i like 'em both
2018 world cup
The Beas is finally at ease. Probably. I don't think the USA will have to resort to Beasley in 2018, but 1) left back is a difficult spot to fill for anyone and 2) if anyone is going to have a Frankie Hedjuk zombie USA career it is the Beas.
Demonstrating this: there's not a lot in the pipeline here.
FABIAN JOHNSON – Borussia Monchengladbach (Germany) – 30 in 2018 -
Yedlin's emergence should kick Johnson back over to left back, where he was just as much of a dynamic attacking force for the Nats during qualification and the like. Hopefully he retains his speed at 30; hopefully another four years at outside back will let him work on some of the mental errors that saw players get in behind him late in games—his guy scored in both the Ghana and Portugal games after the 80th minute.
If things are going very well at outside back you could see Johnson slide up into a wing midfield spot. What are the chances of that? Not great. But I'm saying there's a chance because of…
CHRIS KLUTE – Colorado Rapids – 28 in 2018 – 0 caps
Klute appeared from nowhere in 2012 after his career had seemingly fizzled out. He lasted just one year at Furman and was idling in the reserves of the NASL's Atlanta Silverbacks; a year later he was Colorado's defensive player of the year.
He's a lightning bolt like Yedlin and is capable of playing either side, a versatility that will help him get on the roster. He is in fact more natural on the left—his crosses from there have generated a number of Rapids goals—and is thus a treasure. Already called into a USA training camp with his teammate Shane O'Neill. He is the most likely uncapped player to make the 2018 23. Because left back, yes. But also guy has talent.
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GREG GARZA – Tijuana (Mexico) – 26 in 2018 – 0 caps
soundtrack is rad, totally tubular, bitchin' yo
Garza is an on and off starter for Tijuana, having seemingly pushed Edgar Castillo out of favor there. It's been difficult to figure out just how much he's playing for the Xolos; it appears he's made 34 appearances since his 2012 arrival. So not exactly first name on the team sheet. Since I can't say I've seen him I'm going by what's out there on the internet and it's a bit confused as to whether he is a clear first choice riser or not.
But as a guy seeing time at left back for a good Mexican side you can be sure the USMNT takes a look.
JUAN PABLO OCEGUEDA – UANL Tigres (Mexio) – 24 in 2018 – 0 caps
Ocegueda was a hotly contested recruitment battle between the US and Mexico that the US won. Unfortunately for Ocegueda, he made this decision at the same time he went on a loan to Chivas. Chivas only plays Mexican nationals, so he was frozen out. Why they didn't just terminate the loan is unknown.
Ocegueda's stuck behind Jorge Torres Nilo, a Mexico international, at Tigres and will have to find a loan or move to get the playing time necessary to become a part of the full national team picture. He should be first choice for the U23 2016 Olympics, for a start.
ERIC LICHAJ – Nottingham Forest (England 2nd) – 29 in 2018 – 10 caps
Lichaj is a natural right back who's been trying to diversify his game and become, like Johnson, comfortable with both feet. He played fairly regularly for EPL side Aston Villa after coming through their academy; last year he signed with Forest on a two-year deal and saw plenty of playing time before a hip issue knocked him out of the lineup and any potential consideration for a World Cup spot. (Not that Klinsmann seemed to give him any notice when he was healthy.)
Lichaj has not appeared under Klinsmann when even Edgar Castillo was given multiple chances, so it's a bit grim for him. If he can add that versatility, though, and play regularly for a solid team he'll be in the picture.
LONGSHOTS: Edgar Castillo has 16 caps to his name but has looked like a defensive disaster in almost all of them; he'd be 31 and on the downside in Russia. Also, Garza forced his way into the starting lineup past Castillo. It's almost certainly curtains for him.
And don't ever count out DaMarcus Beasley.
Meep meep, y'all.
DEANDRE YEDLIN – (probably) Roma (Italy) – 24 in 2018 – 7 caps
Yedlin's breakout World Cup demonstrated he was one of the fastest players in the world, and his crossing was consistently dangerous. It took under a week for AS Roma to swoop in on him and complete a transfer that will see him finish the year with Seattle, then move to Italy midseason. From there he'll be loaned out to a mid-table Seria A team (Italy allows only one non-EU player to come in per year, and Roma's used theirs) and then attempt to replace Maicon, the 32-year-old Brazilian international. So… yeah. Big shoes.
He's supposedly a little deficient when it comes to reading the game, but I mean, nits. He is 20. If he continues improving he's a holy lock… and probably even if he doesn't. But let's hope for the former.
ANDREW FARRELL – New England Revolution – 26 in 2018 – 0 caps
Farrell was the first pick in the 2013 draft after a formative period in Peru(!)—his parents were missionaries there for ten years—and three years at Louisville and has established himself one of the top young outside backs in MLS already. Bonus points for growing a beard until he scores.
Also bonus: depending on how he develops, Farrell may add enough positional flexibility to only bring seven defenders, as he was a center-back in college and has seen time there in MLS when injury has forced him to. He is technical:
"When he has the ball at his feet, he’s willing to do things in the back that defenders like me never did," Heaps said. "He’s so strong, good in the air, but for me the thing that makes Andrew as good as he is, his feet are so quick. I've never seen it before on a player his size. He’ll dribble. He can get himself out of a tough situation by passing out of the back. That’s just his nature. ‘I can do this. I can get by this guy, make a move here, get by one player and open it up for a [teammate]."
That'll help him, broken record about technical defenders being a must, etc., etc.
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TIM CHANDLER – Eintracht Frankfurt (Germany) - 28 in 2018 – 13 caps
Chandler's indifferent-to-miserable form after a promising start and wavering dedication to the US cause puts his place in question. At 24 he's probably not going to make a great leap forward, either. Nonetheless, he is a regular Bundesliga starter at a spot where the US doesn't currently have a lot of options.
Chandler will have plenty of opportunities to confirm or dis-confirm his ability and desire before 2018, and if he's into it he does have the most impressive career to date. I just don't know if Klinsmann's going to play ball here—he cut Donovan ruthlessly over dedication issues.
KELLYN ACOSTA – FC Dallas – 22 in 2018 – 0 caps
Acosta skipped college entirely to become a homegrown signing for Dallas and ended up moving to right back for the bulk of this season. He's having some troubles staying on the field and picked up an injury recently, as will happen to 18-year-old pros. Dallas fans seem to think his long-term future is in the midfield; we'll see. At an international level the opportunity is greater at outside back. Like it always is.
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Never count out DaMarcus Beasley, I guess? It's tough to find other reasonable options. This list already has a converted CB and converted mid. Plus Tim Chandler.
Besler and Cameron will be 31 and 32, respectively, when 2018 rolls around. Gonzalez will be 28, Brooks 25. It is a possibility the US rolls with the same four central defenders they did in 2018.
MATT BESLER – Sporting KC – 31 in 2018 – 21 caps
Besler is not likely to be in MLS for much longer after a terrific World Cup. Yeah, Romelu Lukaku ran through him. That'll happen in the 93rd minute against one of the most athletic strikers in the world fresh off the bench. In just about every other situation Besler found himself in, he was terrific. Dude's going to get paid, and any theories about the USA back line for the next cycle should start with Besler.
Now, if we could just incorporate his long throws…
JOHN BROOKS – Hertha Berlin (Germany) – 25 in 2018 – 5 caps
Corner hero and celebration expert. As of early June a pile of EPL teams were readying runs at him after a standout final half-season with Hertha, one that came after he infuriated his manager by getting a back tattoo so large he had to miss time because of inflammation. Getting back in the manager's good graces after that is perhaps the best sign of his talent yet.
Brooks was stuck behind Besler this World Cup as Klinsmann stuck to a strict left/right CB pairing. Odds are by 2018 they will make a serious attempt to use Brooks, a Bundesliga starter at 21, and Besler together.
GEOFF CAMERON – Stoke (England) – 32 in 2018 – 30 caps
Cameron's lack of Beckerman-ness was ruthlessly exposed by Belgium. However: other than a couple of scuffed clearances, one of which fell directly to Nani, he was otherwise excellent as a centerback. (I don't put much blame on him for the Portugal equalizer, as Varela was Johnson's man and Cameron slowed up in anticipation of having to check one of two runners coming from his zone.) I know that is a bit "but how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln" but if Cameron's mishit clearance goes two yards further in any direction, we're talking about him as one of the revelations of the tournament, along with Besler.
Can he maintain through 32? I don't see why not. Centerbacks generally endure longer than other outfield players because positioning and anticipation are ever-burgeoning attributes.
Cameron's positional flexibility has to be considered hypothetical after Belgium, and Brooks is going to come after his job hard. Even so it's unlikely he gets bashed off the roster.
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OMAR GONZALEZ – LA Galaxy – 29 in 2018 – 23 caps
everybody checks Chicharito
Gonzalez was surprisingly able when called upon for the USA's last two games, and that counts for quite a bit. The "surprising" part is something built upon a good six months of Gonzalez making goofy decisions and being obviously culpable for goals, though, and he's still the guy under the most threat for the next cycle.
One major reason: compare him to cultured CBs like Kompany and David Luiz and the difference is obvious. Hell, compare him to Cameron. Gonzalez has his uses. Unfortunately for him, they do not extend to his feet, and a US team that desires to possess the ball against elite teams may look elsewhere.
TIM REAM – Bolton (England 2nd) – 30 in 2018 – 8 caps
Ream was horrible when provided the opportunity to start at the beginning of the 2011 Gold Cup. He ceded a penalty to Blaz Perez in a 2-1 loss to Panama and was benched for the remainder. A few months later he came on as a substitute against Ecuador and was beaten for the winner in a 1-0 loss*. He faded from the national team picture, then surprisingly transferred to then-EPL side Bolton.
Bolton got relegated, with Ream a peripheral player. But Ream hung on to become a first-choice defender and occasional midfielder, appearing in 41 of Bolton's 42 league matches in 2013-14. He was named the player of the year by the club and the fans after.
Ream's best asset as a central defender is his technical ability on the ball, something that the US can really use if they're going to survive high pressing and have more of the ball. Ream's also spent some time as a defensive midfielder, a spot that's going to open up for the next cycle. He should get another look. I won't be surprised if he ends up on the roster somewhere.
*[Should be noted that this may have been the weirdest USA lineup of the past four years, as the US played a diamond with Maurice Edu in front of Kyle Beckerman, flanked by Danny Williams and Brek Shea. Okay! The D that day was the last-gasp crew: Chandler, Bocanegra, Onyewu, Cherundolo.]
WILL PACKWOOD – Birmingham City (England 2nd) - 25 in 2018 – 0 caps
Packwood debuted with Championship side Birmingham City at just 19, whereupon he almost immediately suffered a severe leg injury. He made his recovery and resumed playing on loan in the fourth tier of English football late last season; after injuries struck Birmingham he was recalled, immediately securing a place in Birmingham's starting lineup. He was named the Football League Young Player of The Month in February.
Packwood got called up for the weird game against the Ukraine that had to be played in Cyprus, though he didn't get in.
ERIK PALMER-BROWN – Sporting Kansas City – 21 in 2018 – 0 caps
At just 17, Palmer-Brown is probably one for 2022, not 2018, but he is starting in MLS right now thanks to Kansas City's injury misfortune and Besler's World Cup absence—an absence that figures to become permanent soon. Before that, Juventus came in with a 1 million dollar offer that SKC rejected. He should be a key figure in the Olympic campaign, with all eyes on him as he attempts to be the first bonafide OMG center-back prospect the USA's had.
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Should be noted that while I included Shane O'Neill as a defensive mid, he is a center back for Colorado and may figure in on the back line.
Traffic Sports is finally done wrecking Gale Agbossoumonde's career, so if he can latch onto the right MLS team and see the field he could start living up to his potential, once considered vast. After 14 appearances in MLS last year, he has yet to play in 2014.
German-American Alfredo Morales has a cap to his name and will be 28 in 2018. He's playing in the German second division.
No need to belabor it: it'll be Brad Guzan unless Tim Howard wants to hang on until 39, and probably even if he does. The third option is unclear right now, but also irrelevant.
ONE MAN'S 23
Note that this doesn't exactly match up with the lines above, as my thinking has changed, man.
Goalie: Guzan, Howard, Hamid
Howard passes the crown to Guzan for this cycle but remains available for tournaments and as a backup; DCU's Hamid is your current leader for ceremonial third keeper.
Central D: Besler, Brooks, Cameron
Dropping down to three because three other guys on the roster can play CB. Top challengers here: Gonzalez, Ream.
Outside back: Johnson, Yedlin, Farrell, Klute
I actually feel confident about this. Disaster is around the corner, then. Top challengers: Chandler, Garza.
Defensive mid: Bradley, Trapp, O'Neill, Stanko
Bradley is obvious, and then it might depend on matchups. Trapp might have a slight edge now. Challengers: Edu, Williams.
Wing: Green, Gatt, Gyau
Speed and attacking verve here is an absolute must. The USA was playing quad-A players here this cycle and that was viciously exposed by the World Cup. I'm only including two guys here because Agudelo, Yedlin, and Johnson are good backup options. Challengers: Pelosi.
Attacking mid: Nagbe, Diskerud, Dempsey
Forgot to even mention Dempsey in the attackers category, which was an oversight. Even at 35 he should be worth dragging along to put on the field at 70'. Main competitors here: Gil, Zelalem if he does go with the US.
Striker: Altidore, Boyd, Agudelo
A like for like with Altidore and here's a dollar that says Agudelo finds a home in the Bundesliga and plays like he belongs. Competitors: Johannsson, Zardes.
This concludes the three weeks every four years where I flip out and soccer blog. Normal service resumes currently.
Previously: Strikers and attacking mids.
Brad Davis is gone. Zusi and Bedoya will be 31, plausible but perhaps not ideal. Since neither is exactly the first name on the team sheet it's 50/50 whether they hang on for the entirety of another cycle. The guess here is no.
I won't be splitting the wings into different bins, because these days so many of them play inverted. Oddly, most of the available talent for the next cycle is more comfortable on the left, but especially here take right/left with a grain of salt. The US projects to have a couple of bombers at fullback, so cutting in will be at least as important as crossing.
JULIAN GREEN – left wing – Bayern Munich (Germany) – 23 in 2018 – 3 caps:
The USA's most hyped prospect ever already has as many World Cup goals as Wayne Rooney, even if it doesn't seem like he's quite ready yet. Ideally he'll break through into the Bayern first team. Pep Guardiola says they want him on the first team this year, FWIW. That would be terrific if he actually sees time; more likely perhaps is that he gets loaned out to a mid-table Bundesliga team.
Whatever happens on a club level, US will integrate him with the players he'll be combining with over the next four years as early as possible. One dollar he gets his first start against the Czechs in September. (It is a FIFA date.)
JOSH GATT – right wing - Molde (Norway) – 26 in 2018 – 2 caps
Lightning quick, Gatt was gathering attention from big clubs after a stellar introduction at Molde. Then back-to-back ACL tears hacked him down. He is on the shelf until 2015 (like the US, Norway plays over the summer). Multiple serious injuries are always a concern, but the latest one was a 'clean' ACL tear that he's projected to recover from fully.
A fixture in the Norwegian champions' side when healthy, the best case for Gatt is that he recovers from his ACL, has a strong 2015, and transfers to a second-tier European league like Holland. As long as he maintains his speed he's a good bet for the US, as he's ahead of his competitors in age and experience.
After Green this is all a WAG, but the prospect of the US starting Green/Johnson/Gatt/Yedlin would give the US the fastest flanks in the 2018 World Cup unless Holland has an army of Arjen Robben clones on the way.
MARC PELOSI – left wing – Liverpool (England) – 24 in 2018 – 0 caps
Pelosi skipped the US system for a youth contract with Liverpool and was promising enough to ink a long-term contract despite a nasty broken leg. Pelosi is also a prospect at left back and potentially in the center of midfield, a versatility that gives him the nod here, for what little that's worth right now.
He returned to the field for Liverpool's U21 side in April; before the injury he was named to the 18 for one of Liverpool's Europa League matches.
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JOE GYAU – left wing – Borussia Dortmund(Germany) – 25 in 2018 – 0 caps
enjoys a dance
Gyau just moved to Borussia Dortmund, a Champions League regular, despite a lack of playing time so far. He is explicitly in their U23 reserves. Even so, that's a good sign, as Dortmund has a habit of scooping up talented young guys and making them stars.
Gyau is one slippery little bugger who immediately caught my eye when I saw him play for the US on some youth level or another, an excellent example of the what-if-slot-receivers-played-soccer thing. He has produced in buckets in the lower German leagues (in Germany there isn't a separate reserve league; instead there's a Dortmund II that plays in the third or fourth tier).
BREK SHEA – left wing – Stoke (England) – 28 in 2018 – 26 caps
The enigmatic Shea has proven he's got the ability to turn games around as a substitute, and at 6'3" with wheels he has a tantalizing physical package. Unfortunately he hasn't been able to do anything with that package since his move to Stoke, with just three appearances in the EPL.
Shea's departure from Dallas was acrimonious and a brief loan into the Championship was terminated after a blow up between Shea and some opposing fans, so he may not be a great fit on the USMNT. If he finds a club, establishes himself a regular starter, and performs then we can start talking. Now that seems a long long way off. Shea should in fact be in the next section but I wrote this up so here he is.
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Graham Zusi and Alejandro Bedoya should feature on and off for the next couple years as the young guys mature. You wouldn't go amiss predicting one makes the roster, if you're pessimistic. Fabian Johnson could also figure in here if the situation at outside back looks suddenly rosy—his existence is why I'm projecting only three winger types on the roster.
Younger fringe options include DC's Nick DeLeon, who had a great rookie year in 2012 before hamstring issues submarined his sophomore year. If he doesn't get a look pretty soon he'll probably play for Trinidad & Tobago. He'll be 27 at the next World Cup, time to decide.
The brutal physical demands of defensive midfielder will excise Jones and Beckerman, who will be 36 in 2018. Either might hang on for a year or two as the US tries to lock down a Confed Cup slot in next year's Gold Cup and prepares for the Super Copa America or whatever they're calling it in 2016, but the US should start blooding a new generation immediately.
MICHAEL BRADLEY – Toronto FC – 30 in 2018 -
I think this: Bradley needs a guy with him if he's going to play at the top of a diamond. The US's possession got much better when Wondolowksi came in and Dempsey dropped back to help out. Whether that's a 4-4-2 of some variety or Bradley moving back into a second D-mid slot to provide a true #10 a spot on the field I don't know.
I also think this: in the next cycle it seems like a 4-3-3 suits the US best, as they can go with one true holder and put Bradley and the next gentleman in front of him.
WIL TRAPP – Columbus Crew – 25 in 2018 – 0 caps
One sentence description: the exact opposite of Maurice Edu.
I split these into attacking and defensive mid sections for simplicity, but Trapp doesn't really fit either category. He's got Damarcus Beasley's frame but plays central midfield for the Crew, where he is a homegrown player and vice-captain. Yes, at 21. He's a key component of Gregg Berhalter's possession-based approach, popping up on a number of MLS stat leaderboards. Soccer stats never tell you the whole story, but this one is eye-popping:
American Xavi! Or Pirlo! Or something, anyway. Gonzalez being #2 on this list is bizarre; as always, take soccer stats lightly.
Even so, in April he manufactured a 90th-minute equalizer with an inch-perfect pass from his side of midfield to the 18-yard box. Trapp's technical quality will get him a look, probably as soon as September.
SHANE O'NEILL – Colorado Rapids – 24 in 2018 – 0 caps
O'Neill has been starting for his club at central defense, but with those slots likely in older hands for 2018, O'Neill should get a look in central midfield, which he has the skillset for—before breaking through in Colorado he was a midfielder and sometimes a forward.
One note: O'Neill is an inverse Johannsson, born in Ireland before moving to the US at a young age. He has suggested he would accept a call-up from the FAI if the US wasn't forthcoming. Expect him to get capped sooner rather than later as a result.
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CALEB STANKO – Freiburg (Germany) – 24 in 2018 – 0 caps
Stanko is on the verge of breaking through to the Freiburg first team at 20. He was the USA's first choice central defender in the most recent U20 World Cup, a competition in which the US gave up piles of goals as they tried to press the likes of France and Spain—not really his fault.
At Freiburg he's a defensive midfielder, sometimes captain of their reserve team, and he's made the bench for a couple of games.
MAURICE EDU – Philadelphia Union – 32 in 2018 – 46 caps
Edu should have been on this year's World Cup roster if Beckerman and Jones were going to play together, but was omitted. He's been a pure destroyer for the US for years; fast and physical with limited ability on the ball, he's a stereotypical USA D-mid. Ideally he'll get passed by younger players.
DANNY WILLIAMS – Reading (English 2nd) - 29 in 2018 – 13 caps
Williams had a run of caps in the middle of the last cycle at D-mid and sometimes in an odd right wing role that didn't fit his skillset. He's dropped from the Bundesliga to the English Championship. He is getting plenty of PT at Reading and should be in his prime in four years.
Like Edu he's not the most technical guy. His best bet is if the US is still in the market for a pure destroyer; his problem is that there are a number of promising CB/DM hybrids who seem like they can fulfill that role and do a better job of retaining possession.
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DC United mainstay Perry Kitchen was also on that Akron team. He's turned into a pretty good MLS player but not the star some were projecting he'd be. Philadelphia's Amobi Okugo is a younger version of Edu. Both will be in their mid-20s and could slide onto the roster.
There is a pile of guys who move back and forth from central D to defensive mid covered in the central defense section. O'Neill is one; there's also Will Packwood, Tim Ream, and Jeff Cameron.
This three part series and then we're done for four years, haterz. This three part series: projecting the USA's 2018 roster. All sections ordered by likelihood of inclusion.
The USA's single outfield player older than 32 since 2002 was Brian McBride in 2006, who was a starter at 34. That should eliminate Brad Davis, Chris Wondolowski, Jermaine Jones, Kyle Beckerman, DaMarcus Beasley, and Clint Dempsey, along with various others in the player pool (Gomez, Donovan, etc) who didn't make the 23.
In addition, Tim Howard will be 39 in 2018. It's not unheard of for a goalie to make it that long, but with the US in possession of Brad Guzan it seems likely Howard will retire internationally, as will Nick Rimando.
Then there are three guys in the age danger zone: Bedoya and Zusi were already weak points at 27. If they're on the roster in 2018 the US will not have progressed as far as we want them to. Cameron will be 32, obviously workable but less than ideal.
There is some chance one or two of the old guys hangs on. Dempsey is the most likely, as there seems to be an obvious we-need-a-goal sub role for him. Beasley, amazingly, would be next since left back is a bitch to fill and he may be immortal.
That leaves the US with approximately 10 spots to fill, 8 of them outfield players.
- The US plays a four-man backline.
- Michael Bradley returns to a defensive mid role, because he can't cover as much ground at 30 and the shape of the player pool changes pretty dramatically this cycle.
- The end result is either a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1.
- There is a kid no one's ever heard of who will be on the team.
JOZY ALTIDORE – Sunderland (England) - 28 in 2018 – 71 caps
Jozy's obvious. Hopefully he'll get away from the crap end of English football to someplace where the ball comes to him every once in a while.
TERRENCE BOYD – RB Leipzig (Germany 2nd) – 27 in 2018 – 13 caps
Assuming that the US does go with a single central striker most of the time, Klinsmann won't make the same mistake he made in this cycle by leaving without a like for like replacement for his starter. The 6'2" Boyd is capable target forward coming off scoring nearly a goal every two games in the Austrian league who's just transferred back to Germany. While the fact that he's in the 2.Bundesliga is a bit of a disappointment, RB Leipzig is ripping up the divisions after Red Bull purchased them and gave their director a pile of money to rip up the divisions. By 2018 they very well could be a Bundesliga club.
Anyway, Boyd's the most like-for-like guy on the US radar right now, and as a bonus he's pretty good.
JUAN AGUDELO – free agent – 25 in 2018 – 18 caps
Agudelo's in a bit of limbo at the moment since he couldn't get eligible for his club. England restricts non-EU players to exceptional talents. If you've got some percentage of your international team's recent caps they'll let you in, and they'll also make exceptions for particularly young players who have broken through. (Players like Marc Pelosi avoid this process thanks to possession of an EU passport.) Stoke thought Agudelo counted; the board has said no twice. He was forced to play in Holland on loan as a result.
That and ill-timed injuries (he was supposed to be on the 2013 Gold Cup squad) have seen him drop out of the national team picture. He's too talented to remain out of it. His 14 appearances for Utrecht saw him collect three goals and three assists for a relegation-threatened club in desperate need of offense. As of late May he was supposed to be joining Bundesliga outfit Hannover 96.
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ARON JOHANNSSON – AZ Alkmaar (Holland) – 27 in 2018
It's 50/50 whether Johannsson gets on the next roster after only being deployed against Ghana, and then passed over for one of the USA's marginal wing midfielders. Has been bagging goals in Holland, but that's just what happens in Holland.
GYASI ZARDES – LA Galaxy – 26 in 2018 – 0 caps
Despite a late debut as a pro after a four-year career at UCSB that in fact featured a redshirt(!), Zardes has impressed with a combination of size and speed at LA Galaxy. He may be a prime example of a guy who the US development system hurt, but looking through the pool for Lukaku types who can change a game by being large and mean and fast and you land on Zardes.
RUBIO RUBIN – FC Utrecht (Holland) – 22 in 2018 – 0 caps
Speaking of Holland, Rubin is there for a mid-table club trying to break through, impress, and get sold. It's not a bad plan; Rubin was a youth star for the MNT.
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Jack McInerney had a couple of promising years with Philadelphia before hitting a rough patch and getting traded to Toronto; he could be a 25-year-old version of Wondo if things break right for him.Harry Shipp has made an instant impact in MLS after a brief career at ND.
Bobby Wood's been playing in the second tier of German football as a 21 year old and got a Gold Cup callup before his team requested he pass on it. 18-year-old Lynden Gooch is impressing on Sunderland's youth side; similarly barely-legal Paul Arriola is playing for Tijuana in the Mexican league. A kid named Dembakwi Yomba is at Atletico Madrid, having popped up on everyone's radar when he signed there.
The US loses no one from this spot since they don't really have anyone. With a lot of the D-mid depth chart dropping out due to age and the clear problems the US had maintaining possession in this World Cup, goal #1 is going to get something resembling a true #10 on the field so Bradley can slide back.
Fortunately, there are a number of attractive options here. There is in fact a pile.
I don't think anyone's necessarily in or out yet. These guys are ordered by likelihood to show up on the 2018 roster.
DARLINGTON NAGBE – Portland Timbers – 27 in 2018 – 0 caps
Nagbe was born in Liberia and moved around the world a bit before landing in Cleveland as an 11 year old; you may remember him from Michigan's trip to the soccer Final Four. Nagbe was the super-skilled attacking-mid for Akron. A few years later he's become the focal point of Portland's attack. He does crazy, crazy stuff. I would like him to become an American citizen.
Fortunately, Nagbe recently married a citizen. That pushes his timeline forward to 2015. Count on him getting a call-up at the first available opportunity. He'll be in the heart of his prime in 2018.
MIX DISKERUD – Rosenborg (Norway) – 27 in 2018 – 20 caps
Diskerud made this most recent World Cup roster and then didn't get a game. Brad Davis got a game. I am worried about him. Diskerud is talented but physically slight and not extraordinarily fast. He's also still in Norway at 23. If he's in Norway at 27 I don't think he's on the roster.
LUIS GIL – Real Salt Lake – 24 in 2018 – 1 cap
Gil has a shocking number of MLS appearances for a 20-year-old: he's currently on 95, all with RSL. He was the focal point of youth national teams for three or four years—he has a whopping 51 youth caps—and showed incredible craft on the ball.
He's found the transition to MLS a little rougher than you'd like, but he is still a regular starter for RSL and, remarkably, is entering his fifth season as a pro. He got a call-up in the last cycle and will get a heavy look in this one.
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JUNIOR FLORES – Borussia Dortmund (Germany) – 22 in 2018 - 0 caps
Flores was impressive enough to sign a four year deal with a major German club when he was just 16. Since U18 kids can't transfer abroad he had to wait until just a few months ago to sign. Flores led the US to a 3-1 win over Brazil's U20s in some Nike thing or another in which he was clearly the man of the match; he is a true #10, if he can only develop.
Flores can also play for El Salvador but turned down a call-up from them.
GEDION ZELALEM – Arsenal (England) – 21 in 2018 – 0 caps
Zelalem is the other hot prospect USA fans are in vapors about. Born in Germany to Ethiopian parents, Zelalem spent a good chunk of his childhood in the US before Arsenal signed him. His citizenship quest was thought to be a lost cause, but a few months ago someone figured out that if his dad became a citizen before Zelalem turned 18 he would automatically become one without losing the German passport that allows him to skate by England's restrictive foreigner laws.
Zelalem's already made his debut for Arsenal in an FA Cup match and was on the substitutes bench for three league games. That is kind of a big deal at 17. Here's a completely reasonable evaluation of him:
'dribbles like Iniesta and passes like Xavi'
All right then.
Obviously, acquiring US citizenship is hurdle #1 here. Then it's getting a good loan somewhere and establishing himself a EPL-level player.
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Joe Corona has 11 caps and will be 27 in 2018 but I just don't see it happening for him. For one, Nagbe's about to blast ahead of him in the pecking order. For two, he just doesn't seem to have that je ne sais quoi.
The "I can't believe you're still that young" twins: Jose Torres and Freddy Adu are just 26 and 24 at the moment, respectively. It could still happen! Really!
There's also this generation's John O'Brien, Stuart Holden. Holden is 28 and what with all the injuries seems highly unlikely to get to 2018 without seeing his physical abilities drop below the international level, but you never know. Fresh legs, that's the ticket.
Diego Fagundez would not be in this category except for the fact that he's not a citizen yet despite having been in the States since he was five. He recently acquired a green card and will be eligible for citizenship in 2017. That's hypothetically long enough to slot in the team before the World Cup, but at that point he'd have to climb over a number of other aspirants. Also, Uruguay could come calling before then.