Injury Crisis? Assessing the US Central Defenders

Most attention on the US team was focused on the strikers and playmakers. We always tend to focus on goal scorers more than defenders. But in reality Oguchi Onyewu’s comeback was and is much more vital to the US team than Charlie Davies’. Under Bradley the US has thrived defensively. Going into the World Cup, we know there will be times when the American goal will be under total assault, especially against England. Therefore to make a run in the World Cup, similar to the run in the Confederations’ Cup, defensive solidity will be the key. But the backline of the USMNT is not looking in great shape right now.

The team over the last few years has had three centerbacks that are capable of playing in any league in the world: Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra, and Jay Demerit. It was these three that were on the field against Spain and Brazil last year (with Bocanegra playing at left back). It was these three that gave many US fans confidence. Now, all three are struggling to be at their best for the World Cup due to injuries.

US fans should not throw themselves out of the window just yet. This US team is under an intense media microscope. The ins and outs of each training session are vigorously scrutinized as are the comments of the players and coaches. A player has a slight knock – and it gets reported and becomes a big story. This is a level of scrutiny that is even rare for big time club teams.

However, despite the disclaimer the injuries are concerning. The accomplished Jay Demerit has abdominal strain. And things got even more worrying with the revelation that Carlos Bocanegra actually had hernia surgery at the beginning of May.

Right now we know that Onyewu is basically 100 percent healthy. But will he be in form? Will he be able ready for the speed of play and able to read the game as he did in South Africa a year ago? Those are the little things that players lose with a long injury layoff and it takes some time to get back. The upcoming games against the Czech Republic tomorrow and Saturday against Turkey are opportunities for Onyewu to scrap off some of the rust. He is the one to watch closely.

If his rust shows and injuries linger to Bocanegra and Demerit, attention will shift to Clarence Goodson who looks set to lock down the fourth central defender slot. Goodson has good height and is a solid player that moved to Norway to give himself a shot at making the jump to the big time. He has been solid for the US over the last year and is more than adequate as a reserve centerback. But a starting role is a lot to ask. Behind him Jonathan Spector could move from outwide into the center. Spector did start there in the fall against Denmark in a friendly but he was frequently exposed by the Danes.

The other options from players that are sure to make the squad are Maurice Edu and gasp Jonathan Bornstein. Edu can play centerback and did so for the US in the Olympics in 2008, but would be an emergency option as he rarely plays there. Bornstein is a player that many US fans would not even have in the roster. But he is a clear Bob Bradley favorite. Bradley has trusted Bornstein so much that he has seemingly made the move to make Bornstein a utility defender. Bornstein played at centerback toward the end of the friendly against Holland, as well as against El Salvador and Honduras earlier this year. This was likely to pave the way to take only seven total defenders. If Bradley truly considers Bornstein a centerback option, he may be inclined to bring Heath Pearce. To be frank the thought of Bornstein playing at centerback alongside Heath Pearce at left back in the World Cup is beyond frightening.

If there are significant injury doubts of any of the core centerback options, than instead of bringing both Pearce and Bornstein, Bradley should drop one and bring Chad Marshall. While Marshall has himself been hampered by a leg injury, which delayed his ability to train with the national team, we simply shouldn’t put ourselves in the potential situation that we are forced to play players out of position on the backline.


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