Commentary

National team 'discussions' lead to this: the Timothy Chandler crisis

By Paul Kennedy
(@pkedit)

The start of the college soccer season each year triggers a flood of emails into my in-box. For a period of three or four months in the fall, I'll receive emails from hundreds of SIDs at men's and women's college programs. On weekends, it gets nuts with emails containing game reports. Monday is also crazy with a torrent of emails about the latest accolades or previews of the week's action.

Buried in my Monday morning emails, though, this subject line caught my attention:

"Sports Surgeons Available for Comment - Timothy Chandler (US Men's National Soccer Team)"

A p.r. firm thought Timothy Chandler's torn meniscus, which will require surgery and keep him out of action for about six weeks, was newsworthy enough that it pitched its team of orthopedic surgeons as experts available to provide medical comment on Chandler's injury.

I guess you could look at it one way: The national team is so popular that a serious injury to any player is worthy of comment from expert surgeons. But you can also say this: The national team is in a lot of trouble if Chandler's injury has touched off a crisis.

To be fair, the injury Chandler suffered on Saturday in Germany is not the only one to affect the national team. Indeed, the most critical injury was the calf injury that Fabian Johnson suffered in training with Borussia Moenchengladbach two weeks ago. And after the injuries to Johnson and Chandler came the injury -- yet another calf injury -- to DaMarcus Beasley Saturday night in Houston.

Beasley's international retirement last December put the USA back to square one at a position that has always haunted it: left back. Jurgen Klinsmann was not comfortable with anyone else at left back so he moved Johnson from right back, where he excelled at the 2014 World Cup, to left back for the Gold Cup. Klinsmann alluded to the problem as he described the "discussions" the national team is having at so many positions.

"Fabian Johnson was one of the top discoveries at the World Cup and can play both sides," he said in an interview with USSoccer.com released after Sunday's roster announcement for the upcoming friendlies, "but also with the fact that DaMarcus Beasley stepped aside for a year, nobody really claimed that left back spot as a 100 percent starter, which is why Fabian ended up playing left back at the Gold Cup."

By filling one hole, Klinsmann created another one: who to start at right back? In the USA's 22 competitive games under Klinsmann leading up to the 2014 World Cup, eight different right backs started:

Michael Parkhurst (6)
Steve Cherundolo (5)
Brad Evans (5)
Geoff Cameron (2)
Tony Beltran (1)
Michael Orozco (1)
Timothy Chandler (1)
Fabian  Johnson (1)

The origin of the problem at right back was Cherundolo's exit from the national team scene in early 2013, following the semifinal round of the 2014 World Cup qualifying, because of knee problems. It created another hole that was only filled when Johnson played at right back in Brazil.

Chandler started the opening game of the 2013 Hexagonal -- the disastrous 2-1 loss in San Pedro Sula in which Soccer America gave him a generous rating of 3 -- but didn't play, let alone start, another competitive game until 26 games later, the opening game of the 2015 Gold Cup against Honduras, again, when SA gave him, again, a 3.

Chandler's scorecard for the Gold Cup was hardly impressive -- 3/-/4/6/-/4 -- but it wasn't the worst during what was a sad showing by the national team. And it was consistent with his national team career, that of a player good enough to make 126 Bundesliga appearances in five-plus seasons, a player deemed important enough that more than one club now has tried to pressure him to stay away from the national team, but a player who has been -- except for the blinder he had against Guatemala in Nashville two months ago -- entirely underwhelming when he suited up for the red, white and blue.

But this should not be about bashing Timothy Chandler. He has been the lightning rod for a national team program in search of an identity.

There was a feeling of been-there-done-that about Chandler's return at right back -- 26 competitive games after being cap-tied to the USA -- for the Gold Cup. Just like there is very much a feeling of déjà vu about Geoff Cameron likely returning at right back -- where he started the two games after Chandler played against Honduras in 2013 -- for the matches against Peru and Brazil.

(In the irony of ironies, Cameron has finally gotten to start at center back for Stoke City -- the position he asked to play so he could nail down a starting job on the national team -- but he again might be needed at right back for the national team.)

Is American soccer not good enough that it doesn't have any other options at right back? Twelve of the 20 right-back positions were filled by Americans in MLS over the weekend -- alphabetically from Corey Ashe, a fill-in at Orlando City, to Marvell Wynne, who had a good game for San Jose against the Galaxy, and including Chicago rookie utility-man Matt Polster, called up to the U-23s -- but Klinsmann has shown little interest in picking from MLS. (Just six of the 23 players called up for the Peru game play in MLS.)

Throughout Klinsmann's current squad, there's a feeling of been-there-done-that about his selections. Besides Cameron, Tim Howard, Matt Besler and Jermaine Jones are all back after absences of six or more months. All have made major contributions to the national team.

I get the context: preparation for a one-off game against Mexico, winner take all on Oct. 10 at the Rose Bowl. By then, Fabian Johnson better be ready to fill one of the two holes.

But the national team should be better than this. Players out there in MLS and Mexico and Europe should be playing so well that they're screaming, "Take me! Now!"

And Klinsmann can't ignore them.

And a Timothy Chandler knee injury can't be viewed as a crisis.
9 comments about "National team 'discussions' lead to this: the Timothy Chandler crisis".
  1. David Mont, August 31, 2015 at 9:23 p.m.

    Timothy Chandler crisis exists only when he's in the lineup. When he's not playing, there is no crisis.

  2. Santiago 1314 replied, September 1, 2015 at 9:15 a.m.

    Jajaja...Excellente!!!

  3. Thomas Brannan, September 1, 2015 at 6:47 a.m.

    David: Excellent!!

  4. Santiago 1314, September 1, 2015 at 9:24 a.m.

    Corey Ashe is strictly LEFT Side... He is probably our best option, as long as you Pair him with Brad Davis...The 2 of them have an Unbelievable understanding after all these years With the Dynamo..He got Bumped to Orlando when Beasley came to Houston... Not sure how Ashe is doing there???...Man, our Left Side is Weak...!!!...Even Castillo is starting to look possible..Gulp!!!

  5. Chris Sapien , September 1, 2015 at 3:58 p.m.

    Been freakin' over Chandler's inclusion on the USMNT for years and no one listens. Hey I hope he does well and is consistent at some point somewhere, but it should not be with the Nats! Horrible ball watcher, and gives up after he gets beat 1v1, making the CD do the mop-up work. Yedlin and Johnson have to be the future for at least now, and Evans saved our ass more than a few times like Jamaica '13.

  6. James Madison, September 1, 2015 at 8:29 p.m.

    1. I would like to hear what the assortment of orthos hve to offer. 2. Chandler doing well in league and crappy in NT matches reminds me of how it was in England in years past. Maybe the money means more than the flag, particularly for those whose money is earned elsewhere than in the US. Maybe this is a factor JK needs to consider.

  7. Philip Friedman, September 2, 2015 at 1:32 p.m.

    I'd like to suggest that we have an experienced left back, with more than 30 caps, played in Confed Cup, World Cup, and is and has been starting left back in Liga MX for two years now. Yes, I'm talking about Jonathan Bornstein. Why won't Klinsman even give him a look?

  8. David Mont replied, September 2, 2015 at 8:50 p.m.

    Because he's not German.

  9. Andrew Kear, September 2, 2015 at 10:55 p.m.

    Klinsmann still believes mediocre German players can play a role on the USMNT. Obviously, judging by the results of the last Gold Cup this theory does not hold true.
    It wouldn't be so bad if the USMNT's German American players were good to excellent.

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