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USMNT centerbacks with point to prove at Gold Cup

For the past year or so, we’ve known all about the U.S. Men’s National Team’s first choice centerback pairing. When healthy, John Brooks and Geoff Cameron remain the starting duo and it would be a surprise to see that change in the months leading up to the 2018 World Cup.

That said, two centerbacks does not a defense make. In tournament play, and especially at a World Cup, it’s all hands on deck. Knowing that, several centerbacks continue to battle for those remaining defensive spots, including a few on the Gold Cup roster.

Omar Gonzalez’s start against Mexico should all but offer clarity that he currently stands third on the USMNT depth chart. He’s a veteran with World Cup experience and he’s in the form of his life with Pachuca. Barring something crazy, Gonzalez will most likely be heading to Russia.

But, nailing down those three, there’s still room for at least one more defender. Matt Hedges, Matt Besler and Matt Miazga share more than a first name, that means, they share a responsibility to step up in the days and weeks to come.

The first two Matts earned their first start as a duo in the friendly against Ghana and, by and large, they looked okay. The two were composed and confident in the back, even if Jorge Villafana’s rough outing cost them a clean sheet. Besler, a veteran and proven partner with Gonzalez, may remain ahead due to his ability to play left back in a pinch, but Hedges is certainly rising after putting forth a very good performance in what was somehow his first USMNT start.

And then there’s Miazga, who obviously has the biggest upside of the centerback group. He did as well as one could have hoped during his time at Vitesse and it’s interesting to see just how far he’s come since his European journey began. Bruce Arena said after the win over Ghana that he expects to see Miazga at least once this Gold Cup and that he’s excited to see what kind of player he is after a long year of European seasoning.

Could a strong Gold Cup boost Miazga’s profile even more? Absolutely. An impressive tournament paired with a solid European campaign would be a major boost to his resume. If Miazga earns legitimate time in a legitimate league and shines? It will be hard to keep him off. But, even so, that’s asking a lot of a player when we’re not even fully sure where he’ll be going for preseason in a matter of weeks

Outside of this Gold Cup roster, there are a few other proven commodities to keep an eye on. Like Besler, Tim Ream provides a steady hand and the ability to play fullback if needed. He’s done very well for Fulham and certainly remains in the picture.

Younger MLS standouts like Steve Birnbaum, Tim Parker and Walker Zimmerman will have a much tougher road. It’s going to be very hard to break into this USMNT group in the next year or so, especially if they simply continue to play on as they have been. In that respect, someone like Miazga has a much higher chance within the next year due to the risk and reward that could come with a big European move.

The dark horse? Cameron Carter-Vickers. Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino has continuously talked up the 19-year-old defender and has said he expects to reward him with more first-team chances. If Carter-Vickers can become a semi-consistent member of the Spurs lineup, there’s no doubt he could play his way onto the plane next summer. We’ve seen Julian Green shoot up in shorter time with less playing time, making Carter-Vickers another player to watch.

It seems the three on the Gold Cup roster have the inside track. Besler has the veteran experience, Hedges the MLS form and Miazga the upside. It’s an interesting battle to watch, one that begins with the Gold Cup and should run all the way through next summer.

Which centerbacks do you want to see on the USMNT roster going forward? Who do you think will make the World Cup squad?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. We are almost a year away from the World Cup, and a lot of things could change between now and then. As far as the CB spots go at this moment in time I agree our top pairing is Cameron & Brooks. Both are athletic and possess the ability to play out of the back. Cameron provides the leadership/organizational skills, while Brooks provides speed and raw talent.
    Backups will come down to what Bruce values most….Veterans Vs. Youthful energy & future longevity.
    IMO for the RCB I’d go with Hedges or Miazga (if he has another good season in Europe) over Gonzalez. Hedges organizes better than Gonzalez and seems to be more engaged (less mental lapses). Miazga is more athletic and could grow more as a player being exposed to the WC in 2018. To me Gonzalez is a step backwards from where we want to be and how we want to play.
    LCB to me is between Besler & Zimmerman with CCV as a dark horse. Again it’ll be the Veteran Vs. the potential up-side for the future. Besler can organize and passes well out of the back, his WC experience as well as his speed puts him ahead of the other Vet (Ream). Zimmerman provides a more Energetic option with solid 1 vs 1 defending. CCV will need a lot of 1st team games to jump into real consideration.

    Another thing to consider is that Cameron is probably the best CDM we’ve got in the player pool. I could easily see him pushed forward if Bradley has an injury or a significant decline in performance. Does Bruce take an extra CB in the 23 knowing that Geoff may be called upon to replace Bradley?
    This will really depend on how well our other CM/CDMs progress in the run-up (Acosta, Lletget, Williams, Roldan, McCarty).

    My CB rankings at the moment would be as follows…
    1) Cameron, 2) Brooks, 3) Besler, 4) Hedges, 5) Gonzalez, 6) Miazga, 7) Zimmerman (injured)
    8) CCV

  2. I think besler is the odd man out, didn’t arena say in 2006 that the world cup is a young man’s game. I’m all for experience but there is enough already on the team. Bring in some young talented players who might not have the experience but have the legs and drive to make a name for themselves. Roster should be evened out with a mixture. If there was a choice between experience and potential as a backup that might get some playing time I think potential should win every time. Who knows what the next 11 months will bring but I hope youth is well served, keep calling in the locks and try to find the difference makers off the bench

  3. Tim Ream has certainly put in some solid shifts at the international level recently, and has won me over. I think our left-side with Brooks, Besler and Ream provides some safe depth.

    On the right side is where the competition appears to be in full swing. There’s quite a few players vying for that back-up role behind Geoff Cameron. While I’ve never been hot on Gonzalez, I also haven’t watched him play for Pachuca. I still see him as a blunder-prone center back that launches the ball upfield with little technical ability and awkward against fast/agile forwards. However, he has the golden ticket playing for his former manager and that should give him an edge.

    • couldn’t agree more about Ream and the left footed CB’s. I have been a big supporter of Reams’ going back aways and while he is loathed by many a people because of what is considered a lack of foot speed, he obviously has other positive attributes the program believe in like passing ability and positioning.

      The right side as you stated, will more than likely come down to the months leading up to the WC but i expect Gonzalez to be there because of reasons you stated unless his form just drops off a cliff, or unless someone else starts playing at another level!

    • For the backup LCB is between Ream and Besler, either of the two can also be the backup LB as well. Ream seems to have more experience as a LB than Besler. on the RCB right now, is Gonzalez by a country mile, the only player that can catch him is Hedges, he seems to be made out of the same mold as Cameron. Cameron can also play RB. You also have Chandler that can play either right or left back. In my opinion, this WC we may take a single backup for both the LCB and LB, thus freeing up one player slot for the midfield.

      • You also have Chandler that can play either right or left back. In my opinion, this WC we may take a single backup for both the LCB and LB, thus freeing up one player slot for the midfield.

        While I agree on the assessment of taking a versatile fullback, I don’t see how we can count on Chandler at this point. This is where Lichaj has the opportunity on a silver f’ing platter to cement himself in the conversation going towards Russia. At this point, he should control his own fate. We’ll see if he makes the most of it.

  4. I don’t watch him play on a weekly basis, but I thought Birnbaum did well when he played with the national team. Plus, he seems to have some offensive potential on dead ball platys. How come he has fallen out of the picture? From what I have seen I think Zimmerman is as good as Hedges, so we should be fairly well off at that position for quite a few years.

    • FCD fan here. Both have their strengths and weaknesses, Zimmerman is more athletic and aggressive, while Hedges is a great organizer and good with the ball at his feet. They compliment each other well, however at this point Hedges is the better player in my opinion.

    • Birnbaum’s experience has been in some pretty simple friendly games if memory serves correct. Yet to be challenged at this level so far. Solid outings though.
      Seems a fairly open competition between Besler, Hedges, Miazga, Ream for the 4th CB spot with others on the outside right now. I would be pretty comfortable with any of them in that position though. We have as much depth in the cb spot as any position we have probably ever had. 8 legit contenders for the 4 spots + 2to3 “dark horse” options.
      Will be interesting to see how/if/when we deploy the 3 cb formation again too and how that changes the thinking.

    • I like Birnbaum, but he is having a bad year with DC – now just to put that in perspective, everyone on DC is having a bad year. I do hope Steve turns things around though and gets back in the NT picture!


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