In terms of depth, quality, and potential, the right center back position is one of the better collections of talent in the U.S. national team player pool. Bruce Arena just might need to test out that depth sooner rather than later.
Geoff Cameron enjoyed an outstanding Copa America last summer and looked ready to be the anchor of the U.S. defense for the foreseeable future, but a knee injury has kept him on the sidelines since the fall. If he can't recover in the coming weeks, Arena will need to look elsewhere to fill the void. Omar Gonzalez and Steve Birnbaum are the top contenders to step in and start in the March World Cup qualifiers.
Gonzalez will soon be reunited with his former LA Galaxy coach Arena, and as he continues to start for Liga MX side Pachuca, he just might be enjoying the best form of his career. He will need to maintain a high level if he's going to fight off Birnbaum, who has shown well with every national team opportunity he has been given.
As good as a healthy Cameron is, he is also 31, which means he isn't likely to be the top option for long. Luckily for Arena, and whoever succeeds him as U.S. coach, the position has quite a bit of younger talent emerging, both in the 20-23 age range and also even younger, with the current U.S. Under-20 national team boasting several excellent prospects.
Here is a look at the 10 right center backs currently at the top of the U.S. depth chart as we roll into 2017, and a closer look at the talent pool:
Cameron's positional versatility has often kept him from earning a consistent role with the national team. That hasn't changed, even after his excellent Copa America in central defense. Jurgen Klinsmann still tried Cameron at right back last fall, and Arena could consider Cameron in a central midfield role, particularly if other right center backs step up.
The busy summer schedule — which will include World Cup qualifiers and the Gold Cup — should provide some good opportunities for younger options to shine. Walker Zimmerman is a perfect candidate to be called upon, as could youth national team standouts Cameron Carter-Vickers and Matt Miazga. Carter-Vickers isn't earning playing time at Tottenham, but the 19-year-old draws raves for his continued growth as a player. Miazga is on loan from Chelsea to Dutch side Vitesse, where the 21-year-old is sharpening his game and is still a player with a bright future.
Sporting Kansas City defender and U.S. Under-20 national team captain Erik Palmer-Brown is primed for a breakout season for club and country. He isn't the only promising right center back on the current U.S. U-20s, with Orlando City's Tommy Redding also expected to play a key role for Tab Ramos' side.
Vancouver's Tim Parker had a January camp look a year ago, as well as a stint with the U.S. Under-23 team, but 2017 could be a breakout season for the third-year pro.
Remember Ventura Alvarado? Jurgen Klinsmann saw plenty of potential in the Liga MX veteran, but even though Klinsmann is long gone — and playing time at Santos Laguna has been scarce — Alvarado is still someone to keep an eye on.
This list could look very different a year from now, with the likes of Jonathan Campbell, Nick Hagglund and Daniel Steres among the players who could step up in 2017 to make the cut in 2018.