GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala — The left back problem persists for the US.
Carlos Bocanegra isn't the answer. Jonathan Bornstein – fresh off a shocker against Paraguay – can do no right in the eyes of the collected masses, even when he does (see: World Cup 2010). And Jonathan Spector, nope.
But down in Guatemala, the flank was solidified – for a night, at least.
Greg Garza, Thomas Rongen's embattled, frequently maligned, first-choice fullback, had himself a sublime performance against Suriname on Tuesday night during the U-20s' opening match of the CONCACAF Championship.
The GD Estoril Praia defender intercepted almost everything the opponents sent his way, cutting off balls and spurring the attack. He moved forward with abandon, pressuring Suriname, yet remained true to his defensive assignment.
No one would confuse the opposition with one of the best sides in the tournament, but the showing was an inspiring start for the United States squad and Garza in particular.
"In the very beginning, it took a while to get the nerves out," Garza told MLSsoccer.com after the match. "But after that, everything went kind of smooth and everything went my way."
Garza is not the only option Rongen has at left back – FC Dallas Home Grown player Moises Hernandez will pressure the Texas native for playing time – but he is the incumbent. The 19-year-old started seven matches in 2010, tying for the team lead with fellow back-liners Gale Agbossoumonde and Zarek Valentin.
[inline_node:332237]The trio, along with D.C. United standout Perry Kitchen, is developing a strong unity, a bond that facilitates simple, sometimes wordless, communication. The US dominated possession against Suriname, allowing Garza – and Valentin – to get into the attack, but the duo generally returned to defend when needed.
"Perry's the captain and Gale's also vocal," Garza said. "If they want you back, you have to get back. If you have a little freedom, you can take your time to go forward."
On Tuesday, the opportunity presented itself on multiple occasions. As the skill of the opposition increases, however, Garza will need to focus more on his defensive responsibilities, especially in the upcoming match against Panama.
"[I have to] stay a little bit more connected with the back four,” he said. “Sometimes I went up a little bit too much [against Suriname]. I need to know the right time to go."
Still, Garza wants to go forward – US Soccer lists him as a midfielder and he considers himself an attacking player – and credits his teammates with giving him cover so he can attack. Rongen's free-flowing, constantly interchanging system will continue to create these opportunities, and it's important the left back continues to take advantage.
To do so, he needs to stay on the field. Critics point to a lack of speed, but Garza looked a step faster on the Estadio Mateo Flores field than he had in previous appearances.
At one point, he raced down the right channel, winning a footrace with a Suriname attacker and negotiating a dangerous through ball out for a corner kick. The play displayed both improved quickness and situational awareness.
During another spell, he received the ball just across midfield while facing his own net, spun on two defenders, and went forward. It was a brief moment, but one that demonstrated the growth of his game.
The left back issue on the US senior team will persist up and down the depth chart. Garza showed well for 90 minutes against an inferior opponent, but if he keeps it up, he could be the solution.
Noah Davis covers the United States national team for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @noahedavis.