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John Anthony Brooks

Is Klinsmann right about his first choice defenders?

Juergen Klinsmann

Maybe Jurgen Klinsmann is right about John Brooks, Timothy Chandler and Ventura Alvarado, all of whom have labored lately in locking down consistent, starting spots at their clubs in Germany and Mexico. Maybe they got entangled in unfortunate circumstances as they merged back into club soccer a few weeks ago, fresh off United States men’s national team performances that could charitably be stamped as “works in progress.”

Either way, it’s a bit of a smudge on the US national team windshield, isn’t it? These guys are national team starters for a country with ambitions to climb beyond world soccer’s middle class, and yet they are just keeping their heads above water at club level.

There are potentially mitigating circumstances in each case. Chandler, for instance, consistently underwhelming in the U.S. shirt, took some additional vacation time on the back side of a (painfully predictably) underwhelming summer. So perhaps that’s why he was behind. Alvarado missed two early Club America starts.

SEE MORE: Analyzing best options for US left back position.

So maybe Klinsmann is right when he explains or justifies their club situations.

“It’s kind of a consequence of maybe that they came late into the preseason of their club teams and the coaches gave the other players a head start first,” Klinsmann said in a recent U.S. Soccer Q & A. “They have to fight their way back; it’s as simple as that.”

Or is it? There is another possible explanation, after all: That maybe Klinsmann is wrong. Maybe they just aren’t good enough.

Maybe they just aren’t quite at the level where they are more or less automatic choices with their clubs. More to the point, maybe other coaches see what so many of us see: that Alvarado, Brooks and Chandler just aren’t quite ready for prime time on the international stage. Oh, they might get there. Brooks is just 22 and Alvarado turned 23 just a couple of weeks ago. (Chandler is 25.)

Maybe – and here is where we hack further into the bigger-picture Klinsmann thicket – his measuring stick is bent, or even busted. Perhaps the way he gauges player capability, his essential personnel ranking mechanisms, deserves reconsideration or recalibration.

We all raised a curious brow when Alvarado and Brooks lined up ahead of Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler, last year’s World Cup starters at center back. The new pair’s wobbly performances certainly played a part in a Gold Cup bust.

There is certainly an element of larger strategy at work, as Klinsmann balances the risks of “on the job training” against the here-and-now need for results. But when they go back to their clubs and can’t find solid traction, our fears draw closer to confirmation: Maybe they were in over heads all along, even against regional middleweights such as Panama and Jamaica.

As for Chandler, who has so rarely looked up to the job internationally, that’s the itch that just refuses to be scratched as Klinsmann’s sometimes unconventional choices go. His ongoing starter status simply defies explanation.

But, again, perhaps Klinsmann is correct, that these guys deserve starting spots internationally. As someone who has accomplished so much as a player and a manager, and someone whose counter intuitive choices have intermittently proved downright prophetic, he always deserves some benefit of the doubt.

But when guys look shaky in the national shirt, when so many of us wonder if they deserve their elevated status assigned by Klinsmann, and then they begin to confirm our suspicions by failing to quickly establish themselves as club starters (the way international players generally should), then his explanations sound like something else.

It starts to feel like the U.S. coach is feeding us nonsense.

SEE MORE: Jurgen Klinsmann’s eventual replacement: How about Peter Vermes?

Players shouldn’t be “behind” because they aren’t in their club’s preseason camp. Not athletes who have truly earned their international chops, that is. Quite the opposite, in fact. They should be ahead, out front in conditioning, problem solving, technical craft and speed of thought, sharper of edge in shooting, tackling, etc. They should come in fully armed with confidence, fire and desire.

That’s what Klinsmann has told us before about players who get a head start in the January camps – that he wants them taking the lead with their clubs, setting the pace, emboldened by the U.S. Soccer crest.

We mentioned fitness, right? That’s a big one for the way it feeds into everything else, not to mention a perennial Klinsmann point of emphasis. So these guys should come into their clubs ready to lead from the front. They should be, that is, unless they just aren’t good enough in the first place.

Maybe they aren’t starting because, you know, there are better choices at their club addresses, at Hertha Berlin (Brooks), Eintracht Frankfurt (Chandler) and Club America (Alvarado). And if there are, then maybe Klinsmann’s selection methodologies deserve review.

It’s just another possibility to consider.

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  1. N Johnson

    August 27, 2015 at 5:47 am

    Disagree with the premise that Gonzalez and Besler are rock solid alternatives on the back line that wouldn’t look shaky playing at the international level or with the national team against top competition (and yes I’m aware of their respective World Cup performances). I’d venture to say that they both would be behind the likes of Chandler and Brooks if they were trying to earn time on a Bundesliga team, which by the way is a much, much stronger league than MLS.

  2. Firas Shadad

    August 26, 2015 at 1:14 pm

    Brooks, Chandler and Alvarado might not be international level players and Klinsmann might be proven dead wrong. But you can’t take two weeks of the start of the season to make a general referendum on their status with the club.
    All three were regulars with their clubs till the end of the season. Chandler actually played a half (in two league games) already despite missing most of the pre season and despite his club manger clearly not being happy that he was away with his national team.
    The point is: this would be more on point if it was written 3 months into the season not after two weeks.

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