FIXING THE BACKLINE
PREVIEWS
EXTRA TIME
BRIAN SCIARETTA - Wednesday, November 21, 2012
As the United States national team finished their 2012 schedule with a 2-2 draw against Russia, fixing the central defense is the number one concern heading into 2013.

The problems in central defense have now been apparent for awhile. Geoff Cameron's emergence this year has been a enormous boost to the national team because without him, the backline would be in critical condition. He is currently the only central defender consistently playing well on the national team.

The rest of the central defending core has had a year to forget. Carlos Bocanegra is injured but even before he pulled his hamstring in the Russia friendly, it appeared as if he has lost a step. His performances defensively in the October qualifiers were poor.

Clarence Goodson has been a national team regular under Klinsmann but his recent performances have also declined for both Brondby and the US team. His performance against Russia will surely have Klinsmann wanting to explore other options.

But what are the other options? Oguchi Onyewu is not playing for Malaga. Tim Ream is not playing for Bolton. Klinsmann has publicly said he is interested in trying Maurice Edu as a central defender but if Edu can't play at any position for Stoke, how can he possibly learn to play a new position? Michael Parkhurst could also be another option but he is far removed from his days as a central defender.

Fortunately, there are other options for Klinsmann to try in central defense. Here are some potential solutions.

Omar Gonzalez

At the start of 2012, Omar Gonzalez looked to be the next in line to break into Klinsmann's lineup in central defense. He was coming off a stellar year for the Galaxy and was invited to January camp. He withdrew from January camp to begin a loan with FC Nurnberg but suffered a torn ACL in his first practice in Germany.

Fortunately Gonzalez came by quickly by July. It took awhile, but gradually he began to look like his pre-injury self. He's still not completely there yet, but his return was a big reason why the Galaxy were able to surge down the stretch and make it to the MLS Cup finals.

Gonzalez is continuing to look stronger with each passing month and in early 2013, he will be back to full strength. It is also possible that if he impresses in the MLS Cup final, he could once again attract the interest of European clubs. Should that happen, he'll be back in the national team picture.

Matt Besler

2012 has been a breakout season for Besler who won the MLS Defender of the Year and has already been called up to the national team once for a friendly against Mexico where he was an unused substitute.

What's interesting about Besler is that he has improved in every area of his game. He is a strong passer out of the back and is also physically strong. He looks like a polished defender and will likely have a chance soon with the national team.

Seb Hines

In the English Championship, Middlesbrough is a strong favorite to be promoted and Seb Hines is expected to be a big part of the team's defense.

Hines, 24, recently signed a three year extension with the club but began the season nursing an injury. He now looks completely fit and has played great soccer over the past month.

Hines was born in England but has always held an American passport. In the past he played for England's youth national teams. He would need to file a one-time switch to play for the United States but he has continuously been adamant this year that he he would gladly switch to the United States should he be asked by US Soccer.

It's unclear where Hines stands on Klinsmann's radar or if he is even on it but if Boro are able to secure promotion to the Premier League, it will be impossible for Klinsmann to ignore him.

John Anthony Brooks

As one of the top teenagers in the US system, Brooks has made great strides in 2012. He has broken into Hertha Berlin's starting lineup and the club look poised to earn promotion back to the Bundesliga next season.

Brooks has all the tools to be an excellent defender. He stands tall at 6'6 but is also smooth on the ball and can pass effectively out of the back. The potential is there and he is showing signs of putting it all together.

The German-born Brooks still does not have a lot of experience but the potential is there for him to be an integral part of the national team. Despite the lack of experience, he may not be as far off as people think. With central defense being such an area of need for the national team, it's not too early to begin integrating a long-term solution. Klinsmann has done it with Terrence Boyd, Alfredo Morales, and even Joe Gyau. It would be just as smart to put Brooks on that fast track.

Brooks has recently played for Germany's U-20 national team but he continues to insist that the United States is his top choice. That should be welcome news to US fans.

Zak Whitbread

Considering Zak Whitbread for the national team is always risky. No one questions whether he has the talent to play the game at a high level but reoccurring injuries have always prevented him from reaching his potential.

Whitbread, now 28, has never been able to play a full season without missing substantial time with injuries. Whenever he has appeared close to earning his first national team cap, he would get injured. In fact, Norwich had to part ways with him last year after they no longer wanted to deal with Whitbread's unreliability.

Now at Leicester City, Whitbread has finally climbed his way back into the starting lineup and the team is playing well. The club is likely to contend for a spot on the promotional playoffs but again the whole issue with Whitbread is whether or not he can stay healthy. If he can, he could make his way into Klinsmann's group but history is not on Whitbread's side.

George John

Just 12 months ago, it looked likely that George John would make his way onto the US national team. Heading into 2013, the situation does not look as good for John.

The year began with a difficult loan to West Ham where he was not able to see any minutes for the English club. When he returned to Dallas, he had to deal with injuries as well as a playing for a team that struggled.

John, 25, remains a good player and he is not completely out of the picture for the US national team. But for him to put himself in contention for a callup, he will have to have a strong start to 2013. His contract with MLS expires and decisions will have to be made in the near future.

Austin Berry

After a rookie season that saw him win the 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year, all eyes will be on Chicago's Austin Barry in 2013.

Barry was consistent all year and helped the Fire return to the playoffs. Now he is not likely to make the US national team in the early part of 2013 but if he continues to play well at the start of next season, a callup to the Gold Cup is a distinct possibility.

Amobi Okugo

Philadelphia Union's Amobi Okugo proved in 2012 that he is a player to watch. The reason why is that over the last year Okugo has moved from his natural defensive midfield position and into central defense.

Okugo still has a lot to learn as a central defender but he is improving rapidly. In fact he is adjusting so quickly that a callup to next summer's Gold Cup is not out of the question.
muchadu
Tuesday November 27, 2012 3:00 pm
@muchaduwannabe
It's so sad to see people not understanding the importanace of deft passing skills so desperately needed in the USMNT, especially in the final third of the field. At the end of the Russia game the pass from Edu to Agudelo and the centered header from Agudelo to allow Bradley a shot, was rare for us. On the second one, it was the Russian defender not Boyd who tried and missed the header back into Diskerud's area for the second. Properly weighted offensive passing sets up scoring in soccer. Freddy Adu can offer this type of service. Has anyone done this for us consistantly? Watch more Spanish Nat team games for a great example.
Dam
Monday November 26, 2012 11:01 pm
If there is a January Camp Cup Cake JK and his staff really need to focus in on the Center Backs. Call in the MLS players (Gonzalez, Besler, Okugo, Berry, etc...) and see where they are in the depth chart. Contact Hines and express an interest by inviting him to training camp that leads up to the Feb. qualifier. If he trains and presents himself well ask him to file his switch and bring him into the player pool.
Come the 2013 Gold Cup, if Brooks has had a good year...call him in to be an understudy during the GC. It shows the US committment to him, and if he continues to progress at the rate he has he could very well be ready for the 2014 WC.
Gooch, Parkhurst, Boca, and Goodson are all on the downward slope of their careers, and should not be considered except as possible backups by the end of 2013.
samsminiarmy.wordpress.com
Monday November 26, 2012 10:15 pm
Is there any chance we'll ever see Brad Rusin get a look, or does he not fit the Klinsmann mold for ball distributing center halfs?
Trent Hill
Monday November 26, 2012 7:28 pm
John Anthony Brooks and Seb Hines need to be brought into the fold and as soon as possible. I'm hoping for February call-ups for either/both.

Cameron and Onyewu are my first-choice pairing if Boca is too old. However, Parkhurst, Whitbread, and Spector should all be tried. I'm not against putting Edu in CD either.
Ohana
Sunday November 25, 2012 2:08 pm
It's obvious. Look at how well Freddy Adu played this season. The only way we improve the defense is to play Freddy Adu at center back. He's also a good choice to back up Howard in goal.
mandela
Saturday November 24, 2012 6:36 pm
Brandon mcdonald is a beast no one mentions. i think he'd be perfect.
dolcem
Thursday November 22, 2012 1:11 pm
This is our biggest conundrum.

It has to be Onyewu though. He is the only one of our CB's (aside from Cameron, who is starting, and Bocanegra, who will be too old) who has accomplished anything at the club level. Currently he is playing for a Champions League team in La Liga, last season he was a starter for Sporting Lisbon, before that, a starter for FC Twente. His experience is also invaluable. Sure he looked bad last time he played for us but he was coming off an injury. IMO he's a much better version of Goodson and Gonzalez. Whitbread is always injured. And the rest of those guys aren't nearly as good as Gooch. I'm keeping my fingers crossed on Brooks though.

If not Gooch I think Parkhurst and Spector are next in line (with Goodson in the mix). Orozco-fiscal is also a possibility. He got a lot of flak but he only had one bad game for us. He's been a starter in Mexico for a few years, making him more accomplished than any of these guys. I think we could give him another shot.

But if Brooks doesn't turn out we're probably looking at Gooch. Hope he stays in form for the WC because the other three mentioned in the previous paragraph are just nowhere near good enough. Neither is Gonzalez. I'm nervous for 2014. It's a team in transition and CB is a gaping hole.
kicksNgiggles10
Wednesday November 21, 2012 5:14 pm
@twr96
Please no!
Sir Alex
Wednesday November 21, 2012 1:22 pm
I consider the central defense a team.

The two players may not compare well individually to others, but they make for a better team if they perform well together.

Being a team, they need time to gel. It's not helping that Cameron has to play with a different guy every game.
twr96
Wednesday November 21, 2012 12:45 pm
Cameron, Oguchi 2013
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