United States men's national team fans have never been big supporters of defender Timmy Chandler and there are more than a few who think he doesn't even belong on the World Cup roster, let alone deserve to start.
When Chandler, who is a German-American, first emerged as a U.S. prospect, fans were excited at the possibility of adding some much-needed help to their corps of outside backs.
But starting with the 2011 Gold Cup, fans' opinions of Chandler began to change. Just before the tournament—which would have cap-tied the German-American permanently to the United States—it was announced that he would not be joining the team due to a "few little injuries."
With no specific injury to cite, not to mention the fact that players routinely play through "little" injuries, the announcement raised concerns among U.S. fans that Chandler was hedging his bets and still hoping for a call-up to the German national team.
When Jurgen Klinsmann took over the U.S. national team after that summer's Gold Cup, Chandler reappeared on the team and played for the U.S. in friendlies against Costa Rica, Belgium, Honduras, Ecuador, France and Slovenia in the fall of 2011.
However, when the U.S. began World Cup qualifying in May 2012, Chandler once again turned down an invitation to be part of the U.S. squad. According to Klinsmann, Chandler needed to "take a break" after the Bundesliga season.
This action by Chandler seemed to confirm the worst fears of U.S. fans about Chandler's lack of commitment, as any appearance for the Americans during World Cup qualifying would have, once again, cap-tied Chandler to the U.S. squad.
Then, in February 2013, Chandler appeared for the U.S. against Honduras in World Cup qualifying. Ironically, this game, which finally cap-tied Chandler to the U.S., happened to be the worst of his career with the Americans.
In the match, Klinsmann opted for an off-balance formation which offered Chandler no midfield support in front of him and, thus, no defensive help. In the near 90-degree temperatures of San Pedro Sula, the mostly European-based U.S. team wilted and lost 2-1. Fairly or not, Chandler was one of the players widely blamed for the defeat.
The next month, Brian Straus' "Friendly Fire" article came out in which several sources claimed the German-Americans on the U.S. team didn't care enough about the team's success.
Chandler then went 15 months before appearing with the U.S. squad again.
But despite Chandler's checkered past, when the U.S. lines up against Ghana in the World Cup in less than two weeks, he needs to be a starter.
His performance against Turkey last week did receive some criticism, but much of that appeared to be leftover anger at Chandler's seeming lack of commitment from years past. Throughout most of the match, Chandler was solid and he even assisted on what became the game-winning goal.
It must be admitted that Chandler was shaky in the last five minutes of the game which did contribute to Turkey's goal in the 89th minute, but at the time the U.S. was holding a 2-0 lead. The late mistakes that Chandler made were also coming off two weeks of hard work in training camp and Chandler, as well as the rest of the U.S. squad, was no doubt suffering from heavy legs.
If Chandler is dropped from the lineup, Fabian Johnson will be forced to play right-back. And while Johnson has no doubt excelled at the position over the past two weeks, and he has repeatedly played the position for his club Hoffenheim this past season, he would also be the U.S.'s best player at left-back and left wing—two positions the U.S. is still struggling to fill.
The common assumption is that Johnson is needed at right-back to mark Ronaldo when the U.S. plays Portugal. But there are two problems with that assumption.
First, the game against Portugal is only one of the U.S.'s three group-stage games, and it also doesn't account for the fact that Ronaldo could be used at forward or even on the right flank. The other problem with the Ronaldo assumption is that Johnson loves to get forward. If Ronaldo happens to be playing on the left with Johnson on the right, any foray by Johnson into the attack would leave Geoff Cameron one-on-one with the best player in the world.
While Johnson is naturally right-footed, he's also very comfortable playing on the left side. Playing him at left-back—with Chandler on the right—would also mitigate the need to use DaMarcus Beasley. Beasley has performed admirably during World Cup qualifying and could still be needed, but most fans admit that he is still not the most trusted option in the back.
If Beasley were trusted to play left-back, Johnson could then be moved to left mid with Chandler still at right-back. Johnson would surely offer more in the midfield than either Alejandro Bedoya or Brad Davis—the two players who have started at left mid during the U.S.'s first two send-off games.
One of the things that fans rarely consider is how moving any one player affects the other pieces on the board. While Johnson may be the U.S.'s best option at right-back, he's far more valuable at left-back or left mid. But to make that work, Chandler has to be the U.S.'s starter at right-back.
Follow me on Twitter @JohnDHalloran
Follow me on Facebook www.facebook.com/AmericanTouchline