Commentary: 30-man USMNT roster shows Jurgen Klinsmann's doubts in defense
Most of us thought Jurgen Klinsmann was fretting about the US national team's attacking options as the World Cup looms.
Turns out he's actually worried about the backline.
The 30-man training camp roster announced by Klinsmann on Monday featured several surprising developments, but what pushed most of those other tough decisions was some stone-cold arithmetic keyed by the USMNT head coach's decision to name 11 defenders.
Even taking into account the Swiss Army Knife-level versatility of players like Brad Evans, Fabian Johnson and Geoff Cameron, that's a lot of bodies to jostle in a team which has played a back four for Klinsmann's entire tenure.
And it suggests a few more hard calls in the week ahead, because it's even harder to imagine him taking all 11 of these guys. That means Klinsmann will likely be making as many tough cuts in the back as we were all expecting up front, where Eddie Johnson heads the list of eyebrow-raising absences and Julian Green's charmed start to USMNT life continues.
But up until Monday, it would've been an event stretch to imagine Timmy Chandler being back in the picture at this juncture. Yet the German-American wide man now finds himself with a solid chance of going to Brazil with a nation which has often fretted about the depth of his commitment, and it's a direct result of Klinsmann's dissatisfaction with his options at fullback.
Similarly, young DeAndre Yedlin is far closer to making that plane than anyone outside of Puget Sound thought was rationally possible after his uneven early displays for the Yanks. And Michael Parkhurst edges closer to a first World Cup trip since making his USMNT debut some seven years ago, despite playing at center back, not right back, in a Columbus Crew defending scheme similar to Klinsmann's.
For the better part of two years, Klinsmann has breezily downplayed what many of us thought was a nerve-wracking shorthandedness on the corners. He converted two midfielders (Evans and DaMarcus Beasley) into fullbacks during an injury emergency, and when the team subsequently sailed through qualifying, appeared to believe that results had proved that situation – call it “permanent triage” – was not only passable, but laudable. Remember when he chuckled about a question on the matter and said “anyone can play left back”?
But the moment the US were dropped into a nasty World Cup group alongside three nations all boasting ample pace, power and trickery in wide positions – headlined by Portugal's reigning FIFA World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo – the issue's importance has grown dramatically.
Unfortunately for Klinsmann, a bit of late-breaking instability in the center of defense – where Omar Gonzalez sustained an injury a few weeks after slipping a bit from his usual unfussy steadiness in the USMNT's last match, that 2-2 friendly draw with Mexico – means he'll have to ponder a couple of knotty questions there, too.
Thus youngster John Brooks has earned a call despite a wobbly outing against Ukraine in March, while veterans Cameron and Clarence Goodson will have ample chance to prove that they are the best partner to Matt Besler should Gonzalez struggle to get adequately fit and sharp.
Elsewhere, Terrence Boyd has powered into the group of 30 thanks to his late flurry of goals at the close of the Austrian season, Brad Davis returned from injury just in time to show his importance to the Houston Dynamo and Mix Diskerud and Joe Corona showed that last summer's Gold Cup heroics have not been forgotten.
But the biggest questions will linger over that rear guard – not only in terms of who makes the final 23-man roster for Brazil, but who will be in the starting 11 when the World Cup quest officially commences against Ghana in Natal on June 16.
It's what fans and pundits have been cussing and discussing for months, and now Klinsmann has finally revealed that it's at the top of his list, too.