For the United States national team, left back is the problem child that just cannot be tamed.
Surely you’ve heard that before; this is hardly a recent thing. Going way, way back, left back was a mostly unsettled spot for Steve Sampson, then for Bruce Arena, then for Bob Bradley and now, generally, for Jurgen Klinsmann.
Oh, the occasional answer would arrive in someone like Eddie Lewis or DaMarcus Beasley. Both, however, were converted midfielders. In fact, it is far easier to recall the converted, stop-gap fill-ins (Brek Shea, Bobby Convey, Jose Torres … on it goes) than to recall the true left backs who provided brief respites of low-level stability. (“Low-level” stability because we were typically underwhelmed with the results. Or perhaps you felt differently as Heath Pearce, Jonathan Bornstein, Timothy Chandler, Eric Lichaj or even Carlos Bocanegra took their spins on the left fullback wheel.)
Suffice to say, there has been no Steve Cherundolo, the right back who took that position by the scruff of its neck and kept an MMA-worthy choke hold on it for years.
But we aren’t here to go another few rounds pounding away at the punching bag of history here. Today we are just focused on the swirl of current goings-on with the potential occupants of the U.S. left back position – because a lot seems to be happening at the moment.
First is the movement of Tim Ream, who seems bound for London, even if the ultimate destination remains a bit unresolved. Bolton’s two-time Player of the Year first seemed destined for QPR, but now seems en route to the slightly more tony West London address not far from Loftus Road.
Ream will apparently soon join Fulham, where all good American soccer players eventually land. (That’s not exactly true, of course, but it’s not far from it. Some do call it Fulhamerica, after all.)
Ream was a bit of a utility knife at Bolton, appearing first as a center back but also filling in at midfield and eventually seeming to find a home at left back around the Reebok. Hard to say where he might play at Craven Cottage, but Fulham seems most in need of a left back.
Good move for Ream? Probably as it relates to any national team prospects. Despite recent calls into the national team, and despite a tidy passing ability at various ranges, he seems to be only 4th or 5th at very best in the ranking of U.S. center backs. (That’s the only place Ream has lined up internationally.)
Fulham seems slightly better positioned for a run back into the Premier League than Bolton. (So, also, does QPR for that matter. As for Bolton’s chances of once again running with the big dogs of the EPL, well … hard times, man, hard times.)
Klinsmann likes ambition in his player pool, so that might elevate the St. Louis native’s stock. And a sustained run at left back around Craven Cottage should help, too.
If nothing else, at Fulham he’ll be in a position to mentor young Emerson Hyndman, just 19, one of the top young prospects in Klinsmann’s player pool. While some may have occasionally wondered where Ream was best positioned, no one has ever questioned his dedication or professionalism, going back to his fast-rising days with the New York Red Bulls. So, as mentors go, you could do far, far worse than Tim Ream.
There seems to be some opportunity at U.S. left back. Beasley has been a good and loyal soldier from the first day Klinsmann asked the well-traveled veteran to fill-in at left back (in 2013). His retirement didn’t exactly “take” last time, as Klinsmann recalled the 33-year-old Houston Dynamo man for Gold Cup duty.
But further national team involvement would seem unlikely and probably even imprudent for Beasley. Not that he couldn’t assist in the U.S. matches ahead, but the time to develop a longer-term replacement surely is now, not later.
That could be Fabian Johnson but for two issues. First, the old problem of where to station the talented Borussia Monchengladbach left-sider: Klinsmann prefers him further up the field, and seems inclined on getting Johnson there whenever possible. (Even if it means dragging trusty ol’ Beasley out of retirement to do so.)
Even if Klinsmann wanted Johnson at left back, an apparent hamstring injury will make that impossible for the near future. The time sucks, too; The United States has early September friendlies ahead against Peru and Brazil, and then the far more consequential Oct. 10 date against Mexico at the Rose Bowl, with a 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup berth there for the taking.
So who is the answer? Is it Greg Garza, now at Atlas in Liga MX, who has looked promising in spots over nine U.S. appearances over the last year? Possibly, although getting sent home from the Gold Cup (in favor of Beasley) doesn’t say good things about where Garza stands in Klinsmann’s book.)
Or could it possibly be … Robbie Rogers?
There seems to be some resistance there from Klinsmann, and who could really say why? Klinsmann certainly isn’t obligated to say why he rates one player ahead of another. That’s not part of his job description, which is probably for the best; we’re all probably wandering past our pay grade in attempting to crack the fluid Klinsmann code.
Rogers has excelled since his move about a year ago to left back for the L.A. Galaxy, a move that seems destined to extend Rogers’ once-stalled career, and perhaps a move that may one day be Arena’s final gift to the U.S. national team. It could be, that is, if Rogers’ ever finds his way once again past the velvet ropes of the national team. If it weren’t for Benny Feilhaber, Rogers would already be the figure summoning the most curiosity and angst among U.S. supporters.
He does the defending well enough (not perfectly, but not badly, either) and at 28 years old still plenty of up-field push thanks to the pace that always made him such a valued prospect. Rogers just picked his second assist of 2015 (along with one goal), an important one on Robbie Keane’s first goal in a road win over Dallas.
Editor’s note: Steve Davis writes a weekly column for World Soccer Talk. He shares his thoughts and opinions on US and MLS soccer topics every Wednesday, as well as news reports throughout the week. You can follow Steve on Twitter at @stevedavis90. Plus, read Steve’s other columns on World Soccer Talk.
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