U.S. Still Has Big Problems at Left-Back

By Kevin Koczwara

The United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) has been shuffling players in and out of their camp in the last few months. Bob Bradley has been trying to fill in the last available spots on the World Cup Roster and address a few of the issues the squad has.

The big gap I can see on the U.S. side is at the left-back position that has been inhabited, inexplicably, by Jonathan Bornstein during the Bradley era. Come June and the World Cup in South Africa, Bornstien will either have to improve by leaps and bounds, or the USMNT will have to find another player to fill the position. Whoever plays on the left-side will have to be in top form if the U.S. hopes to make it out of the group stage and move forward in the tournament.

Jonathan Bornstein was a fourth round pick by Bob Bradley, then the Chivas USA manager, in the 2006 MLS Super Draft. He was a forward during his time at UCLA, not a defender. He was converted to a left-back by Bradley during his on year stint as Chivas manager before becoming the USMNT coach.

Bornstein would start his first MLS season as the team’s first choice left-back and hasn’t looked back since. But is he the best option the USMNT has at the position, or does Bradley have some sort of love affair with the player? Is Bradley hurting the USMNT by consistently playing Bornstein on the left flank?

I think Bradley is hurting the squad, but is left with few other options. But maybe Bornstein can prove me wrong today, if not, lets look at a few other options.

Bornstein excels in the MLS, but he has struggled to impress on the national level. He gets beat time after time on the left side as he adventures forward and cannot recover–usually after he turns the ball over. And his crosses are poor, lofty attempts with no pace or ambition.  But Bradley continues to start him there and pray that Bornstein will show fans what he sees int he player. It just hasn’t happened, and maybe it is time to try out some other players.

Some Options

One option the U.S. used during their run at last summer’s Confederations Cup was to move captain and center-back Carlos Bocanegra to the left-back position. It worked well for the U.S. during the tournament because he gave them a steady defender on the left side. The problem with moving Bocanegra to the outside back position is that he doesn’t get up and down the sideline fast enough and he isn’t adventurous enough on the outside for a wide player. He struggled to whip in dangerous crosses from the flank and create chances.

Bocanegra is a viable option on the left-side if Bradley decides Onyewu is healthy enough to start alongside Jay DeMerit. But with all the injury problem both DeMerit and Onyewu have, this is a long-shot.

Heath Pearce has looked promising and like he is getting his form back. He was the first choice at left-back for 2007 and 2008, but he struggled to get into the first team at Bundesliga second division team Hansa Rostock. But after a deal to move to a Turkish club failed to get done on time, he decided to move back to the MLS and play for FC Dallas, which has proved to be a fruitful move back home.

During the El Salvador game Pearce, for most of the game, was the best player on the USMNT. He created chances for attacking players, make great runs and overlaps into space, covered and marked well, and sent in great crosses for attacking players. It was an encouraging effort from the 25 year old. His performance got him the call for today’s match up with the Dutch– a top-class national side.

If he can prove that he can mark the skilled and energetic Dutch wingers today, then he should cement his place in the final roster.

The left-back pool is small, and unless some Under-20 player makes huge leaps and bounds in the next  month or so, then the USMNT is short at the position and may be left empty handed come South Africa. Bornstein will need to improve his form and become a more reliable defender in the next few months to show that he is worthy of the roster spot Bradley will surely grant him. Pearce needs to keep his good run of form and prove he deserves a spot on the roster and the starting position. Otherwise, the U.S. might not make it out of their group, because Algeria and Slovenia are too underrated squads who will reek havoc on the U.S. left side.

Kevin Koczwara can be reached at kkoczwar@gmail.com

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