USMNT Positional Analysis: Center-Backs

The USMNT CB pool has a lot of depth, but there has been some turnover at the top. The challenge is that there aren’t many players that completely fit what Gregg wants to do. As a pressing team, you need CBs that can cover ground and are comfortable in space if the press gets beaten. As a team that wants to play out of the back you need players that are comfortable with the ball at their feet and can break lines with their passing. Chris Richards probably fits this profile the best, but he not shown a consistent ability to be a John Brooks level distributor. Miles and Walker are great defenders in space, but their distribution can be inconsistent. John Brooks is an excellent distributor, but he struggles in space. 

Going into qualifying, most fans and pundits viewed Brooks as a lock and many saw Walker Zimmerman as a player on the fringes. Those scenarios have swapped. Walker has been our most consistent CB in qualifying and John is struggling to get back in the picture. Gregg will most likely carry four CBs on the World Cup roster and I think there are a couple spots still up for grabs and many candidates that could make a push. 

Look Like Locks

Walker Zimmerman (Nashville)

See above. Walker has been mostly fantastic in WCQ. After seeing zero minutes in the first window and being a late addition in the second window, he hasn’t looked back. He brings a strong veteran presence and intensity that the team needs. He’s been fantastic in the air and in cleaning up messes in the box. I believe he’s been our most consistent distributor from the back as well, but the bar has been low and it’s one of the biggest areas for the team to improve upon. If the World Cup started tomorrow, it sure looks like Walker would be your starting RCB. 

WCQ Stats:
870 minutes played
1 goal
7 Long passes per 90, 48.5% accuracy 
15.5 ground duels per 90, 66% success rate
7.7 aerial duels per 90, 67.6% success rate

Miles Robinson (Atlanta United)

It feels like Miles Robinson has been in the USMNT project for years, but in reality, he made his debut last summer at the Gold Cup. He’s been a consistent fixture on the backline since that tournament. Miles is one of the best CBs in the MLS, probably second to only Walker Zimmerman. Most people expected Miles to go to Europe this season, but that hasn’t happened and it now seems more likely he’ll stay at Atlanta through this season, with perhaps an eye towards the January transfer window as a possible timeline for a move. Miles has been a little inconsistent during qualifying. He was poor in Canada and has been prone to some lapses in concentration. Overall I think Miles is the current favorite to start at LCB, but he needs to be more consistent this summer and eliminate some of his mental lapses. 


WCQ Stats:
1022 Minutes played
0.55 Expected goals
5.6 Long passes per 90, 61.9% accuracy 
15.4 ground duels per 90, 66.9% success rate
5.9 aerial duels per 90, 68.7% success rate

In The Mix

Chris Richards (Hoffenheim)

Going into WCQ I thought Chris was going to cement his place in the starting XI. He was heading in the right direction before his injury against Canada and then another injury ended his season at Hoffenheim. The goal now is for Chris to get fit ahead of the June set of matches so he can continue to push for a starting position and a place on the squad. 

Chris is the youngest of all the CBs that are in the mix and he plays at the highest level of competition. I think he also has the highest ceiling and fits Gregg’s system the best. I am going to be keeping a close eye on what club he ends up starting the season at. Will he get a chance to play with Bayern? Will he go back to Hoffenheim where he has a ton of respect? Will he try a new challenge? That decision is going to play a big role in how viable of an option he is for Gregg. 

WCQ Stats:

387 Minutes played
0.15 Expected goals
1.86 Long passes per 90, 0% accuracy 
18.6 ground duels per 90, 58.8% success rate
6.05 aerial duels per 90, 50% success rate

Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls)

Aaron Long ruptured his achilles in 2020 and before that there was no more consistent player in Gregg Berhalter lineups. Aaron attended a few camps late last year / early this year and made his WCQ debut in the last window. Aaron is playing very well for NYRB and looks to be in better physical shape than he was before the injury. Aaron my not be one of the top 4 talented CBs in the pool, but he’s experienced, consistent and one of Gregg’s guys, so he’s got a very good chance of making the WC squad. 

WCQ Stats:
44 Minutes played
14.32 Long passes per 90, 28.6% accuracy 
6.14 ground duels per 90, 66.7% success rate
2.05 aerial duels per 90, 100% success rate

Erik Palmer-Brown (Troyes)

Erik Palmer-Brown (EPB) has had one of the more positive seasons of any USMNT player during the 2021/2022 European season. Up until this year, EPB has spent the last four seasons on loan from Manchester City and this year he has finally found a permanent home. After a rocky start, he has rattled off 15 starts in a row and has been awarded a permanent transfer to Troyes who still have a good chance to stay up in French’s first division, Ligue 1. As a reward for a strong run of form, EPB was called into the last WCQ camp. Clearly Gregg liked what he had been seeing in France. Erik is kind of like a Chris Richards lite and he fits the system well. He is mobile, strong, two-footed and he is comfortable enough with the ball at his feet. For him, it’s about continuing to string good performances together for Troyes, this year and next, and getting some chances to impress Gregg this summer. 

WCQ Stats:
15 Minutes played
6 Long passes per 90, 0% accuracy 
24 ground duels per 90, 75% success rate

Mark McKenzie (Genk)

Mark was called into every qualifying window except the last one. He didn’t play a ton, but it’s clear that Gregg trusts him and likes what he brings to the group. He’s still very young for a CB as well, only 23. Similarly to Chris Richards and Erik Palmer-Brown, Mark is mobile and is comfortable with both feet which allow him to play as a LCB and a RCB. Mark is definitely still in the mix, but with players like EPB and CCV having strong club seasons, he needs to get consistent minutes at Genk. The signs there are positive, Mark has started the last 3 matches and all have been wins. Mark needs to have a strong summer if called if and when he is called into camps and he needs to take hold of a starting job with Genk early next season if he is going to have a chance.  

WCQ Stats:

196 Minutes played
3.67 Long passes per 90, 50% accuracy 
15.15 ground duels per 90, 57.6% success rate
5.51 aerial duels per 90, 25% success rate

John Brooks (Wolfsburg)

I’m not going to get into the saga between Gregg and JB. Whatever it is, I think John will have a chance to get back in the mix this summer. Like Yedlin, John is the last of the 2014 World Cup team that’s still in the pool. Despite some differing reports, John has had a good season for Wolfsburg, though this will be his last. John will be changing clubs this summer and that move will have an impact on John’s USMNT future. If John and Gregg can work it out, I think John is definitely a top four CB in the USMNT pool and offers ability with the ball at his feet that no other CBs in our pool offer. John’s opportunity with USMNT will be a top news story to keep track of this summer. 

WCQ Stats:

196 Minutes played
3.67 Long passes per 90, 50% accuracy 
15.15 ground duels per 90, 57.6% success rate
5.51 aerial duels per 90, 25% success rate

Tim Ream (Fulham)

Is he actually still in the mix? I kind of don’t think so. He has not been with USMNT since the first window and I think Gregg has moved on, which I think is the right call, but it doesn’t feel right not to write a few words about Tim. He’s got a wealth of experience, he’s left-footed and he can distribute, but I think the next wave of CBs have surpassed him. If we have seen the last of Tim, it’s been a great run for him. 

WCQ Stats:
196 Minutes played
3.67 Long passes per 90, 50% accuracy 
15.15 ground duels per 90, 57.6% success rate
5.51 aerial duels per 90, 25% success rate

Keep an Eye On

Cameron Carter-Vickers (Celtic)

CCV likely had the best European season of any American CB, but it wasn’t enough to get the attention of Gregg Berhalter. CCV is a bruising CB with some ability on the ball, but he lacks superlative traits and I think that is why he hasn’t been at the top of Gregg’s list. There are a lot of CBs in the mix, so I think it’s going to take some injuries for him to get a look this summer. It will also be interesting to see where he ends up next year. Will Cetlic be able to sign him permanently or will CCV get a chance with a Premier League side not named Tottenham? 

Auston Trusty (Colorado Rapids / Arsenal) 

The biggest thing Auston has going for him is that he is a left-footed center-back, and we don’t have a lot of those. He is heading to Arsenal this summer in what will likely be a similar path as Erik Palmer-Brown and Matt Miazga, or in other words, a loan merchant. If Auston can secure a strong loan and impress, he may have an outside chance to get a look. 

Justin Che (Hoffenheim) 

Justin is the first of two very far-fetched scenarios in the spirit of having a little fun. Justin is a 2003 player who recently moved to Hoffenheim and made his Bundesliga debut in March. He has played RB and CB and looks like he will be playing RCB in a three back system at Hoffenheim. I think Justin’s chances of making the World Cup roster is very low, but he’s got an elite skill set that fits the system perfectly and he is at a top club. If he develops and gets a chance to start next year for Hoffenheim, why not Justin? His positional flexibility could be intriguing at the fringes of a potential 26 person roster. 

Jonathan Tomkinson (Norwich City)

Tomkinson is an even bigger longshot as he is still on Norwich’s U23 Reserve side. Here is why I added him: he’s very talented, Norwich is getting relegated, and he could have a chance to earn a starting spot in The Championship next year, a level that Gregg is comfortable calling players from. You never know what could happen between now and November, so let’s just keep an eye on JT.