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USMNT’s centerback spots still up for grabs ahead of busy summer

Omar Gonzales

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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.”


  1. Cameron is new to the centerback position. He started out as a flank midfielder, then went to holding mid. He came to centerback late in his MLS career and then only in emergencies. He will never be able to develop the necessary instincts to be dependable at the position at international level. The Honduras loss was due to his indecision on the winning goal. It was a difficult play which required split second decision making that only comes from experience, which he did not have. Moreover, Stoke does not play him in the middle for the same reason, preferring his defensive abilities out on the flank, where mistakes are not as fatal.

    • Shchors,

      Watch the replay.

      The Honduras goal was a mistake by Cameron, Howard and Gonzo.

      Had any one of them done the right thing Honduras does not score..

      • I have to agree with Shchors. Cameron is a very good soccer talent that is versatile and a solid option at a high level if play at multiple positions. I am just not sure he is “great” at any of them. His coaches thru the years seem to have struggled with this as well, given his multiple position changes. He deserves to be starting … but where?

      • “deserves to be starting”?

        You can say he is good enough that he could be a starter somewhere else maybe but not at center back for Stoke.

        Pulis did not start him at center back because the guys in there were better than him.

        My guess is Pulis started Cameron at right back because he was better than whoever else was a candidate. Once that was no longer true Cameron stopped starting.

        In the articles I read Pulis was clearly impressed by Geoff’s versatility. Maybe he is a Man U. fan.

        Man U. has Jones and Smalling two versatile center backs by trade who also play at fullback and midfield. Before them Man U. had Wes Brown and John O’Shea, who were equally versatile.

        Cameron is in that same Swiss army knife, utility mode. None of those guys were stars but they got to play a long time so it can be a good career move to be versatile.

      • And chances are he always will be or at least until he starts to slow down at which point he will be confined most likely to center back.

  2. I don’t like Goodson being in this conversation. He played well in the snow game, but prior to that he had looked atrocious in several outings.

      • I am glad he is playing well now, but I have trouble trusting him after his very bad performances in the past.

      • Care to name me a player who has never had a bad stretch in his career?

        If we go by your criteria, no one in the current US pool should be there.

  3. I’d like to see it be a dog fight for the two positions between three players: Cameron, Gonzalez & Besler.

    While some have been pleased, impressed or simply content with Geoff Cameron playing at RB, I’m not among them. I feel his athleticism makes him a unique talent at the CB but a toothless attacker while playing RB. He doesn’t look nearly as comfortable playing on the outside while being on the ball or with his distribution. Additionally, if our RB pool are healthy and playing, I don’t consider him the #1, 2 or even 3 option at that position.

    I’m not attempting to count out Goodson at this point either but I feel like the three I mentioned project to Brazil AND past Brazil. I wouldn’t be surprised or disappointed if Clarence won one of the spots.

    With that said, I’m hoping we can see some more consistency, baring the health of the three I mentioned, to build the much needed chemistry and understanding of one another on our backline.

    If I had a choice, I’d pick Besler and Cameron for their comfort and distribution on the ball. Just a preference, though. Gonzalez is still a beast on set pieces but his ability to pass out of the back needs to continue improving.

    • I have to agree with you regarding Cameron….I too project him as more of a CB than a RB.
      I just wish he was receiving time there at his club. However, I don’t think that CB is currently as strong as those interviewed present it to be. I’m still not completely sold that Besler, Gonzalez, or Cameron have that it takes to anchor this team. And I would prefer if someone else stepped up (Brooks, John, Hines, or someone) to replace Goodson.
      RB is fairly deep when healthy with Dolo, Chandler, Cameron, Lichaj, and Parkhurst (even though I don’t like Parkhurst at the NT level). LB is looking good with Johnson, Castillo, Lichaj, and Beasley (emergency Only).
      As I see it our biggest problem is Wing Midfield/Wide Strikers. I hope that when the Gold Cup rolls around JK will bring in some options to press the issue with the current crop in camp. I’d like to see Bedoya, Donovan, Shea, and Gatt (maybe Diskerude) brought in to light a fire and add some much needed speed to this team.


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