According to whispers in and around the US men's national team, we should all expect Geoff Cameron to suit up at right back in Friday's qualifier against Honduras at San Jose's Avaya Stadium. I don't think this is the choice I'd make, largely because I always think the smartest thing to do is to put the spine of the team first.
"The spine," by my definition, is central defense, defensive midfield and center forward. If you have those areas locked down, then you can tinker around a little bit with the rest of positions, accounting for injuries, suspensions and match-up needs. And with all due respect to Omar Gonzalez (who's been excellent for Pachuca) and Walker Zimmerman (who's been excellent for FC Dallas), I still have more faith in the Cameron/John Brooks pairing than any other permutation in central defense.
So if Cameron and Brooks are healthy, I'd start them together with Michael Bradley at d-mid in front of them. That's the spine, and the look the US used during last summer's Copa America that produced the best extended run of defensive form under former manager Jurgen Klinsmann.
Thus is weighed one side of the scale. The other side is that due to the biblical rash of injuries at right back, Cameron is probably the best individual choice at that spot by a clearer margin than he is at center back. In terms of getting more of the team's best talent out onto the field, Cameron at RB and Gonzalez at CB alongside Brooks makes more sense than the Cameron/Brooks pairing with either Michael Orozco or Graham Zusi at RB.
That really is my main concern going into Friday. I think there are other questions as well – will it be DaMarcus Beasley or Jorge Villafaña at left back (Villafaña vs. Honduras, DMB next Tuesday at Panama is my guess), and has Kellyn Acosta done enough to stake a claim on a central midfield role next to/in front of Bradley (I hope so!), and has Darlington Nagbe won a job on one flank or the other (please!) all get their own entries as well.
Those are questions, though. This is a concern:
Jordan Morris gutted out 90 minutes, the last 60 or so on a bum ankle, against RBNY this past Sunday in a 3-1 Sounders win. He scored the game-winner, then was in San Jose 12 hours later.
According to reports he hasn't trained with the team on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday. Under normal circumstances it wouldn't be a big deal since Morris is, at this point, Bobby Wood's back-up as a channel-running, field-stretching No. 9. But Wood's not here either as he picked up a back injury this weekend for Hamburg in the Bundesliga. Gyasi Zardes, who's probably fourth on the "true No. 9" depth chart is also hurt, and Juan Agudelo – fifth, right? – has been playing as a No. 10 for New England.
And now the US seem perilously thin at center forward. Jozy Altidore – noted CONCACAF killer – will assuredly start at center forward, and he's been in good enough form for TFC with two goals and an assist in his last two games. But behind him in the current No. 9 corps it's just Morris and then two veterans, in Clint Dempsey and Chris Wondolowski, who've always been better used and more effective as second forwards rather than guys who lead the line. Neither is really a No. 9.
Is it a crisis? No, I don't think so, and whispers out of camp are that Morris is going to be fine for Friday. He probably won't start, but he wouldn't have started anyway since Dempsey is fit and functional and scoring goals, and is doing stuff like this:
Deuce is still doing Deuce stuff. pic.twitter.com/7A57VwJQEv— Matthew Doyle (@MLSAnalyst) March 22, 2017
Healthy Clint Dempsey starts. That should've been obvious even before Morris picked up a knock, right? Healthy Jozy Altidore starts as well, and then it's four midfielders and four defenders behind them. Morris will be fine to give 30 minutes as a change-of-pace attacking sub if that's required.
And the thing to remember is that this is Bruce Arena calling the shots. He's masterful at keeping things un-complicated:
There will be gripes about the lineup no matter the XI Arena trots out. At the top of this column you can see mine.
But this group should be more than good enough to get the job done over the next 180 minutes. So embrace your concerns, but also embrace the fact that even with those concerns, and the injuries, and the awful start to qualifying, the US are favorites to get the job done.
Ok folks, thanks for keeping me company!