Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on football.com on 9/3/2013.
This Friday, the United States men dive back into World Cup qualifiers in Costa Rica before heading to Columbus to square off against Mexico. While much of the buzz surrounds Altidore’s status and Donovan’s reintroduction to the full first team, the most intriguing questions are at the right back position.
Brad Evans was ruled out of the squad this past week after suffering a calf strain and will be replaced by Gold Cup starter Michael Parkhurst. However, it is unlikely Parkhurst will see any minutes in either of the qualifiers, as Geoff Cameron, who starts at right back for Stoke City, is the obvious choice to fill the position.
Or is he?
Yes. Yes, he is. I encourage you (and Klinsmann and everyone else) to think as little about this decision as possible. Like guessing on a multiple choice test, the first answer that pops into your brain is usually the right answer. Now apply that same principle to right back with the only two available options. Exactly.
More troubling than the lack of depth at right back is that Cameron’s inclusion as a starter was ever uncertain to begin with. I have made no secret of my distaste for Evans in what is a massive role in the current U.S. system of play. And Parkhurst is even a step below Evans, leaving almost no mark in the Gold Cup despite having free reign to ignore his defensive responsibilities as the U.S. rolled over teams on their way to the championship.
Not only is Cameron better at right back, he is also a fairly unique player compared to the rest of the squad. At 6’3” and 185 pounds, he is a natural center back, only he has enough speed, athleticism and skill to start out of position for a Premier League team in England. He is the American Phil Jones, a plug in at any position, except his malleability appears to be to his own detriment. As an incredibly versatile player without a true home, there is no one position he has to play, so Klinsmann opts to use players that train year round in a single mindset.
Furthermore, defense may not even be the position he is best suited for. Against Panama back in June, Cameron started for a concussed Jermaine Jones in the center of the midfield with Michael Bradley and seemed to truly come alive. For whatever reason, Klinsmann seems to prefer Jones with Bradley, despite how similarly they function as attacking midfielders. Against Panama, though, Cameron was everywhere, flying around the field in a defensive holding role. That unleashed Bradley on attack and helped kickstart the U.S. in the early stages of their current win streak.
Klinsmann clearly deserves the benefit of the doubt considering the team’s recent success, and many of the remaining questions about starters will be answered in the next ten days. It is altogether possible that Evans was given the starting nod over the summer simply because his club was in season and Cameron’s was not.
Regardless, the U.S. will need Geoff Cameron on the field in some capacity against the more polished competition in the World Cup. Hopefully, Friday night will be our first full look at a world class back line. Remember, the first answer is usually the right answer.