Photo by ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
CLEVELAND – It may not have been ideal for U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann to field three different pairings at centerback through the first three World Cup qualifiers in the Hexagonal, but it may have just worked out in the team’s favor.
Competition for the two starting centerback spots is at an all-time high under Klinsmann and that seems to bode well as the Americans prepare to face Belgium at FirstEnergy Stadium on Wednesday in the first of what will be a grueling stretch of five matches in the coming weeks. With so many games on tap, the depth at the position could be tested and the U.S. is confident that any of Geoff Cameron, Omar Gonzalez, Clarence Goodson and Matt Besler will be able to get the job done if and when their numbers are called given their recent outings in qualifying.
“Centerback has been a strong position for a long time,” Goodson told SBI. “When Jay (DeMerit) was still here, when Oguchi (Onyewu) was still here, Carlos (Bocanegra) is still around; it’s always been a very strong position for us and now we have the next crop of young guys coming up and they’re all very talented players.
“It’s very good for our national team to be able to have so many players that can step in and do a good job. Maybe they don’t have so many caps, but they have proven that they can step in and do a good job in big games.”
Gonzalez and Besler were the duo that most recently started, helping the U.S. post a cleansheet en route to securing a point from a scoreless draw at Estadio Azteca in March. But of the two, Gonzalez seems like the only sure bet to start against Belgium.
The 24-year-old LA Galaxy defender is the only one of the four U.S. centerbacks to have started in all three of the matches in this final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying and Klinsmann has not been short of praise on the 6-foot-5 Gonzalez, who has just six caps to his name. That makes it all the more likely that he will continue his learning process at the international level against a talented Belgian side on Wednesday.
“Those qualifiers that I have been a part of, first of all, have been a great test for me and they have been against great opponents as well,” said Gonzalez. “This is a different kind of caliber, seeing that the game is just a friendly, but you still want to put in good performances and get a good result. It’s going to be a good challenge.”
No matter who starts at centerback for the Americans, there is no denying that the lack of cohesion through the opening months of 2013 has left for a lot to be desired in terms of chemistry. Besler even admitted as much on Tuesday, though he added that it is a positive for the U.S. to have players on the bench who were recently thrown into the fire.
“The qualifying, year-and-a-half, is a long (process), so there’s a lot of injuries, yellow cards, you name it,” said Besler. “Mexico was a great example: A guy went down with an injury and the next guy had to come in and perform.”
Cameron, who served as a right back in the last two U.S. qualifiers, agreed that that flexibility and depth can only help the Americans as they prepare for a stretch of games that ends with three important World Cup qualifiers.
“Getting comfortable with one another, no matter who plays in what position, everybody can fill in and not miss a beat,” said Cameron. “I think that’s why Jurgen is switching it up and changing different guys in different positions because, you never know, that’s what could happen in the World Cup, guys come down with injuries, this and that. A guy comes in and (you) don’t miss a beat.”