BRIAN SCIARETTA - Tuesday, August 13, 2013
The USMNT is in the midst of an 11 game winning streak but lost in the accolades is the growing murkiness of the team's right back situation.
For the past decade this hasn't been much of an issue since Steve Cherundolo has owned the position and has been one of the most reliable players in U.S history. But right now Cherundolo is 34 years old and has had two knee surgeries in 2013.
With his experience and leadership, the position is still Cherundolo's to lose but there is no question that age and injuries have left him as a question mark for Brazil.
Unfortunately, the options beyond Cherundolo are still far from certain. There is not a true successor lined up at the moment and each candidate has his strengths and flaws. Here is how things stack up.
Over the past two and a half years, there has been no player more puzzling than Timothy Chandler. He breaks into Nurnberg's first team in January 2011 and plays extremely well. He bailed on the Gold Cup tournament, returned afterward but then bailed again on the World Cup qualifying team.
He returned last year and played in a game against Russia. After endless speculation of his international allegiance, he accepted a cap-tying callup for a World Cup qualifier in February 2013 against Honduras. In that game, he had a very poor performance as the Americans lost. Ever since then vague injuries have seem him fail to earn another callup.
Chandler is currently not in camp with the U.S team in Bosnia and Klinsmann has said it is because other players deserve to be there ahead of him. He has started off his season with Nurnberg poorly as he earned dismal reviews for his first performance in the German Cup and was relegated to the bench in the Bundesliga opener.
The situation is bleak right now for Chandler but it would be wrong to count him out just yet. His omission could only serve as another motivator for the German-born American.
Consider this: he is still just 23 years old and already has 73 Bundesliga appearances to his name. That makes him one of the more experienced players in the pool. He is clearly in a slump but he has all the physical tools to break out of it. It was not long ago when he was being linked to a transfer to Stuttgart.
Chandler may have fallen in the depth chart but there is still a whole European season between now and the World Cup. He looks far more likely to earn more playing time at right back than Spector or Parkhurst and Evans and Cameron are not natural right backs.
Chandler maybe down, but he's not out. If he can get back into Nurnberg's first team, it will be tough for Klinsmann not to give him another chance. Right now, it's all up to Chandler.
When Brad Evans was asked to play right back against Germany in June, it was a surprise to many. The Sounders veteran performed well and started the remaining qualifiers. He looked dependable but it is clear that right back is not his best position. He struggled at times in one-on-one defensive situations against speedy wingers but was better than average.
Moving forward, Evans will continue to get looks if no other natural right back steps up. He's a good player but would not be an optimal solution for Brazil next year.
Over the past year, Cameron has proven to be very versatile. His best position is central defense but was a decent option at right back for Stoke last year. In World Cup qualifiers this year, Cameron excelled in defensive midfield when partnered with Michael Bradley.
Stoke City was a very defensive team in the Premier League and Klinsmann will likely want his fullbacks to push further into the attack. Cameron is still likely to go to Brazil but it is hard to see him playing as a right back unless in an emergency.
Last year, Michael Parkhurst was one of the best right backs in the Danish Superliga. After a midseason move to Augsburg, playing time has been tough to come by. Still, Parkhurst was very good at the Gold Cup where he made some terrific passes out of the back and rarely suffered any defensive mistakes.
Klinsmann appears to like Parkhurst and whether or not he goes to Brazil will come down to his season in Germany. If the World Cup was today, he'd be on the roster. But if he struggles to even make the bench at Augsburg, it will be hard for Klinsmann to take him. Right now, he does not appear to be in a good position with Augsburg so he is skating on thin ice - unless, of course, he moves to another club.
Spector's name is in the mix right now but he is fading out of the picture at the moment. Injuries have limited his minutes for 2013 and Birmingham City appears more willing to play him as a midfielder these days.
As a veteran of the U.S national team, he will always be mix at right back if there are no clear contenders but right now, it had to envision him as anything more than a long shot.
If ever there is a dark-horse candidate, it is Eric Lichaj. It is unclear why it has taken so long for Lichaj to get a look from Klinsmann but right now the signs are pointing in his direction. First, he is a natural right back. Second, he is off to a very strong start with Nottingham Forest who could contend for promotion this year into the Premier League. Third, he could earn more minutes at right back this year than any other American right back in Europe.
If Cherundolo struggles to get back to form and Parkhurst/Chandler /Spector remain on the bench, Klinsmann will either have to go with out of position players or give Lichaj a chance.
Beltran is on the list since he has been called up a few times, but he has not yet taken advantage of the minutes he has earned. It is hard to see of a scenario where he makes the team.
Last August when the U.S team defeated Mexico at Azteca in a friendly, Fabian Johnson made his only appearance for the U.S team at right back. It shouldn't be much of a surprise that he looked decent. While he is very good with his left foot, he is natural right footed and can defend well.
He wouldn't be a bad option for the U.S team but if Johnson plays on the right side, it would likely leave too big of a hole on the left side.
The rookies: DeAndre Yedlin/Andrew Farrell
DeAndre Yedlin and Andrew Farrell are likely very far away from the national team right now but are worth mentioning. Both have had solid first seasons in MLS and Yedlin in particular looks like a player who could emerge next cycle. A January camp invite in 2014 for both Yedlin and Farrell is certainly a strong possibility.
Assuming Klinsmann takes two right backs, Cherundolo is still the likely candidate despite the age and surgeries. He has played well for Klinsmann and is a leader. There is a chance he could fade out of the picture this season but the safe bet is that he hangs on to make the team.
The other right back spot, while unpopular at the moment, still favors Chandler just because of his potential to earn Bundesliga minutes. He's in a better club position than most other players at the position and it is entirely foreseeable that he gets another chance in 2013. All options are on the table.
Even if Cherundolo and Chandler make the team, the U.S will have other options from players like Cameron and Johnson who can also play the position.
Right back remains the most unpredictable position for the U.S team at the moment where anything can happen. It is impossible to know how it will turn out but it will be interesting to watch the many contenders make their case.