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Defensive Errors by USMNT Veterans Leave Concern After Win over Iceland

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistFebruary 1, 2016

United States defender Matt Besler #5 in actions against Iceland during a men's international friendly soccer game in Carson, Calif., Sunday, Jan., 31, 2016. The United States won 3-2. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
Ringo H.W. Chiu/Associated Press

Defense has never been a calling card for the United States men's national team under the direction of manager Jurgen Klinsmann. 

In Sunday's 3-2 friendly win over Iceland, the Yanks put themselves in a hole with two erroneous defensive errors. The pair of mistakes forced the USMNT to respond moving forward.

Luckily for the Yanks, they pulled back two goals from two center-backs to earn the win, but they will not be able to count on a come-from-behind victory in all future matches. 

There are going to be games over the next 12 months where one error is the difference between a victory and a defeat. Based off the current reputation of the USMNT defense, that could easily be the case in the upcoming CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers or the Copa America Centenario. 

Some will argue Sunday's match doesn't mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things since a majority of youth internationals were on the pitch, but the biggest mistakes were made by veterans in the USMNT squad.

With places on the lineespecially in defense for the next six months, the lack of form from the center-backs was troubling to say the least. 

Sporting Kansas City man Matt Besler entered the contest as the veteran in the back four, and as a player who was expected to exude leadership and class with a potential first-team position on the horizon. 

Javier Hernandez of Mexico vies for the ball with Matt Besler of the US during their 2015 CONCACAF Cup match at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California on October 10, 2015. The match is a playoff for the 2017 Confederations Cup. AFP PHOTO / FREDERIC J. BROW
FREDERIC J. BROWN/Getty Images

The 28-year-old threw away all the good he did at the back end of 2015 in the 13th minute as he failed to clear the ball out of the penalty area. Besler's failure in simple defending allowed Kristinn Steindorsson to retrieve the ball and send a deflected shot into the back of the net. 

You could make the excuse that Besler is still in preseason form, but he has been training for a few weeks with the USMNT. Given his experience at the position and the time he spent in the January camp preparing for the matches against Iceland and Canada, he has no excuses. 

Sure, Besler may have another chance to prove himself on Friday against Canada, but his early mistake against Iceland may come back to haunt him in the long run.

With Omar Gonzalez consistently playing solid minutes in Liga MX and John Brooks performing well at Hertha Berlin, Besler has little room for error in his quest for an international starting position. 

Oct 29, 2015; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Timbers defender Alvas Powell (2) is stopped by Sporting Kansas City defender Matt Besler (5) during the first half at Providence Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Besler wasn't the only defensive veteran who slipped up in the buildup to an Iceland tally on Sunday.

Michael Orozco, who was called into the January camp after Matt Miazga left to sign with Chelsea, let Aron Sigurdarson score off a quick free-kick in the 49th minute. The lackadaisical error by the 29-year-old and a few other players in blue shirts handed Iceland an unexpected one-goal advantage early in the second half. 

It must be noted that Orozco redeemed himself with a goal in the 59th minute, but the Yanks wouldn't have needed an equalizer if he simply paid attention to the quick free-kick 10 minutes earlier.

Against a team like Brazil, Mexico or Costa Rica, the USMNT may not have plenty of chances to respond. 

CARSON, CA - JANUARY 31: Michael Orozco #19 of the United States heads home a goal as Ogmundur Kristinsson #1 of Iceland attempts to block it during the International Soccer Friendly match between the United States and Iceland at the StubHub Center on Jan
Shaun Clark/Getty Images

Besler and Orozco may not be locks to start in the first-team starting 11, but they are the backup options at the moment to Gonzalez, Brooks and Geoff Cameron. Sunday's match did not hand either of the center-backs a dose of confidence in their own half. 

Now with one friendly left before the World Cup qualifiers against Guatemala in March, Klinsmann is again questioning his depth at the all-important position.

Miazga and Steve Birnbaum, who shone offensively with a goal and an assist on Sunday, are options for Klinsmann, but both are still raw on the international level. 

That leaves Gonzalez, Brooks, Cameron, Besler, Orozco and the uneasy Ventura Alvarado as the veterans available for selection for the away and home contests with Guatemala and whatever friendlies come before the Copa America Centenario. 

Sunday's match may be too small of a sample size to rush to judgement about how the USMNT center-backs will perform in 2016, but it was an eye-opener of sorts as two veterans made simple errors.

Lost in all the center-back criticism was the play of left-back Kellyn Acosta, who may be the reliable answer the Yanks need on the defensive wing. 

Correcting the center-back problems from the Iceland match may be as easy as entering in new players at the position. But the errors by Besler and Orozco left fans with a familiar uneasy feeling about the USMNT back line at the start of an important year. 

Joe Tansey covers U.S. Soccer for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @JTansey90

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