Depth at center back is a constant source of speculation for supporters of the U.S. national team. And Clarence Goodson is right there in the thick of it.
But while a potential World Cup invite might rattle some American players on the bubble, the IK Start defender is just keeping his head down and doing work. In his estimation, his best bet to ensure inclusion in Bob Bradley's summer plans is to keep a laser sight on the business of opening the 2010 Norwegian campaign on the right foot.
Start, who were co-owned by Erik Solér until he left to run Red Bull New York, looks set to improve on last season's ninth-place Tippeligaen finish. And Goodson is carrying much of the load for the Kristiansand-based outfit.
The club is unbeaten through a tough opening trio of games, and Goodson has been rated the club’s top performer twice by Norwegian daily Aftenposten.
That sort of accolade has become the norm for the Virginia native, who was ranked last year among the league's top defenders by both the aforementioned paper and rival rag VG. The 27-year-old’s play over the last two seasons with Start has also drawn a fair number of glances from around Scandinavia and Germany.
Through it all, the beanpole center back with decent ball skills and a flair for powering home corner kicks up the ladder has stuck with business as usual: helping Start climb the table. When they do well, as they have to open the new season, job one is done.
"We’ve had a strong beginning to the season thus far, but it’s still very early," Goodson told MLSsoccer.com over the phone on Monday. "We know we have a strong team that can beat anyone on any given day.”
Start has played well against tough opposition this season, including hard-fought draws against the defending champions, Rosenborg, and this past weekend against runner-up Molde.
"The schedule through three matches has been very difficult,” Goodson admitted. “It’s given us a confidence boost because we feel we were unlucky not to have won one, if not both, matches."
The solid take-off has Goodson believing Start can launch into a fight for a European berth. Of course, he’s quick to temper those predictions with memories of Start’s swoon to close last season, when the club won only twice in its final nine games.
"I think we are capable of a top-three finish, but it will all come down to how well our reserves play as the season wears on," he said. "When fatigue and injuries set in, that's when you separate medal contenders from pretenders."
Helping Start’s cause is another MLS alum, Hunter Freeman. The former Colorado, New York and Toronto fullback is working by Goodson’s side for a second season. The two play adjacently on the back line, with Freeman at right back. Thus, Goodson has had a good view of his compatriot's development at Start.
"I think Hunt has continued to improve upon many of the strong qualities that he exhibited in MLS," Goodson said of his teammate. "Hunt gets forward into the attack well and is able to get his cross off consistently. He rarely tires and is difficult to beat one v. one. I expect him to only get stronger as he continues to come back from an offseason ankle operation that held him back last year. He's solid and that's what you want from any defender."
Still, Goodson, an FC Dallas alum, admits he made sure to check MLSsoccer.com during MLS’ opening weekend, a routine activity now that he's across the globe in Scandinavia for most of the American season.
"I try to keep track of all MLS happenings," said Goodson. "It's my country's league and it's important to stay up to date."
Though still a Hoops supporter, the 27-year-old admits to now needing to check the program on game days back home.
"FC Dallas has significantly changed since I was last in Texas and I don't know too many of the boys anymore," Goodson said. "That hasn't stopped me from keeping tabs, though. Here in Norway, we play our matches on Sundays, so I usually watch the MLS highlights in the down time before our game."
While it may seem a mere pregame tradition to some, Goodson's routine practically reflects his career path. He uses MLS highlights to get up for his IK Start matches, which at this point present his path to a first World Cup selection with the U.S. national team.
But keeping his mind entirely off the cloudy World Cup picture? Even the devoted Goodson admits he’s not totally immune.
"I think about the World Cup," he conceded. "Who doesn't? I know I have an opportunity to make the squad, but I still have plenty of work ahead of me. The best way to stay in the discussion for South Africa is a strong club campaign."
Greg Seltzer’s “Postcards from Europe” appears every Tuesday on MLSsoccer.com.