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USMNT Daily Update: The defender pool may look thin, but there is plenty of talent in the pipeline


For the better part of a decade, Steve Cherundolo and Carlos Bocanegra have been key figures for the U.S. Men’s National Team, but now as both have moved past 30 and closer to the end of their careers we are faced with the harsh reality that there haven’t been all that many players to emerge in recent years to pose serious challenges to their positions.

Because of that, we haven’t seen all that many new challengers, and new faces to earn enough looks to be serious contenders for their places. Yes, we have seen some players like Geoff Cameron and Michael Parkhurst emerge as viable options for centerback and right back just this year, but there is still very much a sense that the player pool, at least at those positions, is very shallow.

Timmy Chandler looked like he might emerge as Cherundolo’s clear-cut successor, but that was before he suddenly decided he was too busy to play for the national team. Bocanegra hasn’t even had that brief luxury, and is therefore still serving as a regular starter even as his skills and speed diminish.

So where exactly are the centerbacks and right backs to step in and fill the void once Cherundolo and Bocanegra are no longer viable options? There are actually several young defenders developing into solid pros, and it is a very good bet that a few of them will emerge in the next year or two to challenge for the thrones currently being held by the veterans who are just about ready to call it a national team career.

So who are the players coming up to challenge for those places? Here is a look at 11 centerbacks and 11 fullbacks, all 25 or younger and none of which have played a single minute for the national team in 2012 (NOTE- I included Alfredo Morales and Tim Ream to the original 20-player list). Any one of the 22 could step up to be national team regulars between now and the 2014 World Cup, and beyond.



Omar Gonzalez. Would likely have already been in the national team mix if not for a torn ACL suffered in January. Boasts good size, underrated technical ability and a nose for goal. Has it all to become a national team starter.

Tim Ream. A national team starter in the 2011 Gold Cup, Ream has seen his career take a bit of a detour after Bolton’s relegation and his early-season benching this season. He’s still a talented left-footed centerback who is one of the best passers in the pipeline, but he needs to get his club career settled before he can mount a serious national team comeback.

A.J. Soares. One of the more underrated centerbacks in MLS,  in part because of the lack of success of his team (New England Revolution), Soares boasts strength, good quickness, sharp technical ability and two good feet. Coaches around the league love his skill set and it’s only a matter of time before he gets a call-up.

Matt Besler. Talented and left-footed, Besler is a steady force on Major League Soccer’s toughest defense. Jurgen Klinsmann has already taken notice of is solid all-around game, having made him an alternate for recent national team matches.

George John. Took a step back in 2012 because of injuries, but John remains a serious prospect. Combining good size and technical skill, John might need a strong 2013 to get himself back on the national team radar, but he has the tools to definitely merit a look from Klinsmann.

Matt Hedges. The FC Dallas rookie has really emerged as a force at centerback, and while he may still need to get a bit stronger, he boasts good height (6-foot-4) with great feet for a big man. He plays like a smaller player, in part because of a late growth spurt, and he’s improving at an impressive rate (and he’s only 22).

Austin Berry. While he is the front-runner for MLS Rookie of the Year, Berry ranks behind Hedges on the long-term prospect list because he’s two years older and isn’t as technically skilled as Hedges. That said, he is mature beyond his years, dominant in the air and already plays the position like a seasoned veteran.

John Anthony Brooks. The youngest centerback on this list at 19, Brooks is breaking through at Hertha Berlin and is starting to grow into his frame to a point where he should soon start drawing attention from national team coaches. While the 2014 World Cup is probably too ambitious for Brooks, he’s definitely a long-term prospect with the skills to be an eventual starter.

Amobi Okugo. Made the move from defensive midfield to centerback in the middle of the season with the Philadelphia Union and has blossomed at the position. Combining strength, outstanding athleticism and the feet and passing ability of a midfielder, Okugo could wind up be a revelation at centerback (assuming he stays there). Oh, and he’s still only 21.

Ike Opara. The forgotten man who once would have been near the top of this list a few years ago, Opara has endured injuries and a struggle for playing time on Supporters Shield-winning San Jose Earthquakes. That still doesn’t mean he can’t put it all together in the next two years to challenge for a national team call-up. Arguably the most athletic player on this list, Opara needs to stay healthy and earn a full-time spot and he could skyrocket up this list.

Chris Schuler. Much like Opara, Schuler has a tough time earning steady minutes on a stacked Real Salt Lake roster, but what he has shown when given the chance is a scary good set of skills to go with the strength and size you want in a centerback. When you’re 6-foot-4 and your coach shows enough confidence in your skills to play you at fullback, it shows just how talented Schuler is. He’s the oldest centerback on this list, but just turned 25 last month. Not exactly old.


Eric Lichaj. When you are playing well enough to earn minutes in the English Premier League in consecutive years you are doing something right. Klinsmann’s failure to call Lichaj up yet remains a bit of a mystery, but the fact remains he’s young, talented and versatile and is now looking like the best long-term option at right back in the pool (assuming Timmy Chandler never returns).

Chance Myers. Arguably the best young right back in MLS, Myers shook off some disappointing  early years in MLS to quickly become a force for Sporting KC’s stingy defense. With a great motor, solid defensive qualities and the ability to be a threat getting forward, Myers has played well enough to merit a look from Klinsmann next year.

Steven Beitashour. One of many players to blossom in 2012 on the San Jose Earthquakes, Beitashour has already caught Klinsmann’s attention with his speed and dangerous crosses from the right back position. At 25, he isn’t the youngest player on this list, but he’s clearly on the radar and has plenty of time to challenge for a place.

Tony Beltran. Often overshadowed by the other defenders on Real Salt Lake, Beltran is one of the most consistent defenders in MLS and steady force at right back.

Kevin Alston. Has seen his stock hurt by New England’s struggles, but after enduring some injuries and dips in form, Alston has enjoyed a solid season and has also flashed his versatility with a stint at left back instead of natural right back spot. His speed is a serious weapon and when he’s on, he’s as good as anyone on this list.

Justin Morrow. A left-footed defender versatile enough to play centerback or left back, Morrow has been very important to San Jose’s defense and is a viable option at left back on the national team level.

Alfredo Morales. Called up earlier in the year by Klinsmann, Morales is not cap-tied to the USA, and is eligible to play for Germany or Peru. Until he becomes a regular on the club level, and until he is cap-tied to the USA, he will remain someone who is promising but on the fringes of the USMNT radar.

Greg Garza. At 21, he’s the youngest fullback on this list, but he has shown in stints with Mexican leaders Club Tijuana that he is a very talented left back with a bright future.

Seth Sinovic. Not the flashiest fullback around, but his tireless work at left back is one of the key reasons Sporting KC can pressure teams into submission.

Connor Lade. The New York Red Bulls rookie has been used all over the field, impressing Thierry Henry enough to call him the team’s MVP. Most likely a right back on the international level, Lade’s lack of height (he’s 5-foot-5) is a hindrance for the international level. That said, there were plenty who questioned if he’d be too short for MLS too.


These aren’t all the quality young defenders in the pipeline (and we left out Chandler given his national team uncertainty), but this list provides evidence that the cupboard is far from bare. If players like Chandler and Morales and Sebastian Hines wind up being cap-tied to the USA in the coming years, things will look even brighter (but if Chandler has taught us anything, it’s that we are probably better off focusing our attention and energies towards players who are actually eligible and committed and tied to the USMNT already, rather than breathlessly following every player with any sort of tie to potential USMNT eligibility).

The players on this list may not all be ready to challenge right away for national team places, but as we draw closer to the 2014 World Cup, there is a good chance that the defenders who emerge to challenge for World Cup roster spots will come from this list.

What do you think of the defender talent pool? Which defenders do you see emerging as the best of the bunch?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. Greg Garza got a few games at LB for Tijuana because Edgar Castillo was injured. Otherwise he’s a midfielder now. I don’t think he’s good enough at either position to ever break into the national team, but he’s certainly not an international caliber left back and never will be given his lack of speed. He should be replaced on this list by Timmy Chandler (who is going to end up with us eventually, despite all the drama over the last year) or Zach Loyd. If GGarza ever even makes a US roster for a meaningless friendly I’ll eat an entire hat factory.

  2. What about Gale Agbalalassoumonde? He’s been hyped up so much on here and Bogsoccer. That means he has to be good! Don’t question it!

  3. Marvell Wynne and Kevin Alston are two of the worst soccer players in MLS. based on the fact they can not get ten juggles in a row they should never be called up to the national team. Only in america could two players be such gifted athletes but such bad players at the same time.

    • This is an old, tired tune, Mr. Turd. Nothing lamer than fans who call players bad or horrible or terrible because they are not the most technically gifted. Speed is a huge part of the game, and nobody on a back line anywhere has more than Wynne. You remind me of an old friend who called Janet Evans a terrible swimmer because her stroke was not textbook. She held multiple world records at the time. Terrible swimmer my a.. Marvell Wynne is a solid pro player, regardless of how many times he can juggle a ball

      • Cairo, your comment is a prevailing attitude in American soccer that is wrong 90% of the time. “He has speed, so he’s good” That works for football where you just catch a ball and run like crazy. I’ll take technical abilty over speed almost every time. I say almost, because you do have to have at least some pace, but being a track star isn’t worth anything on the pitch if you can’t kick the ball straight or make quick (correct) decisions in high pressure situations.

  4. I know they’re not “young” anymore (both are 28), but will there ever be any love for Frank Simek and Zak Whitbread? Frankie in particular – he’s healthy again, and he’s clearly playing below where he should be in League 1. Assuming he moves as deserved this off-season (or Carlisle gets promoted), would Klinsmann give him a shout?

  5. Another guy who will definitely be in the mix is Walker Zimmerman from Furman. Kid is only 19 right now but he’s SUPER legit and will probably be in either Europe or MLS a year from now. 6’4″, can jump through the rafters and dominate in the air, technically superb. If he’s not starting for the USMNT in 2-3 years I’ll eat my hat…kid is that good.

  6. Well, for me it always starts at who has the the combined defensive and technical skill set coupled with the high level international pace required. Who can actually hang with WC caliber attackers. After the depressing reality sets in, I work backwards from there to who is the closest player we have. The only newer fullbacks who can hold their own at a WC would be Johnson and Chandler. All the up and coming MLS CBs have either lack of international speed or reduced technical ability. With most of the CBs we’re on the road to Greg Berhalter, a very sound player but we need more than that. We need to be on the road to finding the American Maldini. Historically our youth development for defenders is poor. We didn’t value the same things that the top countries valued for players in their back lines. Basically put some of your most talented two way players in the back. In the short term for this cycle we need to groom D.Williams into a CB…he is the only player on the current roster that combines the skill set and international level pace to succeed at a WC. Otherwise JK will be forced to tactically compensate for the middle of our back line.

  7. Notice who is NOT on this list: Sarkodie, Kitchen and Valentin. Thanks Caleb Porter for failling!

    On to the future, i have heard Jurgen wants a lot of youth players in the January camp hope too see a lot of these guys there. No question it is the weak spot of the current USNT and some new players will be integrated before 2014, if thats not enough motivation what is

    • +2 but -1 for Beto.

      Porter calling up his Akron buddies Sarkodie and Valentin was a bad joke and hurt us in Olympic qualifying, if either one plays half a second for the USMNT I’ll eat my hat.

      Perry Kitchen is the real deal. He’s not on this list because he’s no longer being played out of position as a CB. He is a defensive midfielder, always has been, and he will be in the national team picture soon enough. I could see him as the #4 DM on out roster post World Cup behind captai MB-90, Holden, and Danny Williams.

  8. I totally agree with Ives on Lichaj. I’ve been impressed every time I’ve seen him. He’s a bull terrier! I’d also like to see Chandler come back in. I was impressed with his speed, power, ball skills and crossing ability. He makes us better.
    Of the CBs, I think J. A. Brooks has the greatest upside. I hope he chooses the US. Who is the young fullback from Wales who plays in England and is also US eligible?????

  9. I would love to see Sheanon Williams get a look at some point. Good pace and athleticism, aggressive and physical in the air, very sound defensively and good going forward. And considering he is still relatively new to the position, I am very optimistic about his future.

    • I’d also like to see Sheanon get into a camp and show Klinsy what he can do. I don’t know if hehas the quality that is needed at the internation level, but it sure wouldn’t hurt to give him a look – he’s got a lot of upside.

  10. Great discussion, and I want to add two names to the discussion, even as they don’t fit the under 25 and new to the ants category.

    1. Mo Edu–playing time at d mid is less available than ever, and he has the foot speed to play Klinsy’s high line. I think He will be a starter at center back in 2014

    1. I will get creamed for the second one. Who is perhaps the fastest American center back ever, and who won an MLS cup in his first season at the position? Who has started nearly every game at the position for his club for the past three years? Who has never gotten a look for the Nats AT THIS position? And all this as a 26 yr old (same as Cameron). Ladies and gents, I give you Marvell Wynne (excuse me now while I duck). With a very high line, I would love to have him tracking back instead of the big slow guys like Boca, Clarence, And Omar. On that busted line vs. Guatemala, he could have stopped for a sandwich and still caught Carlos Ruiz. Wish he would get a January camp invite, but I am perhaps the only one…

    • Wynne can provide cover for a high line, but he’s also prone to brain cramps and gets beaten too often for someone with real national team aspirations. Interesting thought though. He’s matured, but speed really is his only national team caliber quality.

      • You may be right, Ives, but I saw him live twice last year and his positioning as a center back was much improved. Three things make him worth a look in my mind. First, IF Klinsy’s is really committed to a high line, somebody back there has got to be really fast. There is no way that our big slow guys are going to be so disciplined that they never get beat over the top against teams with pace (Mexico, Honduras, for ex) . Second, Wynne got roasted by fans in his previous camp cupcake match appearances for positioning mistakes. Yet if you go back and watch, he cleaned virtually all of those mistakes up with his blinding pace. Nobody seems to remember that, for all the times he was beaten in those appearances, he corrected virtually all of them himself. Finally, he doesn’t have to hit crosses from center back. Just win balls, snuff out breakaways, and make simple passes.
        Not saying he is the best option, but I don’t understand why someone prone to similar brain farts, who lacks physicality and esp. Pace, and who is almost the same age (Ream) is more deserving of a look.

      • Ream gets more consideration because of his technical quality. Wynne is a terrible passer, has always had bad feet and that’s an issue for the style of soccer Klinsmann wants to play. Wynne may still only be 26, but he’s been a pro for how long now and is still now what he was as a youngster. A freakish athlete with very limited technical ability. He has matured as a player, and has improved, sure, and I’m not calling your idea completely crazy, but he’s pretty much the player he’s going to be. His upside isn’t what it once was.

    • Wynne plays like a robot cricket. Sure, he’s fast, but he’s more gangly than Peter Crouch’s cardboard cutout. We do not need any more of Marvell.

    • I’ve been advocating for Edu to drop to central defense for a couple years now. I think he’s good enough to hold his own there on the international stage, alongside a bonafide defender like Bocanegra or Goodson. I’m also intrigued at Cameron’s potential there but he’s apparently being shunted to right back at Stoke.

  11. Strongly disagree.

    Take away Lichaj and all the rest are marginal players at the nat level at best.

    We already know Omar is too slow, John not technical enough, and now Bolton realized what we all already new…Ream is a defender who is terrible at defending.

    Hoping we find some hiding in Germany

    • Funny how people are hoping we can find middling players hiding in Germany that we can take to the WC to take on Germany on the theory that they are better than MLS players. Don’t be so sure.

      How does the USA, with an imputed ranking of, say, 16 in the world (based on making the knockout round in the WC, which is considered a realistic ambition) beat anybody with players from Germany who are not even on Germany’s Nat Team depth chart? The math doesn’t compute for me.

      Oh, wait, it is the style of play?

      • In theory, you would be right,
        In reality the proof says otherwise.
        Fabian Johnson and Chandler are heads and shoulders above every other fb option in the US with Lichaj a distant 3rd.
        Brooks is just as good a prospect as any of those named with probably the highest ceiling.
        And Boyd is the top striker prospect going forward.
        Can we beat Germany using essentially they 3rd team?
        but the US developmental system sucks, the proof is in the pudding Too many years of run as fast as you can and shoot and pass.there is NO ONE in MLS right now to get excited about.
        The lone exception is maybe Zusi who had two good games against low tier teams and one mariginal game.

  12. P.S. Ives, have you considered throwing a few social sharing buttons (twitter, FB, etc.) on these articles? Lots of good stuff on here that people will probably share happily if it’s as easy as one-click of the mouse. Just a thought.

  13. So if we were wagering guesses who do we see in November’s friendly and who gets called into January Camp?

    I can’t think many MLS guys play in the friendly because most of them will be involved in the playoffs still.

      • But, yeah, of the MLS guys who’ve played WCQ this year

        LAG — Donovan
        SJE — Wondo, Gordon
        RSL — Beckerman, Rimando
        SEA — Johnson
        SKC — Zusi

        2 teams in the West will be eliminated. SKC is probably still playing in the semis.

    • I just don’t see Klinsmann turning to a 30+ year old centerback who hasn’t been part of his mix before and who isn’t exactly known for being a strong technical player. Klinsmann wants defenders who can play the ball out of the back. Not sure DeMerit can be considered that kind of defenders.

  14. Most logical candidates for possibly making the 2014 WC roster:

    1. Gonzo
    2. Besler
    3. Brooks
    4. John
    5. Berry
    6. Hines

    Personally I think the 4 Cb’s will be Cameron, Boca, Brooks, Gonzo.

    • People should not be getting their hopes up for John Anthony Brooks for at least probably three or four years. He has not been involved in with US youth teams for over two years and is now integrated into Germany’s youth teams. He probably would not consider the USMNT unless at some point in the future Germany is no longer interested in him.

      • I think “integrated” is a bit of a stretch, but I am interested to know more about his situation. Does anyone have additional insight?

      • Additionally:

        -He’s a pretty raw prospect on a 2. Bundesliga side.
        -Germany’s youth talent pool is probably deeper than it ever has been.
        -From what I understand, the U-20 national teams in European countries generally consist of marginal players.

        I think JAB still will play for us. Hopefully JK gives him a look soon.

      • He has already stated that he prefers the U.S. over Germany. And it is a bit of a stretch to say he is being integrated into Germany’s youth teams.

      • Not denying that, but I would interested to know, 2tone, when did he say that? Was it recently or long ago? And let’s not forget, Timothy Chandler last year also was saying he had no desire to play for Germany but changed his mind and Germany is now, no can deny, his first choice. Too bad for Timmy, he is currently playing like cr*p and not even close to a Germany call-up.

  15. I’ll toss in another name — a long way to go and it’s not clear yet if’s a centerback or a d-mid, but he made some big strides this year and he was a good performer at US youth level:

    Conor Shanosky.

    You can’t teach his height at center back and his midfield skills would serve him well in distributing the ball. I haven’t seen mim play this year, but he got rave reviews at Ft. Lauderdale and also looked good when he returned to United and played with the reserves recently. He hasn’t even played in an MLS game, so I understand it’s premature to talk him up for the national team. I’m just saying keep an eye on the kid because, in a few years, he might leapfrog some of the names on the list.

    • Shanosky hasn’t impressed in reserve games, he just looks gangly and unsure out there. I hope for good things (would love to see BMac replaced) but not sure if he’ll really cut it

  16. Lade may not be tall but that’s only an inch shorter than Dolo and about the same height as Messi.

    While I don’t think he’ll ever be like Messi… height isn’t everything.

    • In defense height is something, especially at the international level. I can’t recall a 5’5 defender in recent memory who actually performed well internationally.

    • Promising young talent, but he has a way to go. Brooks was the only teenager to make this list, but he’s further along as a pro IMO. Packwood is a 2018 kid if he stays on track, but anyone suggesting he’s close to being the finished product is way ahead of themselves.

      • Agreed. Brooks is already playing like a champ in a very physical league. I think at 19, his size and athleticism pushes him above other teen prospects. With consistent playing time from here until 2014, I can easily see him in Brazil. We’ve seen plenty of defenders in their 20s anchoring defenses so long as they have a veteran next to them. Hopefully Cameron can become that veteran.

        I expect to see Brooks off the bench against Russia.

      • Not saying that Brooks isn’t ahead of Packwood, but it’s not as though Packwood hasn’t also earned playtime in “a very physical league”.

  17. What happened the Zach Lloyd, I was really impressed with him the past couple seasons but this year he kind of faded off the radar.
    My thoughts on players are this, no need to rush out of MLS unless your on a poor team that will stagnate or slow your development, aimed more at players on Dallas and the Revolution for example.

    • Loyd is a decent player, extremely athletic, but from a technical standpoint and tactical intelligence standpoint he has some improving to do. Also remember he played in the beginning of the year with the USMNT so that disqualifies him from the particular category of player I put together here (25 or younger and haven’t played a minute in 2012 for the USMNT). Klinsmann definitely got a look at him, and there’s no reason to think he couldn’t earn another look.

      • I think Loyd’s form dipped in the early part of the season, and it took a while for him to recover it. It wasn’t really until the last 10 games of the season that I saw the version of Loyd that earned those national team callups. I’d be surprised if he’s never invited into another national team camp, I’m just saying that it wasn’t a great season for him. He’s got great feet, good athleticism (great in the air for a guy his size), high workrate, he’s not afraid to take people on and get down the wing (though his services into the box aren’t the best), and he’s absolutely fearless.

  18. I think of the list above, clearly Gonzalez is the clear favorite to impress. However, we have to remember that Gonzalez was mysteriously left off the first few rosters for Klinsman and that brought about a lot of head scratching until he was finally called in early this year only to see his injury scuttle that opportunity.

    After that Besler and George John intrigue me and the “potential” of Brooks seems encouraging, but one thing all of these players (aside from Brooks) have in common is average at best foot speed. While foot speed isn’t the end all to be all for a central defender, it certainly helps when the rest of the region has players that seem to get behind the glacial back line of the US with ease.

    • Ike Opara is very fast and Schuler has good speed for his size. Ultimately it’s not easy finding fast centerbacks. It’s not like Mexico’s centerbacks are track stars either, but their technically sound. Cameron brings speed to the table but he needs to sharpen his field awareness, something that comes with reps at centerback, which he isn’t getting now unfortunately. On this list I’d say I’m not sure any of these guys are flat-out slow, but no, not many can count speed as a major strength.

      • perhaps. I only recall him playing in one game and he looked nervous.

        would like to see a confident and healthy Omar Gonzalez get a shot at the team. will say it again…he’s the best high line CB in the pool and would fit nicely with Klinsmann’s preferred style of play while matching up well in our region. Paired with the right speedier partner in the middle, many answers to the mystery could be found there. He’s also the physical presence missing since Gooch both in the air and in general in both areas

  19. What’s up with Gale Agbossoumonde?

    I know about the problems with finding a team (thanks Traffic) and staying healthy, but will he ever figure in the mix?

    • He needs to sort out his club situation. Playing in a lower division helped him get some playing time, but he needs to sign with MLS or a European club where he can actually play. He’s still very young and has potential, but at a certain point he needs to actually get on the field for a first division team and play regularly. Until then, he’s not on the radar.

      • I see Gale A. as one of the missing links. He was supposed to be the guy to step up from the age groups to the seniors, and he does even have that one senior cap reflecting their encouragement along those lines.

        But he can’t do it if he’s not playing.

        Along those lines, I think MLS is his only smart choice. Having bounced around Europe and finally gotten regular PT at Carolina, there is “flush your career” potential in going back to Europe. We’re talking someone who was on the U20 at 17, but then completely blew the “Olympic” team, which was bereft of decent defending. How bad do you have to be to not beat out that bunch?

        So I think he needs to dial down the ambition, accept the fact that a MLS contract would bind him til 23-24, and do the hard work of converting potential to production. If he does that, as with players like Cameron or Dempsey, he can either dial up the MLS salary demands or convert the demonstrated CV into a European deal that he can control.

      • FWIW, if he truly dominated in MLS, at the level of the old hype, I think he could at least edge into the periphery of the USMNT pool come Brazil time. I mean, I doubt JK is doing more than penciling players into that CB spot, waiting for someone to step up and earn an ink pen or marker write-in to the lineup. That particular spot is enough of a wilderness where someone from nowhere blowing our doors off could probably walk into at least the bench if not the lineup.

      • Gale has the tools to be special, but he’s far too raw to develop between now and Brazil. He’s wasted far too much time these past few years. Could he be a starter come 2018? Sure, but 2014 might be unrealistic at this point.

      • So who’s The Imperative Voice and why does Ives comment on all of his comments?

        Just be patient with me Ives, my next comment will be so pointed and thoughtful
        that you’ll have no choice but to respond.

      • I basically agree but was just saying the overall situation was such that if he got situated right and started playing like a house afire, he doesn’t have a lot of quality incumbents in his way at CB. Nor does anyone on your list for that matter. If anyone would step up it’s theirs for the taking.

        But then, this could have been said of Cameron when Ream was getting calls, etc. Shallow end of that pool, that spot.

  20. How does Josh Gatt work into this? Or does he count more as a midfielder since he plays wing for Molde a lot, like right now when he’s playing Right Wing I think….

    Is Klinsmann over the Chandler experiment all together? Because we sure as hell could have used him for either Left Back, Right Mid or sub for Right Back when Dolo was getting tired and burned on a crappy A&B field….

    • As for Chandler, I think JK calls him in for Jan. If he accepts you bring him in for the next qualifier. If he turns that down. I would call the Chandler experiment a bust. But thats just me.

      • He would be in season in January and not available to come in. Jones came in for 2012 because he was suspended.

    • well if you believe Chandler, he called Jurgen to tell him his form has been awful and he needs to practice and figure his form out.

    • Gatt only works as a RB because of his insane speed. Defensively, even in Norway he’s very suspect. He’s a winger or winged forward in the mold of Donovan.

  21. Great post. Now it’s up to JK to intergrate some of these guys into the NT. Still have no clue as why JK did not call up back up during the last two games.

  22. He might not be “young” but I feel like Josh Williams has been excellent in his first season as a starter with the Crew. He deserves a look.

    • Definitely like what I’ve seen from Williams (he’s been a regular on my fantasy team most of the season. haha). Still a bit raw, but you have to like the athleticism and ability to get forward. He’s on the fringes, but needs another strong season before he breaks through this list IMO.

  23. Lichaj is the only one off the list that I have seen play in a dominant way, and that was with the USMNT. So I grant you that one.

    But when I’ve worried about what’s flowing through the pipeline behind the current team, I think the worry is whether there are excellent players a la Boca Pope Dolo, not just decent options who max out at the level of the people already playing for and frustrating us now…..Goodson, Cameron, et al.

    Personally, I think the wingback issue can be solved through health and calling Lichaj and calming Chandler. But CB is basically a fading Boca and then a bunch of iffys, and there are not pre-existing senior options that can fix the problem, and the pipeline list doesn’t sound like they are more than depth. Opara and Okugo were on that U23 team that got their tails kicked. I don’t know if I’d be relying on that quality of player to fix the senior issues. I mean, my basic concern is whether that U23 side progresses up to senior level and either gives us nothing or mediocrity.

    • True, our D is fading and there is not a “star”/dominent player coming up. But we have a year and a half for a few of these guys to step it up. If the WC was this summer I would be worried. But it is not so lets let JK do his magic (I hope there is some left).

    • Players just don’t fall out of bed and become a star centerback. They develop into that. No, there isn’t someone who looks like they’re ready to be Nemanja Vidic or Gerard Pique, but there are several promising centerbacks. I’d argue there are more promising young American centerbacks now than there have ever been.

      Opara struggled with the U-23s, but he also hadn’t played regularly at all and came off an injury-plagued season. That lack of playing time cost him. As for Okugo, he didn’t play centerback with the U-23s, so pointing him out isn’t really fair.

      You can’t just look at the U-23 team and assume that’s all there is. Matt Hedges is a very promising player who wasn’t called into that team. Soares and Besler are both very good but were barely too old to be in the mix (otherwise you can rest assured both would have started on that team). John Anthony Brooks wasn’t quite ready physically to be a part of of that U-23 team, but he’s continued to grow and progress and he’s got a very bright future.

      If you’re waiting for a star centerback worth an eight-figure transfer to show up one day, that’s not happening any time soon, but there are several young talents who have the tools to be solid, and if the USMNT can build a solid (though not world-beating) D to play behind an attack that has the chance to develop into a pretty dangerous bunch) then there’s hope.

      • If you look at the backs, Boca was capped by 22, Dolo was capped at 20, and Chandler was capped at 21. Johnson was 23. Pope back in the day was 23. We didn’t have to wait on these guys, and they to me are the superior players in the pool. We probably didn’t have to wait because it was imemdiately evident how good they were.

        I could broaden the discussion from there to Donovan (18), Jozy (18), Dempsey (21), etc. At the better-stocked positions, there are already “studs in waiting”: U23s Johnson and Hamid in goal, 22-y/o Corona; Shea who was first called up at 20; Boyd (21); Agudelo was first called up at 18. Where is the defensive equivalent?

        I’m sorry, the U20 and U23 issues are not just random age group problems, it really reflects that while the pipeline is producing plenty of attacking candidates, people can’t name a single can’t miss defender coming up the pike. We can name quite a few “he could be alrights,” but as far as I’m concerned the top-end talent is what separates us from being Canada or the rest of the pack.

        FWIW, on defense, a lot of the older caps are the more worrisome ones. Goodson emerged at 26. Cameron was 25.

        Oh, it’s entirely possible that some guys will step up on defense and grow into decent NT players. But like I was saying, the difference between us and most CONCACAF sides has been the sheer volume of studs we produce. If the defensive, and particularly CB, pipeline deteriorates to the point where it’s just the best guys in MLS and from random foreign leagues, that’s not what made us an elite squad, and it may start to erode the ease of WC qualifying.

      • Was anybody calling Cherundolo a “can’t-miss defender” when he was 20 or even 22? How about a 22-year-old Eddie Pope? Carlos Bocanegra was a strong rookie, but I don’t really recall him being considered can’t miss early on. If he had, he would have made the 2002 World Cup roster as a 23-year old. He didn’t. Cherundolo made the 2002 team at 23, but he was an injury alternate who never saw the field.

        You really seem to have this notion of a USMNT centerback pipeline producing studs for years when that simply hasn’t been the case. Post-1994 how many truly outstanding centerbacks have their been? Not that many. That’s not a new development. It’s not some trend hitting the pool now. Pope really broke out at the age of 23, but he’s the best U.S. defender of the modern era. He was a special case. Oguchi Onyewu had the makings of a special player around 2005, and had a nice run, but was he being called world class? And Bocanegra has been solid for the national team, but he’s spent much of his time in Europe playing as a fullback and would never really be called a dominant centerback.

        I agree with you that it’s troubling that younger prospects haven’t already been integrated into the national team in central defense in recent years, and yes, it would certainly be better to have two established 23-24 year olds starting regular in a top European league, but when has the USMNT had that? I think Bob Bradley was aware of this issue and had identified Tim Ream and Omar Gonzalez as player he was going to integrate into the rotation, but then Klinsmann came along and shook things up.

        Central defense isn’t going to be a strength of the 2014 World Cup team, but I do think there are enough prospects at centerback and fullback to mine for some useful options between now and then. The 2002 team had one top centerback on the squad in Pope. I think the odds are in favor of there being at least one quality international centerback to emerge in the next two years. Maybe I’m more optimistic than you, but I’ve watched these guys pretty closely and think there’s lots of talent there.

      • Excellent points. I would add that we’re actually beginning to edge into the territory where we should expect some obvious 20-22 year old prospects–at all positions–to get time with the full team and see minutes in friendlies.

        Obviously the calendar makes that tough now, but that’s what I think of the pool. Nothing too glaring except player selection, IMHO.

      • You miss the central point about the USMNT talent pool in general.

        There are no superstars or even Donovan types that are evident at this point but there is a lot of good young, talented raw material.

        Where they go from here depends on how their club careers progress and since it seems that US players have greater opportuniites now than in the past to get that development, time will tell.

        Donovan remains the only obvious young superstar who panned out; the rest had to work their way up at the club level. National teams do not develop stars, clubs do.

    • I agree to an extent that we don’t seem to currently have any star CBs in our pipeline, but good enough might be better than half-blind and one-legged. During the last World Cup, some of the CBs didn’t seem fit enough to do any 1 on 1 defending. Of course both Demerit and Gooch were playing over Goodson, so maybe we are in trouble.

    • interestingly, I rate the prospects oppositely on the backline, with the CB prospect list higher than the list of outside backs. but any of them could emerge since so many are still so young. the next few months, now is the time for all of this to occur, to check some of them out and integrate

    • This is his very first year actually getting some first-team PT. Let the kid develop. Just think far too many young prospects get pumped up and portrayed as better than they actually are at the moment. Cunningham could one day be on a list like this, but he’s not there right now.

      • Sorry Ives, but a good number of your listed prospects are rookies so not including Cunningham because this is only his first full season is a mystery. Especially as he played a little last year too.

        Cunningham deserves to be on this list.

      • Josh, you can feel free to put him on any list you choose to make. He’s an intriguing prospect but simply put a half season of worth of starts in Norway does not make you a national team prospect just yet (and not among this group of centerbacks). I’ve spoken to people who have seen him play and at his age he’s definitely got potential, but he’s still raw. Cunningham played sparsely last year (a few cup games for Molde) and his loan stint to Staebak is his first run of games at any level above high school. The rookies I have included, Hedges, Berry and Connor Lade, are all older players who spent four years playing college soccer and are all about to finish a full season playing in MLS (Berry and Lade with good teams). I suppose you can make an argument that Greg Garza doesn’t have many pro games, but he’s a true fullback. Cunningham projects as a centerback and he’s just not close to the group listed above just yet.

        Does Cunningham have more upside than a Lade? Sure, I’d agree there, but I’m not putting him on this list just yet because he simply hasn’t done enough, and as I stated early, he doesn’t project as an international fullback. Just because some folks have talked him up for ages doesn’t mean he’s there just yet. I get that you rate him now, but I don’t rate him as a top prospect on the verge of the national team. Will that change a year or two from now? Sure, if he keeps progressing, and breaks through at Molde, but for now I’m not buying into the hype because folks like you are already totally convinced.

      • I love ya Ives but I have to agree with the others on this one. Prospect typically means unproven and raw. So I would say he should be on this list. But it’s not my list so it’s all fair.

      • Did Jurgen really have input into that decision? I thought that was all Porter, and we can mostly agree that Porter greatly misused his assets during the ill fated OQ campaign.

      • Didn’t mean to get personal Ives.. Thanks for the reply.

        And aren’t prospects “hype”? I know Cunningham is raw, but we’re talking prospects here which tend to be raw.

        And as you said, Cunningham went straight from high school to Molde where he has seen a decent amount of time for his age and he has seen even more time his second year as a professional while on loan.

        Sean is 19 years old and already has the physical attributes. He’ll be 21 for the World Cup. Of all positions, sideback is the area of the pitch you can rely on youth.

        “Folk like me” are not totally convinced, but when you put out a list of prospects, I figured a 6’2, 19 year old LEFT sideback playing his second season as a professional, getting solid minutes, and in the few games I’ve seen looking sharp, deserves a place alongside your MLS rookies.

        It’s your list, I was just offering a comment.

      • Didn’t take it as personal Josh, nothing wrong debating.

        You’re overstating Cunningham’s playing time at Molde. Getting a few cup games for Molde isn’t really “a decent amount of time” for a pro. it’s a decent amount of time for a raw and very young teenager, sure, I’ll agree, but he really didn’t play that much. Forward to this year, he’s gotten some steady time, but getting minutes for the worst team in Norway isn’t really telling me he’s close to ready for the national team. Sorry man but that is a HUGE jump. Let the kid show something on the youth national team side, or with a better team, and then we’ll talk.

        The list above wasn’t a list of “hey, who might be on the team in the 2018 World Cup” or a “Let’s think about really long-term prospects” list. It’s a list of players who could be close to the national team in the immediate future. Is EVERY guy on the list a strong candidate? Maybe not, but they’re all more advanced from a maturity and physical standpoint than Cunningham is. He’s very raw, has some promising tools, but is very raw. Maybe you just don’t have much respect for MLS, but I’ll tell you that being a regular defender for a good MLS team is more impressive than being a regular defender on the worst team in Norway.

        Again, this isn’t to say Cunningham won’t eventually develop into a player. He’s a good young prospect, and his career is off to a promising start, but he isn’t going to develop enough in the year and a half between now and the World Cup to make the national team. I’ll take any odds you want to give me that this won’t happen.

        Is it good that a left-footed teenage defender is getting games in Europe? Sure, but that doesn’t mean he’s ready or close to ready for the national team. Not even close. And no, it’s not hating on Cunningham, it’s being realistic about where he stands right now.

        I know you’re a long-time reader Josh, and I’ll never have a problem with some good back-and-forth. I respect your opinion even if I disagree and think it’s totally misguided. Haha 😉

    • You see that picture right there depicts the perfect foul. You can’t use your hands like that to push away an opponent. But this is never, ever called.

  24. fantastic article! please do one on attacking midfielders and wingers next!

    Sometimes I wish US Soccer would do a “Stars vs. Stripes” weekend tourney during camp cupcake in January. Bring in enough players to field four teams (plus subs) of established players and pipeline prospects. It would be such a great way to get all the players in one place and might be great fun for the fans to watch that much young and established talent on display. Do it in FLA or SoCal and make it a vacay destination for soccer junkies.

    • +1
      I totally agree. AJ plays up to the level of those around him and doesn’t know the meaning of the word “quit”. Would love to see him in the January call-up to prove his potential.

    • Where will he play for the USMNT? He’s not a centerback and as a fullback he just doesn’t look like a viable option. Love him as an MLS defender, just don’t see him long-term being an option on the national team. Not ahead of any of these players listed.

      • Totally agree with you, Ives. AJ is a good guy, workman-like. Not terribly fast, certainly not big, and doesn’t have the smarts (a la Parkhurst) to make up for those misgivings. I like the guy (I’m a Galaxy fan), but he’s not an international quality option.

        By the way, neither are some of these on the list, but I totally get why AJ is left off.

      • I have always said he would make a fantastic CDM. His work rate and energy has no equal, he has an amazing foresight to always be at the right place at the right time, making amazing challenges and tackles. At CDM his height won’t be as much as a problem if he has a bigger guy next to him

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