Previously: Forwards and attacking mids; wings and defensive mids.
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.