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Ranking the USMNT Talent Pool: Centerbacks

With the game of soccer currently on hold around the world, it is a good time to take stock of the U.S. Men’s National Team talent pool as we wait for the sport to resume.

SBI is taking a closer look at each position in the USMNT player pool, ranking the top options, based both on recent form, and potential.

Up next is centerback, where there are several promising young options who will look to break through in the next year or two and unseat current veteran starters John Brooks and Aaron Long.

There are some MLS standouts who weren’t included in this list due to age and their current standing off the USMNT radar. Ike Opara and Matt Hedges are two of the best central defenders in MLS, but finding their way into the national team picture at this point in their careers will be tough, especially with the number of young prospects in the pipeline

Here are the Top 20 central defenders in the USMNT talent pool:

John Brooks

The top centerback in the pool when healthy, Brooks has had his share of trouble staying healthy over the years, but the Wolfsburg defender is 27 and coming into his prime.

The 6-foot-4 is an excellent passer who should thrive in Berhalter’s system, and he’s shown an ability to dominate defensively. He showed some resolve recently by overcoming a brief benching at Wolfsburg to regain his form and retain his starting spot.

Aaron Long

No centerback saw their fortunes rise further in the past two years than Long, who went from not on the radar to regular USMNT starter in little more than a year.

The New York Red Bulls defender is arguably the best one-on-one defender in this pool, though a move to a bigger league would help sharpen his game. The 27-year-old has drawn interest from English Premier League clubs, but the Red Bulls are reluctant to sell, which could force Long to stay in MLS longer than he wants to. He took a step back form wise in MLS last season, and will need to regain his MLS Defender of the Year form to help the Red Bulls remain a contender.

Chris Richards

The Bayern Munich defender was the U.S. Under-20 national team’s best player at the Under-20 World Cup, and while he still has some time to wait before he will see first-team minutes, there is no doubting his status as an elite prospect.

The 19-year-old defender has plenty of competition in the Under-23 age group at his position, but his combination of sharp passing and physical defending make him a player who can make the jump.

Matt Miazga

The 24-year-old defender has had his ups and downs in the past year as he has tried to solidify his place in the USMNT pecking order, but at the moment he is still on the outside of the starting places.

Currently on loan at Reading, Miazga has continued to earn regular playing time and recovered from a recent injury to hit a strong run of form. The challenge remains playing well enough to earn a stay with Chelsea, though he may need to consider a permanent move this summer to help his USMNT chances.

Miles Robinson

A player who shot up the centerback rankings in 2019, Robinson was one of the most dominant defenders in MLS in what was his first full season as a starter, and his role with Atlanta United will only become more important after the retirement of Michael Parkhurst and departure of Leandro Gonzalez Pirez.

Injuries cut short his 2019, and had him shelved to start the 2020 MLS season, but once he is healthy and playing again he has the skills to make a real run at some playing time with the USMNT.

Ventura Alvarado

For most USMNT fans who don’t follow Liga MX, Alvarado is remembered as the experimental young centerback Jurgen Klinsmann tossed into the fire at the 2015 Gold Cup. Those who follow Liga MX know that Alvarado has blossomed into a solid defender and leader on a good Necaxa team.

Berhalter has taken notice, and is monitoring Alvarado, even recently visiting the 27-year-old in Mexico. A call-up for the March friendlies was in the works before a recent injury, but Alvarado remains a strong left-footed centerback option.

Walker Zimmerman

The Nashville SC central defender has been a regular call-up by Berhalter, and thrived under Bob Bradley at LAFC before his recent trade to Nashville. Zimmerman is behind some other prospects on the list when it comes to passing ability, but he is a physical presence who dominates in the air and is also a threat on set pieces.

Erik Palmer-Brown

The former U.S. Under-20 national team captain is current on loan with Austrian side Austrian Wien, where he has earned regular playing time on loan from Manchester City. The 22-year-old performed well enough in Austria to earn a place on the U.S. Olympic qualifying squad, and will be a candidate to start if and when the Olympic qualifiers role around.

Cameron Carter-Vickers

A disappointing loan stint at Stoke City caused Carter-Vickers to stagnate and slide a bit on this list, but he has responded well since joining Luton Town on loan. Though the club is in last place in the League Championship, Carter-Vicker has been one of the team’s bright spots and best players, making the 22-year-old a player to keep tabs on as a potential Olympic team defender if the Americans qualify (and if the Olympics take place).

Mark McKenzie

A roller-coaster 2019 saw McKenzie lose his starting place at the Under-20 World Cup, and with the Philadelphia Union, but he responded to enjoy a strong finish to the year. The 21-year-old defender doesn’t boast the same size as most other prospects on this list, but the 6-foot defender has good leadership qualities and the kind of mentality that could help him thrive as he takes on a bigger role for the Union in 2020.

James Sands

Injuries hampered the second half of a breakout 2019 season, but Sands truly impressed with New York City FC in his first full season with the first team. He looked sharp in a defensive midfield role, but eventually settled in as a central defender, showing intelligence and sharp passing out of the back. His technical quality makes him capable of handling either position, and he has already seen time at both for NYCFC early in 2020.

Justen Glad

A solid season as a starter for Real Salt Lake has helped earn Glad a USMNT call-up, with an eye toward a potential starting role in Olympic qualifying. The 23-year-old reads the game well and passes well, making him a solid long-term prospect for Berhalter’s system, though he started the 2020 RSL season playing as a right back.

Auston Trusty

Left-footed central defenders aren’t easy to find, and the 21-year-old has the size and passing skills to push his way into the conversation among left-sided options at centerback for Berhalter. The move to the Colorado Rapids will be an interesting one, but a challenge for Trusty, who has begun the 2020 MLS season on the bench.

Owen Otasowie

The 19-year-old has played both as a central defender and defensive midfielder, and has pushed for a place with Wolves’ first team. Born in the USA and raised in England, Otasowie has spent time with the U.S. Under-18 national team and could be a key figure in the next Under-20 cycle. His newly-signed contract with Wolves bodes well for increased first-team opportunities for the 6-foot-2 defender in the near future.

Michael Edwards

Currently in the Wolfsburg Under-19 setup, Edwards has settled in well since leaving the D.C. United academy for Germany. Edwards earned regular starts in helping Wolfsburg’s U-19s win their league last season. A first-team jump is still some ways away, but the 19-year-old has already impressed in his first year overseas.

Steve Birnbaum

The 29-year-old defender is one of the older players on this list, coming just under the age cutoff for consideration. The D.C. United defender enjoyed an excellent 2019 season in MLS, but has continued to be left out of the USMNT picture in favor of younger options.

Tim Parker

A year after breaking into the USMNT picture for the first time, Parker endured a serious step back, playing far below his 2018 form in 2019 with the New York Red Bulls. The 27-year-old needs to work on his passing to have any shot of a call-up under Berhalter, but it isn’t a stretch to believe Parker will have a bounce-back season in 2020.

Henry Kessler

The New England Revolution rookie turned heads in preseason with his poise and sharp passing, and with a chance to learn from Bruce Arena, Kessler could be a leading contender for MLS rookie of the year honors. The 6-foot-4 defender is just 21, and has plenty of upside.

Nick DePuy

The converted striker has thrived as a central defender since making the position change. After an impressive run with Galaxy II, Depuy earned a promotion to the Galaxy first team, and has impressed enough to be considered a challenger for a regular starting role, with the 25-year-old’s technical quality coupled with his aerial prowess makes him  an intriguing prospect.

Aboubacar Keita

The Under-20 World Cup gave Keita a chance to make a name for himself, and while he had his ups and downs in that tournament, he clearly gained some confidence from the experience as he went on to earn first-team minutes with the Columbus Crew late in 2019. He is currently not in the starting picture for Columbus, but the 19-year-old has potential, and might need a loan to find regular minutes and keep developing.


    • What might be more interesting is a list at each position of all-time players at each position. Larry Henry … Ives?

  1. McKenzie was also unlucky to need an appendectomy near the start of the season, which unfortunately affected his U20s. He also went through concussion protocol after that. All of that said, he was playing very well by the end of the season. We’ll see how he shows against Costa Rica if all goes well for him in camp.

  2. While Chris Richards is a very promising CB who has all the raw tools to be a great CB in the future, I don’t think he’s currently the 3rd best CB in our player pool. It’s possible he’ll make his way to that position in the pool by 2022, but I think even that may be a bit of a stretch.
    If we were to have a must win game today the 4 CB’s I’d want called are:
    1) Brooks, 2) Long, 3) Miazga, 4) Alvarado.
    M. Robinson needs a little more experience to really break into the top 4.
    Zimmerman needs more consistency in his play and prove himself against better opposition.
    EPB, CCV & Richards are making good strides. I fully expect them to continue to progress and challenge for a 2022 roster spot.
    Otasowie & Sands are possibly better suited for CDM spot than CB spots for the USMNT. That said it is a nice option to have such versatile players during tournaments.
    McKenzie I don’t think is cut out for the Sr. International game. A very good player but I don’t see him as a Viable CB, much like Parkhurst wasn’t back in the BB era.

    • If Richards isn’t on the 2022 roster I would be shocked. Injuries kept him out of first team training with Bayern last fall otherwise he might already have made his Bundesliga debut. He was our best U20 defender and is a lock if available for the U23s as a starter. You’re right if we had a match tomorrow he probably wouldn’t be on the bench but he very well could be by qualifying in September.

    • I agree he might not be as high as 3rd at the moment but if he isn’t 1st or 2nd in a year something significant would have to happen to him (ie injury). To say it would be a stretch if he was on the team in 22 is crazy. To say he is progressing nicely with likes of EPB and CCV shows you’re not paying attention. He wasn’t just the best US defender at U20 World Cup he was the best defender there. Scouts were drooling over him. CB’s mature at a slower rate than other positions because what makes them good is making the right decision every single time and to do that they have to learn from making the wrong decisions. They also need the right partner in that role. If he isn’t with Bayern’s first team next year he will go out on loan. As far as ceiling go some scouts feel he has the most potential of any young US player at the moment. He will be the focal point of that backline for years to come.

  3. Michael Edwards is not with Wolfsburg’s u19s, and hasn’t been since last season.
    He’s spent this entire season playing for Wolfsburg’s reserves in Regionalliga Nord, with 10 starts.


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