LEFT BACK ANYONE?
The score read 4-2 in favor of Mexico, following a crippling second half performance by the U.S.'s southern neighbors. After several nearly disastrous performances leading up to the final, two early goals in favor of the Americans was a dream start.
At first, it seemed that the early injury of Steve Cherundolo might be countered by the second goal, giving breathing room for the much maligned Jonathan Bornstein who came on to replace the Hannover man, but four unanswered goals ended up being the flavor of the match. The roller coaster ride that was the American defense plummeted downwards at a rate of speed that left no hope for stopping, and according to reports from people at the scene of the slaughter, Bornstein was carrying himself with the disposition of a beaten man in a way that no television could convey.
There's not much surprise these days about how the U.S. National Team would almost be more preferred to play without a left back altogether, but at some point in time a solution needs to present itself. In a country with almost 25 million registered soccer players plus countless thousands abroad, one would think that there would be a halfway decent pool for every position on the field.
Despite the enormity of players, we've seen the stagnation of the American striker position over the past five years, and now the American left back for a similar length of time. Bob Bradley's various attempts over the years to fill the most gaping defensive hole have yielded largely unacceptable results, with no clear sign of change for the future.
Heath Pearce was a viable option for a short spell before a collapse in form bumped him down the pecking order, forcing Bradley's hand in eventually moving Bornstein up to the top of the list for a length of time that one commentator described as surely being "a result of blackmail." DaMarcus Beasley's experiment in the position came to a head with the Confederations Cup gaffe against Brazil that almost took him out of the player pool entirely.
Bradley has been on the hot seat lately for his team's underwhelming results, with media speculation running wild in June that he was set to be fired by Sunil Gulati. That was never really a strong possibility no matter how avidly certain large elements of the fan base wanted it. He has come under fire for seeming to favor his son and ignoring his erratic behavior that would suspend many other players, and for the overall lack of team cohesion and poor form. What he hasn't come under fire over enough though, is the seemingly discontinued search for a left back.
Members of the media and fans alike have been opining for years that the U.S. lacks a quality left back, so Bradley is stuck having to choose his regulars. It's almost as though Edgar Castillo was forgotten after the brief media love affair that was had only a couple short years ago.
Castillo was an exciting switch in allegiances at one time; after losing Neven Subotic and Giuseppi Rossi to Serbia and Italy respectively, it was a coup d`ètat to pull Castillo away from Mexico, and many thought he would fill the void that was attempting to be occupied by Bradley's choices. One substitution appearance for Michael Bradley against Denmark in 2009 was the only attempt Castillo got to make an impression, and apparently it was one so unfavorable that it couldn't change the status quo.
It's hard to believe that a player of Castillo's résumé, 127 appearances in five seasons in Mexico's Primera Division, can not get a longer look than half an hour as a makeshift midfielder, but with the catastrophe of the Gold Cup, Bradley is going to be forced to switch at least half of his back line to avoid being axed. Gulati wouldn't have fired him earlier in the month without a far more embarrassing Gold Cup, but if this abject failure of defensive stability doesn't improve in time for 2014 Qualifying - which is getting frighteningly close - the USSF President will be all but forced to find someone who can put the team in order.
The one immediate thing that Bradley can do is to bring Castillo back in the fold and try out the lineup in the next series of friendly matches coming up in September. It's probably too much to ask for him to be included in the lineup against Mexico on August 10, but Bradley does seem to have gotten a little bit more adventurous lately with his selections.
Either way, Castillo needs a roster spot, whether it be in August or September. The 24 year old has been loan hopping for a few years, but he still has value that could shore up the leak that Bornstein simply can not plug. A lack of consistent playing time with his club team lately should not be used as an excuse for Castillo, or anyone else for that matter, since Bradley has been picking a number of players who have been sitting on the bench for their clubs.
While we're making personnel changes to the back, there should be some personal changes as well; it's high time for someone to teach Eric Lichaj how to use his left foot. With a bit more seasoning and a consistently useable left, his experiment at left back could come to fruition, and provide an opposite field counter part to Timothy Chandler and Cherundolo.
Another interesting move for left back would be to throw 18 year old defender Sean Cunningham to the wolves, to see how he fares. He hasn't been getting much playing time in his short career at Norway's Molde FK, but the promise there is strong enough for legendary Manchester United forward and current Molde coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to recommend that he be given a trial at The Baby Faced Assassin's former club.
Young, rookie defenders don't typically get call ups to the national team, but when the starting left back is being beaten like a drum and the reserve left backs are all makeshift picks from different positions, why not? There's less than a year until the road to Brazil starts for the National Team, and there needs to be a solution to Bradley's woes.
Calling up an untested Cunningham or a forgotten Castillo should be no worse than keeping the status quo. Because currently, the status quo is going to jeopardize a spot in Brazil and also leave a "help wanted" sign for the USA head coaching job.