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Young centerbacks come into focus for USMNT

The entire U.S. Men’s National Team is undergoing a changing of the guard, but some of the biggest changes are coming at the centerback position, even if the names coming in are pretty familiar.

Cameron Carter-Vickers, Matt Miazga and Erik Palmer-Brown headline the USMNT squad for Tuesday’s clash with Paraguay, and each is a name that has been in the U.S. system for quite some time. All three were members of the 2015 U-20 World Cup squad that fell to eventual champions Serbia in the quarterfinal round while Carter-Vickers and Palmer-Brown returned to the 2017 squad that also reached the quarterfinal stage.

Miazga and Carter-Vickers have earned senior call-ups, pairing together for the first time at the USMNT level against Portugal last fall. Now, the three have a chance to assert themselves and stake their claim to the position heading into the rebuilding process.

“There’s a level of comfort,” Palmer-Brown said. “I’ve been with a lot of these guys, so for me, it’s been fun to see all of the familiar faces and be with some of my friends growing up.

“We’re all excited to be a part of it,” Miazga added, according to U.S. Soccer. “We’re comfortable with each other from playing in the past. I know them well and they’re very talented players.”

While the three headline the current crop of centerbacks, there are several others that figure to be involved in the years to come. John Brooks is the most certain, as the Wolfsburg defender would have been involved if not for an injury. There are also MLS stars like Justen Glad, Walker Zimmerman, Steve Birnbaum and Tim Parker to figure in to the mix as well.

It’s impossible to know what will happen in the years to come but, at least on Tuesday, the U.S. has three talented defenders to assess. Carter-Vickers has found his form on the club level with Sheffield United and Ipswich Town in a pair of loans away from parent club Tottenham. Palmer-Brown recently started his own European adventure, joining KV Kortrijk on loan after recently signing for Manchester City. Miazga, meanwhile, has shined with Vitesse for quite some time, becoming a reliable defender in a Eredivisie famous for attacking.

“Every time there’s an international FIFA date, I want to get called up by the U.S.,” Miazga said. “It’s a huge honor and a huge privilege. Every time I’m here I want to give it my all, impress and wear the crest with a lot of pride.

“I’ve been getting a lot of significant minutes at Vitesse and I’ve been playing well, always improving and getting that experience. I work really hard to try to consistently get called up.”

In time, the position has the potential to evolve into a strength, one that could some day see the team play in a three-at-the-back set in a number of different scenarios.

That isn’t for interim boss Dave Sarachan to assess, though, and, while he’s here, the coach is just looking to lay some groundwork at all positions, not just in defense.

“If you look at the rosters we’ve put together for the three friendlies we’ve had, the theme has been giving players opportunities that we feel will be part of the bigger picture,” Sarachan said. “We don’t want to get so far ahead of ourselves. You can’t predict a year from now, but what you hope is that all of these friendlies and all of these matches and all of the programming through 2018 will pay dividends in terms of the investment we’re making in players we think, when qualifying begins and the next Gold Cup and all of the competitions, they’ll be ready.”

“(The message has) been express yourself,” Palmer-Brown added. “Be yourself out on the pitch. He’s given us freedom to express ourselves as players, and that’s been what’s been the best for us. ”

It remains to be seen what’s best for the USMNT, but the trio will get their chance on Tuesday. Sarachan says he intends to use all six substitutes at his disposal, making it likely that all three see the field at one point or another.

Against a veteran Paraguay squad featuring a talented and familiar playmaker in Miguel Almiron, the USMNT’s youthful defense will face some challenges. The partnerships may be familiar on the youth national team level, but the three will need to adapt to what is certainly another step forward.

“We’re a young group,” Palmer-Brown said. “Going forward, we’re really explosive on the counter and we’re good in possession too. We have a great team, a great all-around team.”

“There’s a lot of young, talented players here,” Miazga added. “We’re all ready to make an impression. Hopefully this generation can be a staple moving forward in the National Team program.”

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