United States still searching for ideal center back combination as vital qualifiers loom

The U.S. has been rotating center backs in and out of the lineup in 2013, which presents some challenges heading into Hexagonal matches.
WASHINGTON -- Omar Gonzalez has started all five games the U.S. has played in 2013. In those matches, he's had three different center back partners lining up next to him.

He started next to Matt Besler against Canada, Geoff Cameron at Honduras, Clarence Goodson against Costa Rica, Besler again at Mexico, and then Goodson again versus Belgium.

For a position like center back, where a solid understanding and clear communication between a pair is absolutely vital, it's hardly an ideal scenario for a national team as it heads into three vital World Cup qualifiers.

"It's been difficult because you're not with the same guy every time," Gonzalez admitted to Goal.

With longtime captain and veteran leader Carlos Bocanegra out of the national team picture for at least the time being, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has been scrambling to test out center back pairings, looking for one that clicks.

The results, as expected, have been mixed. There's been the good (Gonzalez and Goodson, then Gonzalez and Besler helping shut out Costa Rica, then Mexico), and there's also been the not-so-good (Gonzalez and Cameron's mix up for the Honduras winner and several ugly moments against Belgium).

"The ideal pairing is based on performance, how we look at them and how people fit together, often with people around them," Klinsmann said at his press conference on Saturday. "I think we're in a good situation right now with Omar, with Matt Besler with Clarence and also with Geoff Cameron if we want to play him in the middle."

With four viable options, the team does have a bit of depth at the position. If Cameron plays right back, though, like he did against Belgium, then those options dwindle to just the three. At the moment, not much is clear.

"I think everyone here is in the mindset that they're competing and vying for a starting spot. That's definitely my mindset as well," Besler told reporters.

After a gritty display against El Tri at the Azteca Stadium, it appeared that Besler and Gonzalez may have been emerging as the preferred duo. However, Klinsmann started Goodson next to Gonzalez against Belgium. For the coach, it was just a matter of testing his options during a game that didn't count.

"Now with two training games, it's still an opportunity to see a couple different things," Klinsmann said. "That's why we threw in Matt in for 35 minutes against Belgium."

After Sunday's match against Germany though, Klinsmann is hoping a clearer picture will emerge.

"Once we go to Jamaica, we want to know exactly who's starting," the former Germany boss said.

Gonzalez figures to occupy one of the two spots in Kingston, but with a couple high-profile mistakes under his belt in 2013, and with just seven caps to his name, he knows nothing is a given.

"It keeps on changing," he said. "I don't feel like I have the spot won so I have to keep on grinding and keep on working hard and keep on just trying to impress the coaching staff and let them know that I want that position."