Gold Cup Preview, Pt. 2 – The Defenders

In part 2 of my Gold Cup preview, we’ll get a look at who Bob Bradley has called in to defend the keepers. Mainstays Heath Pearce and Steve Cherundolo are in the squad, with the latter likely to be the captain, but quite a few fresh faces are available.


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Heath Pearce

5′11.5″

Hansa Rostock

Pearce had run through a string of qualifiers as the starter for the United States before a disastrous performance in Costa Rica saw him relegated to the bench. He’s strong, agile wingback with good pace and skill. He has played 31 games in 2 years at Hansa Rostock.

Pearce is a quality left back that has good size, athleticism, and defensive ability. He has been the target of criticism after his poor performance against Costa Rica, but it shouldn’t be lost that he is a quality choice for the US at left back and will certainly be one of the better players on this squad.

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Steve Cherundolo

5’6.5″

Hannover 96

Steve Cherundolo had Mr. Reliable at right back for the past 15 months or so, until an injury at club level put him on the sidelines for an extended period.

Cherundolo is a quality right-sided player that is comfortable as a right wing and a right back. He is tiny, which is an issue often times in defense, but he has a high skill level and plays the game with good intelligence. A good crosser of the ball, he likes to get forward and make overlapping runs.

Not only is Cherundolo a lock to start on the right side (if completely healthy), but he’s got a great shot at being the captain with Bocanegra, Howard, and Donovan all not in the squad.

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Jimmy Conrad

6’2″

Kansas City Wizards

Jimmy Conrad is one of the best center-halves in MLS and has been for most of this decade. In fact, it’s been a bit strange (at least to most fans) that Conrad hasn’t gotten more time with the US National Team.

Conrad is a big presence in the box, standing a legit 6’2. He makes plenty of aerial plays and is a real threat to score inside the box on free kicks and corners. While not the most polished of players in terms of skill level, Conrad reads the game well and makes sound tackles. He can’t play with possession out of the back like Onyewu, but I think he does a better job at starting offense from that position than Jay DeMerit does (though DeMerit is probably a more imposing aerial defender).

I fully expect Conrad to start and possibly get the armband at some point. He’s big, tough, and a fundamentally sound defender, so he’ll pair nicely with Pearce and Cherundolo.

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Clarence Goodson

6’4″

IK Start

Clarence Goodson has emerged as a quality center back over the last few years, having played well for FC Dallas and currently for IK Start (Norway).

Goodson is a tall, lanky defender that moves surprisingly well for his size. He’s not the physical monster that Onyewu is, but he’s still a great aerial presence, both on defense and offense.

While his skill level isn’t up at some of our better backs’ levels, he’s still a quality defender with good understanding of individual and team defense. He makes smart decisions and reads the game just as well as Conrad or Bocanegra.

I’m hoping that he starts alongside Conrad, though it’ll certainly be interesting to see if Bradley uses him or not. Having two imposing presences like Conrad and Goodson would be nice thing to have against the typically smallish CONCACAF sides.

For now, I’m penciling in Goodson for the starting spot next to Conrad.

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Michael Parkhurst

5’10”

Nordsjælland

Michael Parkhurst is a well-known defender that anchored the New England Revolution’s backline for 3 years in MLS. He was an integral part of the Revolution’s top-notch defense, winning MLS Defender of the Year in 2007.

This is a center back that could definitely start, as Bob Bradley supposedly thinks quite highly of Parkhurst. The problems, though, arise from the fact that Parkhurst is quite small at 5’10 (which is probably generous). While being 5’10 isn’t a big problem, Parkhurst doesn’t have the electric athleticism that makes smaller defenders succeed, especially center halves.

On the good side, Parkhurst is very gifted as a soccer player and has a high skill level at the back. Even though he doesn’t have great athleticism, he has learned to read the game in such a way to make up for it. He understands how to defend in different areas of the pitch better than the rest of the defenders in this squad.

At the same time, there is a bit of worry about Parkhurst’s comfort level in a traditional 4-4-2 with Bradley’s “bucket” midfield. Parkhurst spent 3 years shining in a 3-5-2 at New England, and there is some concern that his familiarity with playing alongside a 2nd centerback and 2 holding midfielders isn’t very good.

For the reasons above, I have Parkhurst penciled in on the bench for now.

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Jay Heaps

5’9

New England Revolution

Another mainstay for New England’s backline, Jay Heaps is a quality outside back that excels despite his small frame. Unfortunately for Heaps, his age makes him an unlikely candidate for any call-ups past the Gold Cup, meaning this will likely be his only chance at caps with national team. In fact, up until this call-up, he had played more professional matches than any other American that hadn’t been called up to the USMNT.

While Heaps is a good defender and having a good season, it’s unlikely that he’ll be used ahead of Heath Pearce or Steve Cherundolo. It is good to see him get the chance to travel with the Nats though, somewhat as a reward for a solid career.

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Chad Marshall

6’4″

Columbus Crew

At 24, Chad Marshall is the youngest defender traveling to the Gold Cup and looks to be a safe bet to get quite a few call-ups in the future.

At 6’4, Marshall is a physical presence in both boxes and is developing a great sense for defending, both as an individual and as a leader on the backline. He’s certainly not the most technically gifted player on the team, but he plays hard and even has a bit of a mean-streak in him (something we don’t usually see from US players).

Marshall could certainly challenge Conrad and Goodson for a starting spot, as his size and physical presence will be useful against the undersized teams in the tournament.

For now, I believe he’ll sit the bench for the first game but might get an opportunity in games two and three.

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Overall, this is a decent crop of our “second team” defenders. There are certainly a few guys I would have liked to see ahead of Parkhurst, Marshall, and Heaps, namely Marvell Wynne, Eric Lichaj, and Zak Whitbread, but it’s clearly a good combination of size and skill.

I expect our backline to look like this in the first game:

Pearce                                        Cherundolo

Goodson            Conrad

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5 Responses

  1. I think I saw you say this earlier, and I agree that when it comes to the WC2010 I’d like to see Cherundolo as a reserve outside mid for when Deuce or Landycakes decide to stop defending. He fits Bradley’s style (defenders playing in positions other than defense) and would add a solid winger type game with some solid defending.

  2. I’d rather see Parkhurst and Goodson than Conrad, to be honest. Jimmy is probably one of the most overrated defenders in MLS. All he does is boot the ball the heck of there, completely disregarding where it ends up. I think he scored 2 or 3 own goals this way last season. Parkhurst and Goodson are young, but much more capable IMO.

  3. Actually, scratch that. Marshall and Parkhurst get my vote. Maybe I’m just giving Parkhurst major props because he’s from the town next to mine, but I’ve always been impressed by him, especially last year in the Olympics. Marshall is the intimidating, Gooch-like presence, and Parkhurst is the more skillful, DeMerit-esque guy.

  4. Kevin, I mean no offense by this, but do you really consider DeMerit a “skillful” defender?

    Parkhurst and DeMerit are nothing alike.

    I think the biggest issue with Parkhurst, at least with the Nats, is that he’s small at a position where can and need big players. Considering that the rest of our team is usually small, having a small center-half isn’t a good idea.

    I think we’ll see a combo of either Conrad\Marshall or Conrad\Goodson.

    Either Cherundolo or Conrad will likely captain the side.

  5. Well, I meant that Parkhurst ad DeMerit aren’t the physically intimidating guys, like Gooch or even Boca. They play not using their size so much as using their technical abilities (in DeMerit’s case, his strange but welcome obsession with heading the ball away) to bail the team out. So yeah, they’re not much alike, but I really meant it more as a juxtaposition between the physical defender and the other variety.

    I agree about Parkhurst’s size being an issue, but against such mediocre (at best) competition, I don’t even think that’s a problem. I’d at least want to see him in the first round; after that, maybe we put Conrad or Goodson in there with Marshall. But I definitely want Marshall starting no matter what; that much I am sure of.

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