The U.S. men’s national team must sort out a few issues defensively before the World Cup in Brazil.
Their attack is in good shape. They're stocked with talented players in the middle and on the flanks. Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley are developing a nice chemistry centrally, Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey are scoring goals in bunches and Graham Zusi might well be the team's top-choice creator right now.
The situation is slightly more muddled on defense, as Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez do their best to lead the group from the center back positions. As they continue to get more games together, their confidence will surely grow.
In the meantime, here are three things that Jurgen Klinsmann needs focus on defensively in the months leading to the World Cup.
Find a Long-Term Left Back Solution
DaMarcus Beasley deserves tons of credit for his spot duty work at left back in the USMNT’s most recent World Cup Qualifiers. The veteran served admirably out of position and re-staked his claim for consistent inclusion on USMNT rosters.
That said, Beasley is headed towards the twilight of his career and while he has done a fine job as a wing defender, he is more adept as an outside midfielder. So for Klinsmann, Beasley is likely not the best option for Brazil and the team should try to find a player in time to develop chemistry with Besler, Gonzalzez and Tim Howard.
Some options include Fabian Johnson, who is crafty enough to join the attack on the wing, as well as Edgar Castillo, who is a technical fullback with pace himself.
Regardless, solidifying the position will be necessary as the team prepares for Brazil.
Clamp Down on Set Pieces
The U.S. defense has gotten into a nasty habit of late: Giving up goals on set pieces. Their matches against Germany and Jamaica serve as examples of such.
Historically, the Yanks have been very successful in defending the dead ball situation, stocked athletes capable of dominating aerially.
The recent trend of allowing goals in this fashion is sure to give Klinsmann fits.
A good majority of the onus must fall on the shoulders of Omar Gonzalez who is the best defender in the air for the USMNT. His timing in clearing balls is almost always spot on and his ability to out leap attackers is useful.
Tim Howard, too, must be sure to organize his backs and emphasize that they do not lose marks following the chaos that often ensures on a corner or free kick.
Better Individual Defending
The CONCACAF Qualifying region features some shifty, talented dribblers who have been able, at times, to get past the U.S. backs in one-on-one situations far too easily.
It is no mundane task trying to keep the likes of Mario Martinez for Honduras or Ryan Johnson for Jamaica at bay. These types of fast, controlled players must be carefully dealt with when they are driving forward at high speeds.
So discipline and not diving in on fakes and feints is a must.
Simply stated, the Yanks must do better at keeping attackers in front of them when isolated. They do not necessarily have to win the ball off a dribbler but making sure they do not get beat is critical for a U.S. back four that is generally well organized and good at covering for one another.