US National Team: Left Back Quandary Continues


It’s a familiar problem for Bob Bradley and USMNT fans. The perennial problem position for the United States continues to rear its ugly head. I am of course speaking of the left back position, where every American manager since Bora Milutinovic has had to experiment repeatedly to achieve any stability.

Natural left footer Jeff Agoos was always too unreliable and mistake prone to be counted on in big matches. Bora cut him from the 1994 World Cup team, and Steve Sampson almost did the same for 1998 after a costly mistake by Agoos cost the US two valuable home qualifying points versus Jamaica.

Sampson’s solution was to naturalize David Regis, a French national who had played at a high level in the German Bundesliga. Regis’ inclusion in the 1998 World Cup squad was a disaster, although Regis actually helped stabilize the situation for Bruce Arena in qualifying for the 2002 World Cup when he played very well.

But by the time Korea/Japan 2002 rolled around, Regis had become as unreliable as Agoos forcing Arena to play Frankie Hejduk out of position at left back at the World Cup. Following 2002, Cory Gibbs and Carlos Bocanegra were both tried on the left side but both were too slow and better suited to playing inside.

Eddie Lewis an outstanding left sided midfielder was converted to left back by Bruce Arena in 2005. This move like the naturalization of Regis was a desperate measure that yielded bad results. But in the midst of this disaster a bright light showed itself in the US pool: Heath Pearce.

Pearce played a few times in 2005 and 2006 and showed an incredible amount of skill and poise for youngster. I had first noticed Pearce while he played in the PDL for the Bradenton Academics in 2004. Instantly I thought he was more than simply a good youth prospect for the USA. I believed he would be the first really good left back we have produced.

But I have been very frustrated with Pearce since 2006. Pearce looked outstanding in front of my own eyes in Chicago against Brazil back in September 2007. But his troubles at Hansa Rostock not only on the pitch but in the dressing room caused a decline in his national team form.

Last August he got away with a hand ball in the first qualifier of the semifinal round down at the Mateo Flores. Had that handball been called qualification would have been much tougher for us. Since then he’s continued to be shaky, losing his mark often, and resorting hacking when he’s beat on a play.

The problem for Bradley is that the other natural left backs in the player pool all are based in MLS. We’ve learned throwing MLS players without any previous European or extensive international experience into matches on the road in CONCACAF is a recipe for disaster. We saw this in qualifying for the 2002 and 2006 World Cups and again with Sacha Kljestan down in El Salvador just a few short months ago.

This leaves Pearce as the only realistic long term option for the US at left back unless DaMarcus Beasley’s conversion works out better than that of Eddie Lewis, or Michael Orozco or Jonathan Spector both natural center backs fare better than Bocanegra and Gibbs did in the same role. To say the least Bradley is in an unenviable position.

About Kartik Krishnaiyer

A lifelong lover of soccer, the beautiful game, he served from January 2010 until May 2013 as the Director of Communications and Public Relations for the North American Soccer League (NASL). Raised on the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the old NASL, Krishnaiyer previously hosted the American Soccer Show on the Champions Soccer Radio Network, the Major League Soccer Talk podcast and the EPL Talk Podcast. His soccer writing has been featured by several media outlets including The Guardian and The Telegraph. He is the author of the book Blue With Envy about Manchester City FC.
View all posts by Kartik Krishnaiyer →

8 Responses to US National Team: Left Back Quandary Continues

  1. John says:

    Spector was only on for a short period against Everton for West Ham and looked very bad. He got beat twice on the dribble by Pienaar and couldn’t get close him. No discredit to Pienaar as he’s had a good season for Everton, but we do not need a full-back that is taken to task in 10 minutes by a slightly above average tricky winger.

    To be fair to Spector he’s not a natural left-back and it was one match(and not near a full one at that), but internationals are not like the club game when you are allowed a few major mistakes over the course of the year. Every match is key at the international level.

  2. larry says:

    Sadly this piece makes sense. I wish it didn’t because Pearce sucks. But playing Spector or Orozco won’t work and as far as the MLS guys that would be embarrasing. Maybe Beasley will work out though.

  3. adam says:

    Look we cannot continue to play guys out of position and keep shuffling lineups constantly. We’re entering the most critical stretch of games in Bradley’s tenure. Three tough qualifiers and three tough CONFED Cup games. The Gold Cup doesn’t matter.

    Either Pearce or Bornstein plays left back. Eddie Lewis was a good player and we should have started him at left mid in 2006 but by shifting him to left back we took away our best crosser of the ball from the wide midfield position and ruined our shape at the back.

    Regis was ok. But not good enough to risk unsettling the team and breaking all precedent to bring in. Sampson took a whole ton of guys to France who had not played in qualifying and left the guys who qualified us behind. Bradley will not do that. He knows better.

    The names I see like Colin Clarke, Chris Wingert, Tim Ward etc have no chance of playing in a World Cup and we should be thankful that is the case.

  4. larry says:

    ” The names I see like Colin Clarke, Chris Wingert, Tim Ward etc have no chance of playing in a World Cup and we should be thankful that is the case.”

    Kartik has redeemed himself with this post because he proposed those stupid names just a few weeks ago. And he has finally come around to the view that MLS guys cannot be trusted in qualifying. I’ve been saying that since we made all those mistakes in the three game stretch when Reyna and O’Brien were both out in 2001. When you put MLS guys who don’t have high pressure games and practices in tough situations they usually wilt. Some don’t but most do.

  5. Thanks for the compliments, but I never proposed playing those MLS based guys in qualifiers. I proposed the Confederations Cup or the Gold Cup.

    Time and time again we’ve seen guys that are good in MLS and also play well for the US on American soil freeze up on the road. So know, I’d never call Chris Wingert or Tim Ward up for a trip to Costa Rica. Even I am not that dumb. 🙂

  6. Kartik says:

    Bornstein and Pearce are probably the only logical options for 2010…and that’s bad. Converting Beasley will never work, as he got shown up by an average Trinidad attacker (Don’t tell me he’s a fast, lower team Premier League player, Beaz would have to face much better players at a world cup). With the added addition of the attacking responsibility that Bob puts on them, it makes the situation worse. Mind you, Bob knows his tactics, but could we not focus on solid defending instead of inadequate defending and inadequate attacking fullbacks? I’d imagine the 4-2-3-1 we play would allow plenty of cover for a slow Bocanegra (as Michael rarely goes forward contrary to popular belief) and if we’re looking for crosses from our fullbacks, Boca has a pretty damn good delivery. I’d like to see our centerback depth tested at one of the upcoming tournaments because we have plenty of defenders who can complement Onyewu better than Boca.

  7. eplnfl says:

    Good piece bring up what is a real question for the USA. Leave the guys in the middle alone, they have worked hard to develop their games. Left back is not a spot for Beasley and every one here knows I love the guy. I would find Bornstein unsuitable for the job not that he wouldn’t be of value at other spots. The guy who if he is left to play there and develop his game that can work out is Spector.

    Ok, call me a homer again but I think if left out there he has the natural talent to shut down anyone coming down his side and can cover ground quickly and push the ball up when necessary as well. That being if he can stay away from injuries.

  8. Peter C says:

    And now Bradley might have to go deeper at right back.
    Frankie Hejduk is not healing from his groin injury and may miss the Costa Rica match.

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