The World Cup is just around the corner with 32 teams representing five of the six confederations in Brazil 2014 this summer. The goalkeeper’s task is to keep the ball from entering his team’s net, the defenders are there to assist him protect the net and move the ball forward. Depending on the technical director, each team has a unique way of fielding their defense. In this edition we will get a look at four of the top performers that each CONCACAF representative has available to stand as the last line of defense. Here are the most experienced and skilled for the United States, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Mexico.
DaMarcus Beasley - USA
With 117 games under his belt, DaMarcus Beasley is definitely the senior man on Coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s back line. He has more games than the next three USMNT defenders. The talented Beasley practices his trade with Puebla FC in Mexico and is the USMNT’s “globetrotter,” having played for Scotland’s Rangers FC, Holland’s PSV Eindhoven, Germany’s Hannover 96, as well a brief stint with English side Manchester City. He began his career with Major League Soccer’s (MLS) Chicago Fire in 2000.
Beasley has played in seven FIFA World Cup games dating back to 2002. His last appearance was in the 1-0 victory over Algeria at the South Africa 2010 groups game that gave the USMNT the pass to the Round of 16. The 32 year-old Fort Wayne, Ind. Native is very versatile on the pitch and it is one of the reasons he is still on the USMNT.
Omar Gonzalez - USA
The L.A. Galaxy central defender is 6’5” and will be a key player on defense, especially since the USMNT will take on Germany in the groups stage. Gonzalez will face the likes of Arsenal’s Lukas Podolski, and Bayern Munich’s Thomas Mueller. Gonzalez has 18 games under his belt with the USMNT since 2010 but earned Klinsmann’s trust and is now on the USMNT. This could be the opportunity for Gonzalez to find a ticket to Europe. The USMNT faces Germany and Portugal in the group stage. They open against Ghana.
Fabian Johnson - USA
One of Coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s German-based players, Fabian Johnson has earned a place on the USMNT’s back line. The 26 year-old 1899 Hoffenheim defender made five starts for the USMNT during the hexagonal helping the bars and stripes take the final phase of the WCQ. Johnson has played exclusively in Germany and is the son of a former serviceman and German-American mother. He was born in Munich, Germany. Johnson has cemented himself as a winger with the USMNT, area he uses when moves forward on attack.
John Brooks - USA
A big surprise really. John Brooks has three games with the USMNT. However, he can be one of the young player to keep an eye one. He is 21 years-old and an up and comer in the German Bundesliga. Similar to Fabian Johnson, he is the son of an American service member, but grew up in Germany. The 6’4” player will make a great pairing with Omar Gonzalez on central defense. He is still unproven with the USMNT, but may have to make an impression on the big stage, especially when the USMNT takes on Germany and Portugal.
USA defense analysis:
The United States has a tough challenge in Brazil 2014. The Americans lost to Ghana in the Round of 16 in South Africa. Furthermore, they have never beaten Germany in world cup play. The only bright light for “Uncle Sam’s Boys” is that they defeated Portugal at the Korea-Japan 2002 world cup. Despite that, Cristiano Ronaldo’s team and the Germans are heavy favorites to advance to the Round of 16.
Michael Umaña – Costa Rica
The Deportivo Saprissa defender is the senior man on the Ticos’ defense. The 31 year-old was part of the squad that opened the Germany 2006 FIFA World Cup. He also played in all three group stage games that Costa Rica was in during that tournament. Leading to Brazil 2014, he was in 12 world cup qualification games, playing in all 10 hexagonal final games. Umaña has one goal in 80 games with the Costa Rican national team. That goal came against Jamaica during the hexagonal stage of world cup qualifying.
The Ticos have the toughest draw of the four CONCACAF teams, which means that Umaña’s leadership in the backline will be critical if Costa Rica wants to improve on their world cup play. They face Italy, England and Uruguay.
Johnny Acosta - Costa Rica
While 30 years-old, Johnny Acosta is new to the national team with only 26 games played to date. He debuted in 2011 and has one goal to his name. During the world cup qualifier against the United States in San Pedro Sula, Acosta scored his first international goal in the 3-1 victory. Acosta played in seven hexagonal games leading to Brazil 2014. The LD Alajuelense defender is solid on the back, which is something the Ticos will need to have a good performance in Brazil.
Junior Diaz - Costa Rica
The German Bundesliga based player is second behind Umaña when it comes to games played on defense for Costa Rica. Despite that, he was not on the team that participated in Germany 2006. Diaz has 60 games with his national side and scored his only international goal against Haiti in the South Africa 2010 world cup qualification round. The defender has been making his way around Europe since 2008 and currently plays for 1.FSV Mainz 05 in Germany. His experience in Europe will be very helpful to the Ticos who have a tough draw for Brazil 2014.
Roy Miller - Costa Rica
Roy Miller is the youngest player on this Costa Rica list. At 29 he has not received as many caps as Diaz or Umaña, but has more than Acosta. Miller plays for MLS side New York Red Bulls. He is a constant player for his club having played 107 since joining the team in 2010. Miller had seven games in the Brazil 2014 WCQ finals. His best game was during the hexagonal against Honduras in San Jose where he scored the only goal of the match.
Costa Rica defense analysis:
The Costa Ricans will have to be at their best, and then some if they want to transcend in international football. They had an unfortunate draw for this tournament, so the performance of their defenders will be crucial if they are to return home with more than just a “participated” next to their name. The four players profile here are senior with a lot of experience. These are the men that Jorge Luis Pinto, as well as the Costa Rican nation will be looking to in order to have a memorable world cup.
Maynor Figueroa - Honduras
Maynor Figueroa is one of Honduras’ best players. He has been on the international scene since the Germany 2006 WCQ. The Hull City defender has 100 games under his belt with the Catrachos and has Olympic experience as well. Figueroa has participated in 35 WCQ since 2006 and is a key piece of Luis Suarez’ team. He will have to demonstrate his leadership and expertise on the pitch as Honduras tries to make a movement forward in world cup play. Honduras managed a 0-0 against Switzerland in Germany. Figueroa is a strong player who moves the ball forward into attack. He is no stranger to scoring. He’s broken the net 11 times at club level and three times with the national team. He scored the first goal in a 2-2 draw against Jamaica in Kingston in the hexagonal. Honduras has a manageable group in the first round and will depend on Figueroa’s leadership to move ahead.
Osman Chavez - Honduras
The former Wisla Krakow defender of the Polish league has played in 52 games for the Honduras national team. He was a key player in getting his team to South Africa for the 2010 world cup where he played in his country’s three games. For Brazil 2014, Chavez played in the 1-0 loss to Costa Rica. Honduras has a combination of youth and senior players. The senior players are at a peak in their careers and give Honduras a good opportunity to have a memorable world cup. A rematch against Switzerland, and games against France and Ecuador give Honduras the best chance of moving forward in group play. The country will depend on Chavez’ experience to see that happen.
Emilio Izaguirre - Honduras
Emilio Izaguirre transferred to Scottish side Celtic FC in 2010 and has appeared in 111 games. He has 67 games with the national team and has scored four goals with the blue and white jersey. The former CD Motagua player participated in the first two games Honduras played in South Africa. The 28 year-old played in 13 games leading to Brazil 2014. The Celtic FC defender is fast on the wing, with the ability to move into attack, as well as set up plays. Honduras will be counting on his speed and abilities in order to advance to the Round of 16.
Juan Carlos Garcia - Honduras
Juan Carlos Garcia has 18 games with the Honduran national team with one goal, a spectacular bicycle kick against the United States during the hexagonal. Garcia is one of the Honduran players who is at his peak. The 26 year-old Wigan Athletic defender played in eight WCQ games for Brazil 2014. Garcia is a rough player who is not afraid to take chances. He will definitely be of use in backline for the Catrachos.
Honduras defense analysis:
Honduras arrives with a team that is peaking, as in the players are at a good age, not too young, and not too old. The combination of youth and experience should work in their favor. But it will be up to Figueroa to control the back line as they defend against three good teams. Honduras drew 0-0 with Switzerland in South Africa 2010, which means that there is a chance to move upwards. While from South America, Ecuador is not an unbeatable team. Honduras’ biggest challenge will come from France, team that arrives in Brazil with a team similar in age and experience as the Catrachos.
Rafael Marquez - Mexico
The current two-time La Liga MX champion with Leon FC is the CONCACAF region’s senior player when it comes to games played for the national team with 120. He has participated in 12 FIFA World Cup games since 2002 and scored in the last two editions. Rafael Marquez also won the 1999 FIFA Confederations Cup, and the FIFA 2009 Clubs World Cup with FC Barcelona. He has 15 goals with the national team since he began playing for the Mexican national team in 1997. The 35 year-old joined the Mexican national team in the last four games of world cup qualification. Two of those were the playoff games against Oceania Champion New Zealand. Marquez will participate in his fourth world cup.
Marquez is a very versatile player who plays in a midfield-defender role. He moves up on attack and has the ability to connect with forwards who put the ball in the net. It is this ability that helped him net nine goals during his time with Barcelona. His last goal came against the United States in April 2014 in a friendly match.
Hector Moreno - Mexico
Hector Moreno has earned a place on the national team due to his size and ability to play. The U-17 FIFA World Cup champion in Peru 2005 is Javier Aguirre’s “go to” defender at RCD Espanyol. He participated in one WCQ for 2010 and played in the games against France and Uruguay in South Africa. Moreno played in seven hexagonal games and five group stage games leading up to Brazil 2014. The 26 year-old former Eredivisie champion with AZ Alkmaar will need to be at his best as El Tri face Brazil, Croatia and Cameroon.
Diego Reyes - Mexico
Diego Reyes made a big impression on Portuguese side FC Porto during the 2012 London Summer Olympic games that they signed him in December 2012 for delivery in July 2013. Reyes made his first appearance with Porto with a 3-0 victory over Olympique de Marseille and went on the play with the second team. A change in coaches at the first team level earned the 21 year-old more game time.
At a young age, Reyes has won several titles. He won the Olympic gold medal in London 2012, gold at the 2011 Pan-American games, and third place at the 2011 FIFA U-20 Colombia World Cup. In the January 2014 game against South Korea, Reyes was given the captain’s arm band after substituting Rafael Marquez in the 80th minute. He is one of Miguel “Piojo” Herrera’s first choice on defense as he led him through when he played for Club America.
Miguel Layun - Mexico
Miguel Layun is the region’s junior defender when it comes to FIFA competitions. He participated in the playoff games against New Zealand, and the two previous hexagonal matches. However, he was one of Herrera’s pupils while he coached Club America. Layun has a total of 12 games with the national team and has scored two goals. The goals came against Israel in Mexico’s farewell game at the Azteca Stadium. The 25 year-old former Atalanta BC player will get the opportunity show what he has in Brazil. He is quick on the wings and has a powerful shot from long distance, his trademark with America.
Mexico defense analysis:
Mexico will need the experienced and youth players to come together in Brazil. El Tri had a terrible qualification round, but has managed to move in the right direction since Miguel Herrera took over. The defense will be key for the Mexican squad, especially on the set-pieces where they have suffered in the past. While many see Mexico advancing to the Round of 16, it will not be easy. The defense, along with goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa will need to be on their best foot when it comes to facing host nation Brazil, Cameroon and Croatia.