The European season is just beginning, but the U.S. Men’s National Team has already been hit hard by injury issues.
John Brooks will once again miss out on crucial USMNT matches as a recent injury will rob him of three months. DeAndre Yedlin, the USMNT’s starting right back, might be joining him when September qualifiers roll around as he’s battling back from an injury of his own that has kept him out of the start of the Premier League season.
Replacing Brooks has been a problem that has been all too common throughout the past year or two. The defender has played in just three of the USMNT’s 14 matches this year, the first under Bruce Arena. He missed the USMNT’s big draw against Mexico due to an injury issue and, after sitting out the Gold Cup with the rest of the USMNT’s European core, he’ll miss out on the final four matches of World Cup qualifying.
Make no mistake: Brooks remains a primary option at centerback for the USMNT. Like virtually every USMNT player, he struggled last year against Mexico and Costa Rica, but his partnership with Geoff Cameron at the Copa America Centenario laid what appeared to be a foundation. Now, in the year or so since, that foundation hasn’t been built upon much due to absences with the two only playing together in central defense twice in 2017.
Just a few weeks out from qualifiers, the USMNT backline is in need of reshuffling. Jorge Villafana is a safe bet for left back while Geoff Cameron will likely be involved as well. The big question is where Cameron will be, though, given the injuries facing the U.S.
Arena deployed Cameron as a right back against Honduras in March as the U.S. cruised to a 6-0 win. You know what you’re going to get from Cameron: leadership out of the back and a steady defensive performance. If Arena is wary about throwing Graham Zusi in against Costa Rica’s speedy attackers, Cameron could play the position. That would, in theory, open the door for two of Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler and Tim Ream to battle it out at center back.
Gonzalez and Besler are a trusted pairing. They’ve done it before as a duo and they’ve done it recently as individuals. Gonzalez had his shaky moments at the Gold Cup, but was largely solid while Besler was routinely one of the USMNT’s most dependable players during the summer tournament. Arena can have confidence in Gonzalez and Besler, and confidence is key.
Ream, though, is a wildcard in some ways. He’s been very, very good for Fulham since the start of 2017 and recently turned in a star performance to start the Championship season. His value has always been as a good depth option as a centerback or left back, but he’s certainly in the conversation for a bigger role as the World Cup approaches. There are obviously other candidates like Matt Miazga and Matt Hedges, but Gonzalez, Besler and Ream seem the favorites.
If Arena does go with Cameron at centerback, he will need to decide who to pair him with. If he opts to go lefty on the left, Besler is the choice while Ream also fits the criteria. However, as of now, Besler is likely slightly ahead. Gonzalez is probably ahead of both when it comes to the general depth chart, but a recent injury issue of his own could throw a wrench in Arena’s plans.
With all of that in mind, the next few weeks will be big for several defenders in the USMNT pool. With Brooks out and Yedlin potentially joining him, there will be some reshuffling, and that reshuffling could provide several players with big chances less than one year away from the World Cup.
Who do you want to see start in the USMNT defense? What’s your ideal backline for September qualifiers?
Share your thoughts below.