By Paul Kennedy
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)"
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.
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
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
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
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
, 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.