It’s a familiar problem for Bob Bradley and USMNT fans. The perennial problem position for the United States continues to rear its ugly head. I am of course speaking of the left back position, where every American manager since Bora Milutinovic has had to experiment repeatedly to achieve any stability.
Natural left footer Jeff Agoos was always too unreliable and mistake prone to be counted on in big matches. Bora cut him from the 1994 World Cup team, and Steve Sampson almost did the same for 1998 after a costly mistake by Agoos cost the US two valuable home qualifying points versus Jamaica.
Sampson’s solution was to naturalize David Regis, a French national who had played at a high level in the German Bundesliga. Regis’ inclusion in the 1998 World Cup squad was a disaster, although Regis actually helped stabilize the situation for Bruce Arena in qualifying for the 2002 World Cup when he played very well.
But by the time Korea/Japan 2002 rolled around, Regis had become as unreliable as Agoos forcing Arena to play Frankie Hejduk out of position at left back at the World Cup. Following 2002, Cory Gibbs and Carlos Bocanegra were both tried on the left side but both were too slow and better suited to playing inside.
Eddie Lewis an outstanding left sided midfielder was converted to left back by Bruce Arena in 2005. This move like the naturalization of Regis was a desperate measure that yielded bad results. But in the midst of this disaster a bright light showed itself in the US pool: Heath Pearce.
Pearce played a few times in 2005 and 2006 and showed an incredible amount of skill and poise for youngster. I had first noticed Pearce while he played in the PDL for the Bradenton Academics in 2004. Instantly I thought he was more than simply a good youth prospect for the USA. I believed he would be the first really good left back we have produced.
But I have been very frustrated with Pearce since 2006. Pearce looked outstanding in front of my own eyes in Chicago against Brazil back in September 2007. But his troubles at Hansa Rostock not only on the pitch but in the dressing room caused a decline in his national team form.
Last August he got away with a hand ball in the first qualifier of the semifinal round down at the Mateo Flores. Had that handball been called qualification would have been much tougher for us. Since then he’s continued to be shaky, losing his mark often, and resorting hacking when he’s beat on a play.
The problem for Bradley is that the other natural left backs in the player pool all are based in MLS. We’ve learned throwing MLS players without any previous European or extensive international experience into matches on the road in CONCACAF is a recipe for disaster. We saw this in qualifying for the 2002 and 2006 World Cups and again with Sacha Kljestan down in El Salvador just a few short months ago.
This leaves Pearce as the only realistic long term option for the US at left back unless DaMarcus Beasley’s conversion works out better than that of Eddie Lewis, or Michael Orozco or Jonathan Spector both natural center backs fare better than Bocanegra and Gibbs did in the same role. To say the least Bradley is in an unenviable position.