup.

    • Nate says:

      Ream is not really known for his flat out D, though. His strengths are technique and passing from the back. The case for him here would be that Beasley is a weak defender. But Beasley has more speed and at this point, more international experience in the LB position than Ream. From what i remember about Ream’s last USMNT stint, he was a step slow. Not sure hes the guy to lock down Asamoah and Nani.

      • Louis Z says:

        Ream, has good wheels, enough to keep up with Charlie Davis speed. I don’t think we need a LB that can bomb down field, we will be defending most of the time, we need a FB that can defend and pass from the back, those two attributes seem to be his strength.

  5. slowleftarm says:

    Not really a fan of any of these guys, other than Fabian. This is probably the weakest spot in the USMNT pool. As a former left-back myself back in my “playing days” that saddens me.

  6. Nic D "The TX 2 Stepper" says:

    I too like Ream at LB … I imagine Ream at LB with a wide MF ahead of him and our RB (Cameron/Fab/Chandler) being able to put pressure on the opposing teams LB by pushing forward in the attack effectively giving us a 3-4-3 or 3-5-2 when in possession of the ball. If that is the case then you have JJ and MB90 covering/spliiting the difference when the ball is turned over or in loose ball situations.

    • Shurls says:

      I have long thought that a situation similar to this MIGHT be our best option. I have imagined it something akin to this

      Jozy
      Dempsey LD
      Bradley Jones
      FJ Chandler/Bedoya
      Besler Edu Cam

      I Like Edu in the center to sit slightly ahead of the other CBs and get forward in attack. Our width would be provided by Chandler and Fabian playing in true wingback style. This would push Dempsey and LD center into positions were they seem most comfortable and due to the fact that we have no true wingers at this point in time. This may change with the development of some younger players.

      • Jesse says:

        You want to play the Juventus formation. Which is fine if you coach that and teach that, but isn’t it too late in the cycle to bring in a new style.

        • GW says:

          That depends on the players.

          In the 2002 World Cup Arena shifted to a 3-5-2 in the Mexico game even though they had not played it before and they won 2-0.

          So it is possible.to introduce new formations late in the game.

          • Jesse D says:

            surprise tactics make sense against familiar opponents like Mexico. Point taken though, I doubt Jurgen does this, but hey it puts 11 good players on the field.

    • Chris says:

      We’ve never, ever, EVER played a 3 man back before. We’re certainly not making the transition before the WC, especially considering how much practice and coordination it takes to pull it off successfully.

      • Dikranovich says:

        Chris, actually the USA have played in the 3-5-2, and it also happened to be at a World Cup, and it was A game which we won. So please don’t say never ever, please!

  7. evan says:

    we are screwed with anyone other than Fabian at left back in the World Cup. Beasley is a backup at best, and Castillo has no business being anywhere near the National Team…

    • Jesse says:

      I think that is probably true. Beasley “at best” comment is a bit harsh. He is a good backup. A great locker room guy, an experienced guy. Beasley should be on that plane.

  8. LImey says:

    Anyone but Beasley.

  9. Brain Guy says:

    For me, it’s Fabian Johnson and then everyone else. I’m intrigued by the mentions above of Ream as a possible LB, but I see him as a versatile backup at any of the back line positions. I love Beasley, but the thought of powerful wingers barrelling down on him worries me.

  10. Colt says:

    Johnson, Beasley, Chandler, Cameron and Parkhurst should all be on the plane. Throw in Goodson, Besler and Gonzo in the middle, and that’s our 8 defenders. Chandler all depends on health.

    Left off: Ream, Yedlin, Brooks, Gooch, Evans, Castillo

    Castillo is terrible as a LB, and I don’t see him offering much value as a Left Mid either, not compared to LD, Bedoya, Zusi.

    Evans isn’t a RB, and he’s not a great MF either. No way he should go.

    The situation of Tim Ream is the one to follow. He has played his way in to the discussion with a great spell at Bolton. I have to think he gets called in to the pre-WC camp, and has a real chance to bounce someone off the plane.

    • Chris says:

      I agree with Ream, but Yedlin is a RB… and in what world is Brooks or Gooch a legitimate LB candidate? (don’t say Holland)

    • Jesse says:

      I like the core that you’ve brought. It might be a little heavy on Fullbacks. As you have 5. If Jurgen wants an extra attacker he may choose to not bring Chandler or Parkhurst. That would open his options.

    • Paul says:

      As much as I like Goodson, and he’s performed well for us, I believe he is at risk in the upcoming camp. He was a good fit in the WCQ format, but I question where he fits now in this pool. He doesn’t offer anything better than a backfill, and is not versatile outside of CB. I think Orozco, Ream or possibly Onyewu can bump him from the roster. All three are earning steady minutes from their respective teams in competitive leagues.

  11. MLS_Soccer_Talker says:

    F. Johnson has to be #1. We can use someone else as a winger.

  12. John says:

    I think we need our fullbacks to be defensive minded first and that why I see Ream as an interesting option and really don’t see Castillo as an option at all.

  13. venicebeachbull says:

    I would take Tim Ream over Parkhurst as the ‘utility’ guy I think JK covets.

    No way Evans or Yedlin should get called into the 30 over Ream in my opinion. I watched Evans in person get schooled by K-Leaguers and Yedlin unfortunately isn’t there just yet.

    • Matt J. Brooks says:

      No way is Ream getting on the plane over Parkhurst

    • atd says:

      Why Ream over Parkhurst?

      • venicebeachbull says:

        Parkhurst has skill, but he doesn’t offer a lot going forward and is less technical with his left foot.

        I’ll take a guy who started over 40 games in the Championship with a lot recently coming at LB over a guy who doesn’t play that position at all with his club team.

  14. Coach char says:

    Never been a Beasley fan. I have never been happy with him playing left back. I’d start Johnson at the World Cup.

    • Robbie says:

      Johnson will be starting somewhere… its getting late in the day for experimenting, but if Omar doesn’t start playing better, I could see a backline of:

      Beasley Besler Cameron FJ

    • Jesse says:

      I hope you are young if you’ve “never” been a Beasley fan. He had some very good years for us in the early to mid 2000’s.

      • Lost in Space says:

        Beasley had some very good years as a WIDE midfielder in the early & mid 2000’s, but has always been a liability as a LB. DMB has the speed and the overlap to play LB….and would be a reasonable option against some teams, but Ghana & Germany can play a physical game and that is not something Beasley matches up well against.
        Fabian should be the starting LB with Beasley/Ream/Parkhurst/Chandler as the backup. IMO DMB should be a backup winger and not defender.

        • Jesse D says:

          Don’t disagree that his best years were served as a wide midfielder. The comment was about being a fan. I was and remain a big fan of Beasley. Was a great player for a lot of years, and always brought a great attitude with him.

        • dave says:

          “but has always been a liability as a LB.” Absolutely ridiculous comment. How many games have we won with him at LB.

          • KingGoogleyEye says:

            You’re oversimplifying. Even the staunchest DMB supporters point out that he makes lots of defensive errors. Those are, by definition, liabilities. Supporters will go on to say, “but he’s fast enough to recover.” Fine, but those mistakes are still there….and will become more of a liability when he plays against attackers who are faster and/or more skilled than he has faced so far.

            This is not the same argument that can be made against every member of the squad; i.e., that as the competition gets tougher everyone’s weaknesses become more exposed. With DMB, however, up to this point his weaknesses have been balanced by his recovery—but it doesn’t take much to tip that horribly in one direction.

  15. Colt says:

    I think it’s going to be most interesting to see who JK actually brings to the pre-WC camp. Will be some guys left off the list that I think will be worthy.

    Here’s my roster for the pre-WC camp:

    GK (4)
    Howard, Guzan, Rimando, Johnson

    DEF (11)
    Parkhurst, Beasley, Johnson, Chandler, Cameron
    Gonzo, Goodson, Besler, Brooks, Ream

    MID (11)
    Dempsey, Bradley, Jones, Beckerman, Edu, Williams, Mix
    LD, Bedoya, Suzi, Green

    ATT (5)
    Altidore, Aron, EJ, Wondo, Boyd

    • Colt says:

      Should be a (10) next to DEF**

    • Scott says:

      Looks about right but Johnson (GK) probably doesn’t come. He will not go to the WC and that spot can be used to look at another field player.

      • Colt says:

        Thought the same, but thought Johnson needed to be on the 30 man in case of injury.

        • Jesse says:

          How big of a risk is it that you lose 3 Goalie’s and need to go to #4? Don’t think I would bring him. I’d rather have Orosco, Shea or Aguedelo on the emergency list.

        • GW says:

          You need to be on the 30 to be named to the 23 but if there are injuries to the 23 the US has until the first game to replace the injured player.

          That player need not have been on the 30 and can come from anywhere.

          • Colt says:

            In that case, I would scrap Johnson and then add Orozco or Shea

            • bryan says:

              why Shea? Corona would make much more sense. Shea hasn’t even made the bench since he got kicked out of his loan.

              • Jesse D says:

                Shea adds something to your team we don’t already have. Corona is just another player who is best as a CAM. Right behind Demps, Donovan, Zusi, Bedoya, Mix. Corona doesn’t add a new element for you. Shea as an athlete on the left wing does bring something different to the table.

              • bryan says:

                Shea doesn’t add anything when he is not playing. if he was playing, i would agree he should be in the squad.

                Corona is more than capable out wide as well as in the middle. and as a SD resident who watches Xolos every game, he has looked just fine there when used in that role. he’s in good form right now.

                idk, i agree they are two different players who each bring something different, but given Shea’s complete lack of playing time, i just don’t see the point.

              • Jesse says:

                Shea lack of playing time hurts his form for sure, but in my opinion Corona’s lack of talent hurts him. We was completely shut down on the wing in the Gold Cup. In the center he took a couple nice shots. He lacked distribution skills there as well. I hope we aren’t depending on either of them come June.

    • truthiness says:

      Looks good except you are missing Evans. JK clearly rates him. Is he hurt?

      • Colt says:

        I personally think Evans has no business in our top 40, much less our top 30. But I agree that JK rates him high, and will probably invite him. If he is invited, I have no idea who you take off the list…maybe Johnson?

      • John says:

        he is just coming off injury,
        however it was reported Klinsmann requested Evans be played at right back for Seattle in a reserves match the other day.

      • bryan says:

        Evans won’t and shouldn’t make it.

    • JayAre says:

      There no point in bringing 4 GK’s to camp

  16. beto says:

    We only have and need two; FJ and DMB.

    Who starts is completely up to matchups and if they are needed in other spots.

    I bet both see a lot of PT in Brazil

    • The Garrincha says:

      I agree beto, I also believe that old run DMB and FJ, as a random tandem,
      passing the dutchy upon the left hand side.

  17. Lorenzo says:

    God that jersey is ugly.

  18. Brad C says:

    FJ, not close. We are going to depend on the LB for a lot of offense in the Portugal game if the RB and right side is busy marking Ronaldo.

  19. Brad C says:

    The RB and LB depend on how the CB’s look. If Klinsmann wants to put Cameron at CB then we might see FJ at RB. If Gonzalez and Besler look good then I say keep Cameron at RB and FJ at LB.

    • Lost in Space says:

      100% agree. That RB & LB will depend on where JK fields Cameron. And where Cameron if played may depend on Chandler. If Chandler can get match fit and knock off the rust would be interesting to see:

      Fabian (LB)—–Besler (LCB)———Cameron (RCB)——–Chandler (RB)

      Then the backups could be:
      Beasley, Goodson, Gonzalez, Parkhurst/Evans, (Ream & Brooks just miss out)

      After the cup JK can then drop Beasley, Goodson, Evans, & Parkhurst and begin integrating the next generation…Brooks, Packwood, Yedlin, Klute, Lichaj, O’Neal, etc.

      • Brad C says:

        JK doesn’t seem to rate Lichaj…

        But I agree with bringing Brooks as a groom-for-the-future move…

      • JayAre says:

        It’s too late to starting moving guys around. FJ primarily RB and occasionally LB, Cameron played RB all season and got really good at it. Ream played LB, CB and a little CB and also got really good at it we need to keep the at those positions.

        Cameron–Beasler(Brooks)—Gonzo(Gooch)—FJ

        *I’m not calling the CB position I think it’s still completely up for grabs. both spots

  20. Bac says:

    This time last year, Fabian Johnson was splitting time between LB and some LM at Hoffenheim, this year he’s played exclusively as an outside back.
    That’s a full season – at a position of need for us – in one of the top leagues in the world.
    In this group…
    With this inexperienced backline…
    He must be one of our outside backs, period

  21. Mike Potter says:

    With our defense being so suspect,I think we might need to reconsider Ream.It has all been positive news regarding him for quite awhile now.To be named player of the year for Bolton in the very competitive Championship is quite the accomplishment.I think he will be at the next camp.

    • Mike Potter says:

      To clarify,I would rather have Johnson at left back, but if he is going to be a left winger then Ream deserves a look.

  22. J. Fray says:

    Best case scenario would be Chandler slotting in at left back, and Fabian playing wide on the left in the mid. Fabian on the left and Bedoya on the right would give us width.

    Unfortunately, we’ll probably see Fabian at left back. I wouldn’t feel comfortable with Beasley starting and logging heavy minutes. He’s too frail…

  23. SingularityCup says:

    Really looking forward to seeing the prelim roster in a week or so, so we can actually discuss the options Klinsmann has decided upon.

  24. bryan says:

    i am so torn on this. our backline is completely up in the air and that really stinks. i was really hoping that Chandler would have stayed healthy and Cameron would have got some reps at CB so we could do:

    FJ—Besler—-Cam—Chandler

    with Donovan at LM and Bedoya (or Zusi) at RM.

  25. Joamiq says:

    This backline has become such a mess. I’m a huge Beasley fan. I’ve loved the resurrection of his career, and he’s done just about everything asked of him. But he hasn’t faced top Euro competition regularly in a long time. I think he could do a job, but he could also get embarrassed a couple of times.

    FJ is the best LB option, but he’s also the best non-Cameron RB option, and Cameron might have to play CB since no one has emerged as an acceptable partner for Besler. I think we have to pray for a huge end to the season for Timmy Chandler.

    As talented as FJ is going forward, I’m perfectly fine with him in the back. The US midfield pool is doing just fine, especially if Klinsi stays with the diamond, which I really hope he does. Donovan, Zusi, and Bedoya are just perfect high motor, ground covering, pinching in LM and RM options, so we’re fine at those positions. And the diamond would let FJ get forward from FB plenty.

  26. chris_thebassplayer says:

    Castillo shouldn’t still be in the conversation and Beas is slightly better, but very similar in style. I’m assuming the CBs will be Cameron and Besler, so it just depends where JK actually plays Fab.

    If Fab is in the back line on one side hopefully Chandler is on the other flank.

    If JK plays Fab at flank mid then I hope it is Chandler and Ream as outside fullbacks. I hope Ream gets a real good look at LB in camp.

    • The Garrincha says:

      Real nice insight C da bassplayer.
      Castillo is redundant and in regards to Run DMB.
      Both can cover LB&LM, but I would take Run DMB, all day any day for this one last time.
      one last shot at glory for He, and Lando, and company.
      But anyway his ability is tangible and real, what?,… two three world cups, captained the gold cup13 champs, once in another lifetime was a real contributor at PSV Eindhoven.
      The sum total of his experience and body of work is undeniable and he actually could have another good two or three years left in the tank.

      • sat says:

        At least there is 2 of us that still rates Beasley. If it comes down to FJ or Beasley starting, I am in the Beasley camp for LB (FJ at LM). Beasley stays back more and is a peskier defender then FJ.

  27. Nate Dollars says:

    “Jurgen Klinsmann famously said back in summer 2012 that anybody can play left back.”

    franco, it’s really poor journalism to not give the whole quote, which was: “Anybody can play left back, F— YOU LICHAJ.”

  28. Jo Jo beans says:

    Some of our options in defense just scare me

  29. sat says:

    No love for the Beas…. I think he is a better defender then FJ. FJ strengths in D is the ability to push forward. Beasley is actually a pesky defender, and if he gets beat he still has the wheels to cover his mistakes. He is also smart on the ball, he keeps possession and makes intelligent forward passes.

    • Louis Z says:

      yeah right, I guess you forgotten the Costa Rica game in Costa Rica, your Beas got schooled.

  30. KingGoogleyEye says:

    “if [Beasley] gets beat he still has the wheels to cover his mistakes”

    This is the scariest thing about Beasley at LB. Midfielders can rely on “wheels” to cover mistakes; the back line cannot. The moment DMB plays against someone who is just slightly faster than average (i.e., most WC competition), that attacker will make DMB pay for his little mistakes by sending in crosses before DMB can recover.

  31. Dan says:

    Bring in Timmy Chandler and Brek Shea. Leave Altidore “out the door”!

  32. Dan says:

    Bring in Timmy Chandler into camp.

  33. Dennis says:

    I suspect Ream has a shot, but only that, If he looks very good in camp and JK finally remembers how Germany lost to Bulgaria in the 94 WC quarterfinals (tall Bulgarian was being defended by 5’6″ Thomas Hassler and headed in the winning goal essentially unhindered.) Beasely will have trouble defending long crosses from the opposite side when a taller midfielder or forward takes him into the box. As much as I like Beasely and respect all he has done for the USMNT over the years, I just don’t think he can be the starting LB in Brazil.

    Given that the US is very unlikely to run rampant over any team in our group I think the first (almost exclusive) requirement of the back line is to defend and pass the ball out of the back. Ream fits that description. (FJ and Chandler are also solid defenders, but I worry about Chandler’s form after the time off for injury).