Quick, when was the last time that the United States had a quality left back? Having trouble finding an answer? Exactly.
It's the question that the U.S. cannot answer. Through wins and losses, World Cups, friendlies and manager after manager, there is one constant for the U.S. -- the team has no left back.
The U.S. has tried just about everyone it could at the position. It has tried converting midfielders like John O'Brien and Eddie Lewis. It has tried putting right-sided players like Frankie Hejduk and Timothy Chandler at the position. It has tried players who are not international quality like Jonathan Bornstein and Heath Pearce.
Everyone the U.S. has tried at left back has failed, so it is time for some new blood -- or at least newish blood -- in Fabian Johnson and Edgar Castillo. Both have had brief run outs for the U.S. before at both left back and in the midfield, but now it is down to those two, and the winner gets the starting spot for the Americans in the upcoming World Cup qualifiers. The battle is on.
For Johnson, the question is whether he is better at left back or in the midfield and how positionally aware he is. For most of his professional career, he was a midfielder, but he spent the latter half of the season with Hoffenheim at left back, and it went well. Still, he has not played much there, so inexperience could be a problem.
Castillo has been a left back for his entire career, but that hasn't made him the most positionally aware or really much of a defender at all. After several years of awful play for both club and country, Castillo played tremendously for the last nine months for Club Tijuana. He did so as a wingback above a three-man back line, though, not as a left back, so his defensive skills were not really tested. They will be now that he is back with the U.S.
More than a decade later, the U.S. is still without a left back. Could Castillo or Johnson be the answer?