By IVES GALARCEP
Geoff Cameron may have only recently established himself as a starting centerback for the U.S. Men's National Team, but it is no longer a stretch to say that, right now, he is the national team's best centerback and a player who should remain a starter for a long time.
With that being said, the real question becomes just who will Jurgen Klinsmann partner with Cameron for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Antigua & Barbuda and Guatemala. Carlos Bocanerga and Clarence Goodson both started games against Jamaica in September, with different results (though the circumstances for each player were also different).
On one hand you have Goodson, a younger option, and arguably a more technical option, a better passer who is playing more regularly on the club side. On the other hand you have the stronger and more experienced Bocanegra, who is still better in the air and more of a threat on set pieces. He has faced tough matches on many more occasions than Goodson, and he is a different enough player that you can argue he complements Cameron better.
So who will Klinsmann turn to as Cameron's centerback partner? Let us consider the opposition they are set to face:
Antigua & Barbuda has some speed up top that can give the U.S. trouble on the counterattack, as we saw when Pete Byers toasted Oguchi Onyewu in the qualifier in Tampa in June. It is a safe bet that the faster and more athletic Cameron would likely be matched up against Antigua & Barbuda's best forward, which would leave the other American centerback to play the role of organizer as well as support for Cameron. Bocanegra handled this role fairly well against Jamaica in Columbus, and stood up to the few challenges Jamaica was able to mount.
Goodson didn't have quite as successful a turn against Jamaica, but he also had to face them in Kingston, in a game where the 'Reggae Boyz' had more of the ball and attacked more often. Goodson can be a steady centerback, but he can also get bullied. Of the matches remaining in qualifying, you could argue Antigua & Barbuda would be a better match-up for him than Guatemala, with the physical and tricky Carlos Ruiz.
If you are Jurgen Klinsmann, do you risk playing the 33-year-old Bocanegra in two straight qualifiers, or do you rest him for the first in Antigua before trotting him out in a home qualifier against Guatemala, where he will be rested and ready to neutralize a player he knows very well in Ruiz?
This is why we might see Klinsmann split the starts again. Guatemala could be playing for their lives, and might wind up needing a victory to advance, not quite the circumstances you want to put an older centerback who hasn't been playing regularly into.
That said, Klinsmann also has to know that a win against Antigua & Barbuda would leave the USA in great shape heading into the group finale in Kansas City. That makes starting he best possible lineup the ideal scenario for the Oct. 12th qualifier in the Caribbean.
So who do you start? Bocanegra or Goodson? If it were me, I would start the more experienced Bocanegra, who looked impressive in the win against Jamaica (and who also scored a goal against Antigua & Barbuda in the June meeting). Let the veteran start, and secure the win, then if he isn't able to go 90 against Guatemala you bring in Goodson.
When 2013 rolls around, and assuming the U.S. is in the Hexagonal, Klinsmann can begin to seriously question what role Bocanegra should still have at his age, but we saw against Jamaica last month that he can absolutely still play at a good enough level to stay on the field for matches as important as the ones coming up later this month.
What do you think? Who would you start against Antigua & Barbuda? Would you start Bocanegra in both qualifiers, or would you split the starts beween Bocanegra and Goodson?
Share your thoughts below.