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Cameron absence provides one question, answers another for USMNT ahead of Mexico clash

Geoff Cameron Michael Bradley USMNT 20

For the better part of past two years, Geoff Cameron has been one of the most consistent members of the U.S. Men’s National Team squad. However, now, with two of the most vital games on the qualifying schedule looming, the U.S. will be without the Stoke City defender, creating several issues along the backline.

Stoke City manager Mark Hughes said Friday that Geoff Cameron’s recent knee ailments will almost certainly keep him out of action for the USMNT’s clashes with Mexico and Costa Rica. The injury robs the U.S. of it’s most ever-present defender, one that has started all 10 of the USMNT’s competitive matches in 2016. Cameron’s absence is a notable loss, one that deprives the U.S. of a player that has formed a very good partnership with John Brooks throughout the past year or so.

The good news? Brooks is healthy and ready to go. The Hertha Berlin defender has been a bit up and down since the Copa America, but finally appears healthy enough to start both qualifiers. A healthy, in-form Brooks will be a vital piece of the USMNT backline, but Jurgen Klinsmann still needs to shuffle several puzzle pieces around him.

Omar Gonzalez and Steve Birnbaum appear the most likely to take Cameron’s place in the starting XI. Birnbaum previously partnered Brooks in the USMNT’s pre-Copa America win over Ecuador, an impressive 1-0 shutout of a South American contender. Gonzalez, meanwhile, joined Brooks three times in 2015 and is now firmly back in the picture after rejoining the U.S. following this summer’s tournament.

Each provides their own pros and cons. Birnbaum is the younger option, one that could benefit plenty from being thrown into the fire against Mexico. Young players learn by doing and Birnbaum has more than earned his chance to sink or swim against El Tri. Birnbaum looked more than capable against the Trinidad & Tobagos and the Guatemalas of the world and should now be tasked with taking the next step. Is it risky? Sure, especially with Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez starting on the other side. However, Birnbaum has shown capable to date and a match against Mexico could go a long way towards understanding where exactly he falls in the USMNT hierarchy.

Gonzalez, meanwhile, is the veteran. He’s been in these battles before, especially against Mexico. Gonzalez was a vital part of the last Dos a Cero in Columbus back in 2013, as well as the historic draw earlier that year. Gonzalez has the benefit experience, especially in big games with the national team. He also has the benefit of familiarity, as the Pachuca centerback has faced many of Mexico’s players in Liga MX play since departing the LA Galaxy.

The argument isn’t necessarily as simple as short vs. long-term. Yes, Birnbaum is the better bet for the 2018 World Cup, but that doesn’t mean that Klinsmann doesn’t see him as a better player in 2016. The question comes down to fit and confidence, while Birnbaum’s recent two-week break following postseason play could be a slight detriment.

Cameron’s absence causes a battle in the center, but it also helps end one on the right. Klinsmann was vocally disappointed with DeAndre Yedlin following the most recent set of friendlies, leading many to believe that Cameron could be shifted to fullback anyway. The U.S. does have plenty of depth at centerback, after all, and fullback remains the weakest position in the USMNt pool.

However, it appears Yedlin should be set to start against Mexico, barring a decision to award Timmy Chandler a surprising role following several standout club efforts. To Yedlin’s credit, the former Seattle Sounders fullback has shined in recent weeks with Newcastle after gaining a starting role with the Championship club. Yedlin is in much better form than he was a month ago, a positive sign heading into the Hex.

Overall, the absence of Cameron is less-than-ideal. It deprives the U.S. of one of the first names on the team sheet, a leader in the back and a bonafide international defender. However, it appears the USMNT is somewhat equipped for the loss heading into two of the biggest games on the road to Russia.


  1. I’d like to see a 3-5-1 with Orozco, Brooks, Besler back line and Yedlin and Johnson as wing backs. Add Bradley, Pulisic, Kljestan, with Jozy up top and there you have it. Howard in goal of course.

  2. I know they both play LCB…but I’d like to see Bester Brooks. The beez has been consistent for the US and only seems to struggle against strong Altidore type forwards that Mexico don’t possess.

  3. This article makes it sound like Gonzalez is father time…. he is 28 and 25 …. they are essentially 2 years apart in age…. I’d take Gonzalez easily…. more experience and at a higher level…. genuine set piece threat…

  4. If Brooks plays, Gonzo can’t. So it’ll be Brooks/Birnbaum or Gonzo/Besler. Now isn’t the time to bring Miazga in. I’m always on the look out for that WTF Klinsmann pick, which will be Orozco or Alvarado. I would love to see a truly bold move like CCV, but we know Klinsmann won’t go THAT far.

    • I didn’t mean that Miazga would see playing time just that he might make the roster. He has been with the National team before so it would seem he’d have a better roster spot chance than CCV. CCV was just with the U20 team though over the last international break so Ramos could push for him if he thought he played well. Still think Orozco gets the spot though, as people pointed out from the roster prediction there were only 3 FBs so Orozco would provide cover there as well.

    • Why can’t Brooks and Gonzalez play together? Unless you are going by Bob Bradley’s old rule of having one big lumbering CB and a smaller quicker CB. With Brooks that rule no longer applies and Cameron is just an inch shorter than Gonzalez at 6’3.

      • I just don’t think they complement each other well. Both have a tendency to play back and ball watch a bit because they’ve always leaned on their aerial dominance more than their feet. Brooks covers a lot of ground but he’s not “quick” either.

        Brooks/Besler is possible but I don’t like having to left feet paired in there because it affects how we play out of the back.

    • Still feel Orozco gets that spot, but certainly puts Miazga in the conversation that he wasn’t probably in without Cameron’s injury.

  5. In an otherwise forgettable game against LA, Birnbaum did shut down Dos Santos to the point where he was subbed for Magee at the half (who then proceeded to single handedly destroy United in the second half). So he’s got that going for him. Granted it was the first game of the season and Gio hadn’t found himself yet.

    I still think a Birnbaum – Brooks partnership would work against Mexico. They have some speed and decent footwork between the two of them.

  6. As a DC fan, I’m biased. But Birnbaum is a stud. If anything, he’s made exactly one mistake against Argentina, which was to try to juke two Argentinians offensive players. I doubt he ever makes that one again. BTW, the player who stole the ball for him was some young scamp called…. Messi? Or was it Messy? I forget. 😉

  7. Have people been catching Chandler at Frankfurt? Before Fox started broadcasting the Bundesliga I rarely saw him except in internationals. I do think, however, that the last couple of games he has looked really good and I don’t think we would lose anything if he plays RB instead of Yedlin. I personally prefer Omar over Birnbaum. I think that he went 90 for most games for the last Liga MX champion shows he is quite capable.

    • Have we completely ruled out chandler at left back? He had a solid run there a few years ago and of course would allow us to push Johnson into a more forward position. I think it’s worth taking another look at sometime.

      • At some point it is worth testing Chandler at Left Back again….but it’s probably not the right time to test him against our 2 greatest opponents in CONCACAF. I think this experiment is tried in March when we’ll play opponents who are a bit more forgiving.

  8. IMO Birnbaum is the better option to start these 2 games. He is the quicker & more technical option and most important he doesn’t seem to fall into ball watching the way Omar has been known to do.

    • I think that’s the opinion of most or it appears to after reading the comments post-matches when Gonzalez makes his usual one-goal error at the international level.

      • Yeah, Gonz does make mistakes but for some reason, he doesn’t against Mexico. If Mexico has a legit aerial threat then Gonz is your man, if Mexico is going to attack us in the ground then Birnbaum may be a better fit.

    • Tough to say our likely starter. While Birnbaum is the quicker of the two and may be needed to cover more ground, OG has been playing well and consistently for arguably the best team in Liga MX. OG has the additional positive of facing or playing with many of Mexico’s squad on a regular basis. Birnbaum can cover more ground, but OG will have more intimate knowledge of the players and their style. Plus, Brooks has the ability to cover some ground as a backup to OG and we also give ourselves another set piece specialist due to height, which Mexico generally lacks.

      • I can accept what you’re saying about OG and his understanding of the opponent and being an aerial threat, however Birnbaum is very, very good in aerial battles too. I think it’ll come down to who shows better fitness wise and who shows to have greater chemistry with the LCB & RB. My guess it’ll be a game time decision for both games.

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