Road to 2014: The Brazil Board 6.0 

June, 6, 2012
06/06/12
10:43
AM ET

We said it from the outset more than a year ago, and we'll say it again: Projecting the U.S. World Cup 2014 lineup is a fool's errand. For proof, look at our first attempt. We projected rarely-on-the-field Ike Opara at center back. We wrote in running-in-place Juan Agudelo at striker. We had History's Greatest Monster (fan balloting version) Jonathan Bornstein at left back. Back then, we even figured Bob Bradley would be coach.

We failed to anticipate the rise of German talent in the U.S. ranks, from the hiring of coach Jurgen Klinsmann on down to a tasse of Kaffee for David Yeldell. Thus does the world turn, and with it, the U.S. World Cup board.

Except in the case of U.S. central defenders, for which nothing ever changes, rendering predictions is even more difficult.

Over the past year, the U.S. center back pool hasn't cooperated with the natural aging process and moved gracefully out of the way. For much of the Klinsmann era, in fact, Carlos Bocanegra has been the team's steadiest player; Oguchi Onyewu put together his best stretch of club play since 2009; and Clarence Goodson kept showing up at international matches as his usual reliable self. More importantly, not a single young central defender established himself as an odds-on 2014 starter. Tim Ream grew a year older and lost his confidence; John Anthony Brooks grew two inches and lost his coordination; Opara kept getting hurt; and Geoff Cameron keeps getting beat over the top.

So for now, at least through the Guatemala game June 12, we're staying with the same old, same-old guys in the middle.

In contrast, the fullback picture has brightened considerably. For about a four-week span in March and April, the Yanks had not one, not two, but three quality left back candidates for Brazil. Timmy Chandler seemed to lock up the job last fall, but then Fabian Johnson looked even better. And Eric Lichaj won a starting job in the EPL with Aston Villa. Of course, this is left back, the Yanks' most accursed position. By early June, Chandler has declined to show up for national-team duty, Lichaj didn't get called in and Johnson -- after impressive performances against Scotland and Brazil -- is nursing an injury.

Luke Cyphers is a former senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.
Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine. He has covered American and international soccer since 2002.

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