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Sizing up the USMNT central defender options vs. Mexico

Matt Besler USMNT 45

photo by Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports


Jurgen Klinsmann might not be able to call in all of his top players for the upcoming friendly against Mexico, but there will still be no shortage of options for him to choose from at centerback.

The U.S. Men’s National Team will take on its next challenge in the build-up to this summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup title defense when it hosts Mexico next Wednesday at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. The match falls outside of FIFA’s international calendar, but Klinsmann is expected to be able to count on Liga MX- and MLS-based players. That will give him plenty to consider, even if New England Revolution veteran Jermaine Jones and D.C. United youngster Steve Birnbaum are still sidelined through injuries.

Some of the things Klinsmann will have to think about for this one-off match vs. El Tri is if he wants to continue to give looks to newcomer Ventura Alvarado or if he wants to trot out the World Cup tandem of Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez. Another thing Klinsmann has hinted at in recent days is continued experimentation, which could open the door for someone like uncapped Sporting Kansas City defender Ike Opara.

Who will Klinsmann choose from? Here’s a closer look at the U.S. coach’s options for the upcoming match with Mexico.:


After making public comments that contradicted Klinsmann’s about fitness, it remains to be seen whether or not Besler returns to the fold. He – like a bunch of MLS-based regulars – was passed over in the last camp and told SBI at the time that he had not spoken to Klinsmann prior to the March friendlies. Besler, for his part, has been playing well for Sporting KC as of late and is still among the most experienced options in the pool, so Klinsmann may be keen on bringing him back into the mix.


He has not played for the U.S. since Landon Donovan’s international finale in October, so Klinsmann will likely want to take a closer look at the LA Galaxy defender. Gonzalez continues to be an every-game starter at the club level, and, like Besler, boasts plenty of experience after being a lineup fixture last cycle. He seems a lock for a call-in.


The Puebla defender showed well in two starts last month, and that might warrant another long look from Klinsmann. Orozco has not always been so convincing, but his defending was sound and his passing was crisp and accurate against Denmark and Switzerland. He is not as physically gifted as some of the other options available, but does offer the type of composure on the ball that Klinsmann prefers.


After making his debut with two substitute appearances in March, Alvarado could earn another call-up against the nation he decided not to play for. Alvarado showed some positive things in March’s friendlies, but still looked like a player adjusting to the speed of play at the international level. Klinsmann, however, is not one afraid to throw players into the deep end to see if they can swim, so Alvarado could be a surprise starter in this one if summoned.


Arguably the best defender in MLS right now, Opara has been playing lights out for Sporting Kansas City. He has yet to be called in by Klinsmann, and the U.S. head coach may want to give Opara his first camp invite to see how he fits into the team and its setup. Combing blazing speed with freakish athleticism, Opara has a unique skill set that no other central defender in the pool has and that might be too tempting to pass over as Klinsmann continues to gauge players.


Given his first cap during this year’s winter camp, Hedges should be in contention after helping to lead FC Dallas to a strong start in the MLS season. He’s been playing well for club, and Klinsmann may want to see Hedges for more than the 18 minutes he played against Panama. The 25-year-old defender is still inexperienced at this level, but Klinsmann’s willingness to experiment even at the cost of results bodes well for Hedges like it does for Opara.


  1. while it would seem likely that Besler and Orozco will be paired, you have to wonder about the aerial ability in that combo. maybe Omar will get the nod over Orozco to show he deserves to start over Orozco once the full team gets together. JAB is the LCB and so Besler is just there to fill a gap for this camp. i think the real battle is for RCB.

    like others have said, RB is up in the air for this game. but with Orozco and Alvarado capable, I expect one of them to play there. if I had to guess, the backline will be:


  2. The game’s in Texas. We want Hedges. His 20 minute stint at RB was ludicrous. Ike Opara? No. Let’s get the guy who has been performing at MVP level for years instead of a month.

    • +1, all this Opara hype came out of nowhere…I don’t think it’s undeserved but form is no indicator of overall quality. Let him play the rest of the year with no distractions and call him up in January…if he finishes 2015 well and starts 2016 the same way, then by all means call him up.

  3. Since it takes professional club teams something like 9 games for a revamped defense to perform at its best, it is unlikely that the US will have the best performing back line possible even in the finals of the GC unless JK reverts to players who already have experience playing together.

    It is not so much that the defenders cannot learn intellectually what to do in various situations in a much shorter time frame, but the speed with which they coordinate their efforts and cover for each other is something that takes time to develop. (It is unclear if experience playing together a year ago hastens the learning curve or not, since the intellectual part is not so much the issue as is the instinctual response to help each other.)

    That said, at this point, JK cannot pick Brooks, Jones or Ream for Mexico even though he seems to like Jones and Brooks. JK does also seem to like athletic players (Shea, Gonzo) since he seems to believe that athleticism is something that will not get better, while players can develop their soccer brain further. The latter point might get Opara a look, but probably only as a viable option later on. So any 2 of Besler, Gonzo and Orozco seem the likely starters with Alvarado and the 3rd as possible subs.

  4. trying to build and all latino/mexican league US lineup, lol


    run it!! lol

      • haha yea it was really just done out of curiosity. would be comical to see an all latino US lineup playing against Mexico in a similar 352/532 formation that Mexico uses some. i agree, would be pretty terrible but maybe the latin style would bring out the best chemistry-wise in the US , lol. there would most likely be faster decision making, better possession, more fluid runs, etc. but i still agree, most likely terrible, lol.

  5. Id like to see Hedges get a substantial shot. Next to Orozco that could be a good pair. After that hard to pick from Besler, Gonzalez, Opara, Alvarado .. Id probably take the first two and try Alvarado at RB. Hardly any good US rb’s in MLS.

  6. I guess we’re not using any European players, but Tim Ream has been rock solid for Bolton, frequently their MOTM this season. He’s not fast, and he’s not fearsome. (At some Red Bulls event a few years ago, I was in a group talking with the former coach Hans Backe, and he was teasing Ream that MLS forwards don’t exactly quake with fear knowing that Tim Ream is going up for the same header….)
    That said, he’s really really smart on the ball and about as good a passer as we’ve got.

    • While Ream is a good player where do you expect to field him and who (when everyone is available) do you replace for him?
      Ream has predominantly been used as a LB at Bolton. JK expects his LB to be an attacking threat and Tim isn’t going to beat out any of (Shea, Garza, Chandler, & Fabian) as an attacking threat.
      At LCB Ream is competing with Besler, Brooks, & Jones. Tim isn’t really going to be in able to jump in front of 2 of these players.
      At this point Ream is the 4th best option at LCB and 5th best option at LB. It’ll take injuries and a run of poor form for him to become a regular for the USMNT again.

  7. Being the last of the experimental friendlies before JK and his staff have to choose a preliminary pool for the Gold Cup and with Jones & Birnbaum sidelined at the moment, I would fully expect that the following CB’s are chosen:
    Besler – Played well in the WC, but slumped afterwords. Was poor in camp cup-cake and passed over in March. Needs to stake a claim if he’s going to be on the GC this summer.
    Gonzalez – With Jones out likely selection to measure where he ranks in the pool compared to Orozco (who was one of the standouts in March).
    Alvarado – Goes as the utility player (RCB, RB, LB) and to keep him growing in familiarity with the player pool. If anyone slips up or under perform he’s there to step in. Wouldn’t be surprised if he’s chosen as an overage player if the US Qualify for the Olympics to gain more International Experience.
    Opara hasn’t shown enough consistency. The past 5 games has been good, but it’s too small a sample size. Hedges is further down the depth chart and may never make the grade at the National Team
    Jones & Orozco are currently stop-gaps towards the 2018 WC due to their age. I don’t see either being 1st choice options once the Hex starts. Besler & Gonzalez may not even make the cut for 2018 WC considering the positive youth CB’s in the pipeline (Brooks, Alvarado, Packwood, EPB, & CCV). If these younger options shine and progress anyone of them could knock Besler and/or Gonzalez out of contention.

    • “Jones & Orozco are currently stop-gaps towards the 2018 WC due to their age.”

      the hell? orozco will be 32 in 2018. that’s not a bad age for a centerback, and–at least a few years ago–used to be considered prime for a cb (combination of experience + not-yet-declining physique). i’d say he has every chance to be on the roster in russia, especially if brooks and alvarado don’t pan out.

    • Lost man, Jones is a stop gap… but Besler and gonzales will be at the right age… I agree with Dollars… But you all are assuming that we see 4 in the back again. I really think JK breaks out a back three this time around… again. Orozsco, besler and gonzales… I just think JK thinks a back 3 works well against central american teams… and look, Mexico is not putting up 2 forwards.

      You’ll see Shea in the line-up as a pure wingback on the left… and then a technical strategic 4 at mid. After halftime, there will be a drop back into a pure 4 and you will get alvarado and maybe some other kid subbed in on the right… with the worst 2 performers of Besler, Oroszco and Gonzales getting yanked.

      • Why would you call him up? Typical US soccer fan inferiority complex – we need passport Americans because people from here can’t play soccer.

      • Hines has been better than besler and gonzalez this season…

        Gonzalez needs that DP tag removed, he’s been garbage

      • he’s been playing well.

        so why wouldn’t you call him up? typical slowleftarm judgement of anyone who doesn’t pass your “Real American” test.

  8. Don’t see opara getting called up. Could potentially see jones. Also, worth considering the possibility that Alvarado plays right back against. Who else do we have? Evans, Hedges if you want to get really ridiculous… That’s all I’ve got. I think Alvarado could definitely start at right back against Mexico.

      • I think Alvarado is a better fullback than Orozco, Orozco is probably a better CB than Alvarado.

    • Klinsmann has spoken too many times about integrating a new guard of players. Even though he’s experimented with Jones at CB, at his age, the results have been too mixed to justify his further inclusion in the lineup moving forward.

    • Yoiu are going to suggest Evans, who has played 3 games at centerback, over his teammate who is current and 3x Defender of the Year?

      • haha wow dude, let’s read before we start whining (ironic), shall we? I’m talking about who could possibly play right back. I don’t think it’s far fetched to say Brad Evans is a possibility to be brought into this camp as a right back

  9. Chad Marshall should be considered. VERY good player. Him and Omar together would be very easy on the eyes and heart.

  10. I think you get Omar and Besler back together and give them go. Orozco might have to play right back anyway. Opara has 2 goals but I’d like to see a bigger sample size this season before working him into the national team.

    • Honestly, after the Landon Donovan debacle, you would think Besler would have known better then critique the head coach of the national team in public.

      • Old Man River, I disagree. Players shouldn’t have to tip-toe around Klinsmann. Klinsmann needs to be more professional and thick-skinned. It’s not like Besler disrespected or said anything negative about JK, he just disagreed with him. You can’t insult or disrespect your “boss”, but you should be able to disagree with him and let it be known. Especially on a sports team where the goal is to play your best players and win.

        I am pretty sure Besler will get called up for this game, but if he isn’t, man will that be something! It would reveal Klinsmann as someone who is petty and egotistical, and would be added evidence to those that believe that Klinsmann was the problem, not Donovan.

      • Well i have to admit, the bar is set pretty low when a player is reprimanded for defending his and his team’s devised training schedule. And maybe I’m reaching here, because I don’t think that a player should generally have to tippy-toe around his coach either, but I do think that the comment made by Besler is one that could of been made by him and Sporting KC in private.

        Klinsmann statement was more of a general one aimed at MLS and its players, which of course Matt does fall into, but it’s not as if he called him out by name.

        But regardless, i do agree that if Besler isn’t called up there’s no justification for it at this point and indeed it will be quite something.

      • We all agree here. Just wait for it to play out. Hopefully JK has learned something too from the Donovan snub.

  11. If Ike Opara is the best defender in MLS, I really don’t know what to say.

    His positional sense is suspect, his passing is poor. Yikes.

    Is defense becoming our weak link?

    Besler and Klinsy need to kiss and make up fast!

    • Is Omar in JK’s doghouse as well? He seems to be very laid back with everything, something that could raise JK’s ire. I think it’s something that we haven’t seen Omar since the WC. Nothing too bad, but something nonetheless.

      • I don’t think anyone can claim that Omar Gonzalez is anywhere near the form he was at previous to the world cup.

        His man marking has been atrocious at times.

      • I heard somewhere (can’t remember) that Omar asked to be excused from camp because he had a nagging injury he wanted to rehab. I think JK didn’t call him in over the fall because he was in the thick of the a title chase.

      • As for Omar being laid back I would pay to see the following conversation-

        JK- Omar, you are too laid back and I am going to cut you from the team.

        Omar- Whatever, been there done that. I’m a millionaire living in Southern California and frankly don’t need 4 more years of your BS.

        Yes, I know it won’t happen but it would be funny if somebody just told JK to take a hike.

    • I disagree. His positional sense is solid from what I’ve seen and he’s been statistically the best defensive player in the league so far this year. Not sure how you don’t give up goals and chances with suspect positional sense. I haven’t noticed any poor passing either.

    • Our bigger issue is the carousel combining the back line, and especially at CB. I wish that JK would select whomever he feels is our best two (or integrate a 3rd) CB’s and leave them out there for multiple camps and a decent number of actual games , so that they can become cohesive as a working unit. The continuous ‘dropping into the fire’ of so many other players just leaves our defense in relative chaos. Hence we’re giving up ties and losses all within the final @15 minutes.

      • “I wish that JK would select whomever he feels is our best two (or integrate a 3rd) CB’s and leave them out there for multiple camps and a decent number of actual games , so that they can become cohesive as a working unit. ”

        the fact that there is no one that largely stands out in the pool. there is a hierarchy persay, but not a wide margin. That being said, they’re obviously entering the end of this trial phase so hold your disdain; if by the Gold Cup the CBs are still inconsistently called upon, THEN there could be a reason to be upset. But the only way to “select whomever” would be to give them all a look. sure we all want 2 24 year old CBs that play in europe for top teams as our CBs but……., etc. the hope is to find some group of old and young to move forward with. Imagine 3 years from now Brooks and Alvarado have started almost every game for us (just picked 2 CBs for arg sake), we’d hopefully be happy with their play and we’d have veteran CBs for the foreseeable future, etc. but the only way to get to this point is to try people out. when’s the best time for that? generally the 8-9 friendlies following a WC…. so please just be patient. (but we can’t get veteran CBs unless we play consistent lineups? forrest, not the trees. 5-6 months of tinkering on the front end wouldn’t negate the overall rough length of a veteran CB tandem’s tenure.

        now i feel like i’m just repeating the lengthy comment board from yesterday, lol… sorry.

      • Davis, Lennon… your premise of patience is good, for the most part, however JK has never ‘settled’… his backline chaos has been an ongoing disaster since he came aboard. I would normally concur with you were it not for his track record on that issue.

      • Gill King,

        If JK does not “settle” on a CB pair vs. Mexico then the next two friendlies and last ones, before the Gold Cup are vs. Netherlands and Germany.

        So if there are any questions defensively,those two teams should bring them out very quickly I would think.

      • How is JK supposed to settle on a tandem, when the camps fall in and out of FIFA dates or in and out of MLS dates? It means there is always someone not available. Not to mention JR is injured.

      • +1 to you good sirs. What is the deal with everyone freaking out over selections, consistency and losing friendlies? Is it really that people just don’t get the game? Do we need to do national soccer education week? “Ok class, so there is this 4 yr. world cup cycle… at the beginning you seek out the youngest best players, and try to work them into your team to keep it young and fresh… in the middle there is an exam tournament, during which you see how well you are doing… then, if you are lucky you get a final tune-up the year before the world cup… then you have qualifying and the WC for which you want your best guys.” any questions? -“but prof. if you keep experimenting, how will you ever settle down? It makes no sense!” “Son… you have to sample the buffet before you pick your main course… did you marry the first girl you had sex with too?”

    • (SKC fan) when Opara was healthy 2 seasons ago there was no drop off when he played for Collin or Besler, the thought even crossed my mind that whomever was paired with Opara made for a better pairing than Belser and Collin. Besler isnt some world class defender, he is good, but I dont know if you have watched Opara play, but he is been really good


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