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.