With a pair of crucial World Cup Qualifiers rapidly approaching against Honduras and Panama next month Bruce Arena has decisions to make, notably at fullback, a position the U.S. MNT coach has labeled a position of need.
The Graham Zusi fullback experiment that played out over the recent U.S. MNT camp and in a pair of friendlies versus Serbia and Jamaica, along with veteran DaMarcus Beasley’s international recall underline Arena’s concerns.
Most of the coach’s worries have been focused on the left side of the defense, with Greg Garza and Jorge Villafana recent additions to the pool in addition to Beasley. Of course, Arena always has the option of turning to Fabian Johnson, although the Borussia Monchengladbach handyman prefers to operate further up the field.
But if the left side of the defense is causing Arena some sleepless nights the reinstated national team boss can rest easy in the knowledge that he has two viable candidates to man the right flank in DeAndre Yedlin and Timothy Chandler (suspended for the Honduras match).
In fact, the pair may hold the solution to Arena’s dilemma on both wings. Let’s take a look.
German-American Chandler is having the best season of his Bundesliga career and having replaced Yedlin as a starter in the waning days of the Jurgen Klinsmann era the Bundesliga man might be considered to be in the pole position. The since deposed national team supremo went so far as to cast aspersions on Yedlin’s decision to move down from the Premier League to Newcastle in the second flight of English soccer, perplexing given the competitive nature of the English Championship.
The knock on Chandler has always been that his performances for the U.S. MNT have never matched his Bundesliga output, leading some to question Chandler’s desire to play for his father’s nation.
U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard recently caused a firestorm when told ESPN that “he (Arena) will bring an atmosphere where wearing the U.S. shirt will matter again. It will mean everything. And that’s always been our foundation. No matter how good you think we’ve gotten at football, our foundation has always been our hard work, our willingness to go down to places and put in a shift. I think we got away from that a little bit.”
And Howard wasn’t done, telling USA Today, “having American roots doesn’t mean you are passionate about playing for that country.” The U.S. MNT hero of Brazil added this capper, “I know there were players that came in that it didn’t matter as much too.”
Howard later walked back his remarks, praising the passion that Jermaine Jones brings while attempting to make the case that he was not singling out the foreign born players.
U.S. MNT tea leaf readers took Chandler to be one of Howard’s targets but at 26 years old Chandler is at the height of his prime and his form with Bundesliga surprise packet Eintracht Frankfurt can hardly have escaped Arena’s notice.
Then there is Yedlin. Having made his international debut just that February, Yedlin’s inclusion on Klinsmann’s 2014 World Cup roster was something of a bolt from the blue but when the games began the then Seattle Sounder wowed, first as a winger and then when forced to step in at fullback to replace the injured Fabian Johnson.
Yedlin earned a move to Tottenham but couldn’t make the breakthrough, going to Sunderland on loan. Questions surrounding Yedlin’s ideal position should have been laid to rest with his solid defensive work in helping Sam Allardyce and the Black Cats stave off relegation but a full back logjam at Spurs led Yedlin to choose to take one step back with relegated Newcastle in order to move his career forward.
The move has worked a charm for the 23-year-old speedster who has worked his way into coach Rafa Benitez’ starting 11 while garnering praise from at least one pundit as the best fullback in the Championship.
So, presuming good health and continued solid play from the duo, who should Bruce Arena send out to face Honduras from the start on March 24?
Why not play them both?
Yes, Chandler is primarily a right-sided player but the Frankfurt man has experience on the left and given his current level of play in what is arguably the best league in the world it is difficult to make a case that any of the other left fullback candidates available to Arena is better suited for the cauldron of CONCACAF Qualifiers than Chandler.
And while Yedlin is operating in the second division of the English game his play on both sides of the ball with Championship table toppers Newcastle has gotten better by the game. A perfect illustration comes from Yedlin’s play in the Magpies two most recent matches. Yedlin provided both assists in a 2-2 draw versus QPR on February 1st, three days before securing a 1-0 win over Derby with an injury time header to save off the line with his goalkeeper beaten.
As with all positional battles, Arena is hampered by his lack of time with his potential selections. Players at January camp in Carson, California will be more familiar to new/old coach but familiar or not, it should be clear to Arena that his three best fullback options are Johnson, Chandler, and Yedlin.
Playing Yedlin and Chandler together gives Arena the luxury of using Johnson in the midfield or even further up the pitch as a winger in a 4-3-3.
After examining the options available, I think that this is a luxury that Arena should choose to indulge.