HOUSTON – For US national team defenders trying to make a case for themselves to Jurgen Klinsmann and the rest of the coaching staff, Tuesday’s scoreless draw with Canada provided limited opportunities.
One of the major questions heading into the January camp was whether central defenders Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler (above) could play their way up the US depth chart. Unfortunately for them, there was rarely a challenge from the defensive-minded Canadians that answered that query.
However, their body of work over the three-week camp was enough to show Klinsmann what they were made of.
“I think they just need to get more of those games, even really intense and hectic games,” Klinsmann told reporters. “Over the last three weeks, we saw what we already knew about both of them. They’re both very strong center backs and they’re ready for the international level and they’re a handful.”
While Canada’s forays forward were few and far between, the center back pair excelled in the area of distribution and possession, an area that Klinsmann emphasizes, and one both feel they acquitted themselves well in.
Besler and Gonzalez (at right) were as consistent as you might expect with little pressure on them, making simple, smart passes to the midfield to keep possession or start the attack. There were moments, however, when the pair sought to play more incisive balls.
Both defenders picked out runners breaking past the bunkered-in Canadian backline and sent balls over the top to try and release their attacking teammates. While those attempts didn’t always come off, the thought process behind them may have caught Klinsmann’s eye.
“I think from that aspect, I’m pretty happy with my performance,” Besler said of his passing. “I think my distribution out of the back is one of my strong points. It was definitely a good game to show that.”
The duo was sound in their primary role: intercepting Canadian attacks. Gonzalez, as he does so often in MLS, won a majority of the aerial battles while Besler was his typical field general self, directing traffic and cutting off runs.
“If there was a Canada team that was playing like it was tonight and they still managed to get opportunities, I would say it was a bad night,” Gonzalez said. “They didn’t have any opportunities, and I thought the whole team played pretty solid and it was a great effort.”
Taking all this into consideration, while the game did not present obvious answers to those center back questions, both men can feel confident that they did nothing to harm their chances of future USMNT calls.
“I’m comfortable with it,” Besler said of his performance. “I just wanted to go out and win the game first and play my best. The rest will take care of itself. It’s up to the coaches, really.”