Where have you gone Steve Cherundolo? Not since the former Hannover 96 defender retired has there been a consistent and natural U.S. national team right back with strong defensive qualities who could also contribute to the attack. Jurgen Klinsmann made due with stopgap options for the most part in recent years, but he finished out his tenure watching Timmy Chandler struggle yet again.
Bruce Arena has wasted no time making his concerns known about the right back position, with his Graham Zusi experiment being one of the storylines of the January camp. Zusi's conversion, along with Keegan Rosenberry's first U.S. camp, were clear steps to try and infuse new blood into the right back pool.
The top options on the depth chart remain the same as they were under Klinsmann, though not in the same order. Yedlin was the starter at Copa America, but he had slipped into Klinsmann's doghouse in the second half of 2016, with sources telling Goal that Klinsmann wasn't a fan of Yedlin's move to Newcastle United and held it against him.
Chandler is enjoying a career year on the club level with Eintracht Frankfurt, but his showing in the November World Cup qualifiers were largely disappointing. That has been a troubling trend in Chandler's U.S. appearances, even when he's playing well on the club level, which is something Arena will need to address.
Yedlin looks like the clear-cut choice to start in March. He is on an excellent run of form for Newcastle, settling in as a regular starter for Rafa Benitez. Chandler's suspension for the qualifier against Honduras could lead Bruce Arena to let Chandler stay in Germany in March. Even if Chandler skips the March qualifiers, he should be back in the summer to challenge for the starting nod.
Here is a look at the 10 right backs currently at the top of the U.S. depth chart as we roll into 2017, and a closer look at the talent pool:
Zusi did well in the January camp as he adjusted to his new right back role, and while he isn't likely to be starting in March, he showed enough promise to continue working at the new position.
Zusi isn't the only converted winger to keep an eye on. Paul Arriola is thriving as a right wing back for Club Tijuana, and has expressed a willingness to throw his hat in the U.S. right back ring if it means a chance to earn a call-up. Arriola has the attacking qualities Arena is hoping to bring to the right back position, but he still needs work defensively to be able to adapt to a right back role he's unfamiliar with. You can also argue Arriola is also good enough to compete for a place among the U.S. wing midfielders.
Arena mentioned Eric Lichaj on Thursday as a player worthy of a look in March, and his consistent starting role at Nottingham Forest makes him a candidate to back up Yedlin in March. Lichaj is also capable of playing left back, and that versatility should boost his chances for a call-up for those qualifiers against Honduras and Panama.
Former U.S. Under-20 fullback Desevio Payne hasn't been heard from much since his starting role in the 2015 Under-20 World Cup, but he has earned a pair of starts in the new year for Dutch side Groningen, and could push his way into the Gold Cup conversation this summer if he continues to earn regular playing time.
Keegan Rosenberry earned his first U.S. call-up in January, and while he didn't get a chance to play in the recent friendlies, he showed well in the camp. The Union fullback is already one of the better one-on-one defenders in the fullback pool, but at this point he just needs more experience, and a bit more of an attacking element to his game to climb up the list. The Gold Cup this summer could be Rosenberry's chance to shine.
From a long-term prospect standpoint, the 2017 MLS rookie class has some promising prospects in San Jose's Nick Lima, D.C. United's Chris Odoi-Atsem, Sporting Kansas City's Colton Storm and Vancouver's Jakob Nerwinski.