After the United States' Gold Cup opener against Honduras, there's good news and bad news. The good news? They won! The bad news, though, is that the defense played poorly.
The right side of Venutra Alvarado and Timothy Chandler had a rough time against Honduras' attack. Andy Najar had a field day against the pair, turning them inside out over and over for the whole hour he was on the pitch. Chandler struggled with Najar's pace, and Alvarado was too often caught between figuring out whether he should help out or mark striker Anthony Lozano, creating spaces that both players exploited against him.
Neither are bad players -- Chandler hasn't reached the level many hoped he could a few years ago, but he's still a solid all-around right back, and Alvarado has plenty of raw talent to work with. Neither seems completely comfortable playing in Jurgen Klinsmann's current system, though, with Alvarado in particular seeming hesitant and unsure of what he needs to be doing in a particular moment.
Those are issues that Honduras couldn't fully exploit, but better teams can and likely will. Fortunately for the United States, neither of their remaining two group matches feature an opponent with an attack better than Honduras', nor do any of their likely quarterfinal foes. That gives the U.S. three matches in which to either get Chandler or Alvarado playing well, or tinker with something else to get the defense working better.
The U.S. have options to help improve the defense as far as that "something else" is concerned -- for starters, Brad Evans can step in at right back and offer a much more stable presence out wide. He doesn't have the attacking potential of Chandler, but he's much more reliable in terms of positioning, and serves as a far superior possession outlet when needed. In the middle, Klinsmann can tap either Omar Gonzalez or Tim Ream -- Ream is a better version of the passing defender Klinsmann seems to want Alvarado to be, and while Gonzalez hasn't always been in the best form over the last year, he's better suited for the physical play of CONCACAF and has a better rapport with John Brooks.
Brooks wasn't stellar either, especially early in the match. But he got steadily better as the match progressed, and his sheer talent -- almost unparalleled on the squad -- means that Klinsmann and company need to let him work through his issues. We've seen Brooks perform at a high level in the past, it's just a matter of getting him back to that place. Once he does, that alone will greatly help the USMNT defense.
Also remember this important facet -- the U.S. can make up to six changes to the roster between the end of the group stage and their quarterfinal match. Don't be surprised if one or both of Alvarado and Chandler are among those replaced in the side.
So while the U.S. defense is far from perfect, there's plenty of reason to think that it can improve, or that at worst it won't really hurt the team for now. The U.S. are the favorites in this Gold Cup for a reason, and it's not because of their back line. As long as they can find a way to at least stabilize things, they'll be just fine -- but if they can actually get the defense playing better, then they can easily dominate this tournament.