Half-Full, Half-Empty & 22 Deep at CD
A few days ago, before the loss to Ecuador, I took a look at Jürgen Klinsmann's player choices. Against the South Americans, Klinsman gave his bench a chance. It didn't work out, but it did shine the light on a few more players in the picture for Brazil 2014. Some looked good with the added attention. Others probably wish their glaring mistakes weren't so visible. Considering the next two games are likely to be in Europe, with one of the matches rumored to be against France, there's a good chance Jürgen Klinsmann will open up his reign in charge of the US team with just a win and a draw out of his first seven matches. You have blinders on if you don't see the improvements under Klinsmann. There are signs that his master plan is starting to take root, but there are few goals and even fewer wins. And while many fans dream of a day the red, white and blue will play like the blaugrana - eventually it comes down to, as the recently departed Raiders owner Al Davis used to say, "Just Win, Baby." Maybe I'm an optimist but I'm not panicking. Far from it. The team is playing better, more attractive, coordinated soccer. And the only reason the occasional defensive blunder draws such a glaring spotlight is because the offense isn't scoring. This would be worrisome if the team wasn't creating chances, but they are. And I do like the increased intensity to win the ball back after turnovers. That consistent pressure will eventually lead to goals. Eventually, the goals will start to go in. And then over-optimism will be the danger, rather than over-pessimism. From that yin and yang following the Ecuador defeat the "half empty" glass concerns the lingering tendency to blast the ball downfield under the slightest of pressure. Steve Cherundolo, Timmy Chandler and Kyle Beckerman seem comfortable in the new system, while Oguchi Onyewu and Maurice Edu were erratic at best. And did captain Carlos Bocanegra ever complete a pass to anyone not named Tim Howard? I appreciate the desire to maintain possession, which is what makes those long balls out of the back that much more frustrating. Those are flashbacks of the bad old days. In modern football, the ability for defenders to distribute is vitally important. Otherwise, you're always on defense. Being able to maintain possession and build from the back is the best way to make sure the other team doesn't get a chance to score. Those long balls can be a weapon if used correctly. More often than not, they just lead to more scrambling on defense to staunch the tide. From the "half full" glass, Onyewu is back. He still has to improve on his distribution, but his speed, positioning and strength will be a welcome and a bit unexpected addition to Klinsmann's defensive options. DaMarcus Beasley also showed that he has regained his skill and confidence and can at least provide an alternative on the bench to unbalance a tiring defense. Meanwhile, Chandler is getting more comfortable at left back, even using his left foot to launch in some dangerous crosses. He might just be a band-aid, but as Philip Lahm proved in 2006, Klinsmann has used a wrong footed back to his benefit in the past. And his fellow German import Danny Williams is the real deal. Whether his final spot is on the wing, in the back, right or left or center - the Hoffenheim man shows no signs of early jitters in his opening matches for the US. While Klinsmann did finally overcome his aversion to substitutes, I wish Bill Hamid, Teal Bunbury and Freddy Adu would get a chance to do more than just shag balls at camp. Chris Pontius and Stuart Holden were likely to get a call-up until injuries knocked them out of the running for now. And there are other talented players who deserve a chance. I'd like to see the new US boss do some fishing outside the current US pool. I think Chicago's Sean Johnson deserves a chance to challenge Bill Hamid for the gloves-in-waiting position. I think A.J. DeLaGarza is one of the smartest defenders in MLS and would love to see him get a shot, in addition to the big men in Omar Gonzalez and George John. For creativity in the attack, Mix Diskerud and Benny Feilhaber deserve a call-up, as does wing-man Alejandro Bedoya. And while there might be more talented and physically gifted players that can fight for a starting spot in the attack, there is something about the spark and nose for goal that Seattle's Mike Fucito provides off the bench for the Sounders that is hard to quantify. Every winning team needs that offense in the clutch. It would have been useful after Ecuador scored. --- Getting back to the after-effects of Onyewu's reemergence, here's a look at my top ten center backs for the national team: Clarence Goodson, Onyewu, Gonzalez, Bocanegra, Jay DeMerit, John, DeLaGarza, Geoff Cameron, Tim Ream and Nat Borchers. Goodson is tougher and quicker than he looks and is comfortable with the ball at his feet. In reality though, he tops the list by default. If Onyewu can continue his comeback tour while improving his short passing skills the top spot is his. Sure, Gonzalez can get better. However, if you've seen him play this season you know he's the most dominating defender in MLS. Bocanegra is a team leader a decent defender and faster than he looks. However, his inability to make the simple pass and his insistence on blasting the ball into 50-50 land are too costly against good teams. You know what you're going to get with DeMerit, and it's mostly good. John's a bit raw and has a tendency to get injured or he might be higher on this list. DeLaGarza intrigues me. Maybe I've been watching too much Barcelona, but I could see him as a Mascherano-type center back, using his speed and guile to make up for a mismatch in strength. Cameron and Ream are two projects with huge upsides and Borchers is a solid defender who shines in RSL's ball possession system. My second ten central defenders (plus two): Chad Marshall, Brandon McDonald, Ugo Ihemelu, Bobby Boswell, Michael Orozco-Fiscal, Dan Califf, Ike Opara, Perry Kitchen, Gale Agbossoumonde and Ethan White. Add Babajide Ogunbiyi (Viborg FF, Denmark) and Etchu Tabe (Rovaniemen FC, Finland) to the list, as they've been shining in the silence that is Scandanavia for several years and should get a look as well. That's my twenty-two deep for the two men in the middle. What say you? Leave a note below, or tweet me @PhilSchoen.