Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler came through the U.S. January training camp with rave reviews and passed their first half-test last week against Canada. Now, the opportunity has come for the last two MLS Defender of the Year award winners to maintain their place in the U.S. center back pecking order with the pressure mounting on every World Cup qualifier this year.
With Clarence Goodson's Danish club Brondby two months into its three-month winter break and Oguchi Onyewu hardly seeing the field for Malaga, the two World Cup veterans were left behind for the U.S. national team's World Cup qualifier against Honduras on Wednesday.
Even though consistent starters Carlos Bocanegra and Geoff Cameron are making the trip to San Pedro Sula, Gonzalez and Besler have made enough of an impression on U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann to perhaps lap the experienced pairing for the long haul and cement their places higher up on the depth chart.
"It is exciting for us to see players like Omar now being ready for the international level, Matt Besler knocking at the door, very strong January camp," Klinsmann said on a conference call with reporters Monday. "They're here, because they had a very, very impressive three-and-a-half weeks in camp with us."
The future of the center back position has come into question for the USA. The 33-year-old Bocanegra is still the captain of the national side, but uncertainty has crept in over whether he will maintain his starting place through the 2014 FIFA World Cup, should the United States qualify. Geoff Cameron used last year's January training camp to springboard himself into an entrenched starting role, and with Goodson and Onyewu in limbo, the 24-year-old Gonzalez and 25-year-old Besler are chomping at the bit to remain next in line.
Both started and helped the U.S. keep a clean sheet in last week's 0-0 draw with Canada, although the opposition hardly tested the all-MLS defensive pairing. The combination of their showing in the match and what they were able to show Klinsmann during training camp in Carson, Calif., has them on the cusp of adding international accolades and caps in important matches to their MLS hardware.
"Clarence is in preseason right now in Denmark, and Gooch is not playing at all in Malaga," Klinsmann said. "There are always reasons for why we choose certain players and why we do certain things. We believe that Matt Besler has the capabilities to step it up to the international level, so does Omar. So that gives us more options in a very busy year, 2013."