Getting Defensive: A Look at The Probable U.S. Backline in South Africa
Last week, we took a look at the goalkeeper position for the U.S. ahead of the World Cup in South Africa this summer.
This week, we move up the field and review the likely starters, bench players, and decisions Bob Bradley will have to make ahead of the World Cup.
The first question is, how many defenders should he take, seven or eight?
The conservative answer here (and Bradley is a conservative manager) is to bring eight defenders. However, the U.S. is blessed with many talented midfielders and Bradley will be tempted to bring at least eight and possibly nine midfielders.
Add in the fact that Maurice Edu, a central midfield, has some experience playing central defender (U.S. Olympics in Beijing) that Bradley may feel he has enough cover at defender and only bring seven actual defenders to South Africa.
The second question is, who is a lock to go to South Africa?
To answer this question, we have to look at who the usual suspects are, but also form and health.
Captain Carlos Bocanegra is a lock, as is Jay DeMerit, Oguchi Onyewu, Steve Cherundolo, Jonathan Spector, and Jonathan Bornstein.
With the exception of Onyewu, all of the above players are getting regular minutes and are healthy. It is uncertain when Onyewu will see the field again for AC Milan, but U.S. fans have their fingers crossed that his recovery is going well and he will play some before the club season is over.
With six players as locks, Bradley will choose one or two more defenders to round out his roster.
He needs another central defender, and that's where Clarence Goodson comes in. Goodson has been playing solidly for both country and club, and he's an easy selection for Bradley to make.
If Bradley opts for an eighth defender, signs point to either Heath Pearce or Frank Simek to get the nod.
Pearce played well in the friendly against the Netherlands, while Simek, a right back, has been playing regularly for Sheffield Wednesday.
It may be important to have backup at the left back position, especially if Onyewu is not at full health by June, so that means Jonathan Bornstein will see a lot of minutes in South Africa.
Because of this, if Bradley does choose an eighth defender, it will likely be Heath Pearce.
Finally, who will start against England on June 12th?
The answer to this question depends entirely on Onyewu's health and form leading up to June. If he's ready to go and at or near 100%, we will see a similar starting lineup to the one we saw in the Confederations Cup, from left to right:
Steve Cherundolo has been playing well, but I believe Spector's familiarity with the English opposition and his ability to deliver a timely cross will give him the edge over the Hannover 96 captain to start at right back.
However, if there are any lingering questions about Onyewu's form, we'll probably see Bocanegra move back to central midfield with Jonathan Bornstein the starter at left back, so it will look like this:
Many U.S. fans cringe at the thought of Bornstein being a starter, but Bradley trusts him, and he has been somewhat solid if not unlucky in his last outing with the U.S. team against the Netherlands where one shot ricocheted off of him for a goal and his ill-timed tug and flop in the penalty area that led to a penalty kick.
Luckily for U.S. fans, there are fewer questions about the defense than there are at the midfield and forward positions, which I will cover in future articles.
We should know much more in the coming weeks about the U.S. defense, which hopefully can neutralize the opposing offenses it will face in June.
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