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2014 USA Soccer World Cup Thoughts

USA Soccer president Sunil Gulati won’t determine for a few more weeks if coach Bob Bradley will return. Whoever the next coach is will face an aging National team roster, some massive defensive concerns, and difficult decisions about how to handle some potentially elite young talent in the midfield. Obviously a lot can happen in the next four years – after the US had an abysmal showing in the 2006 World Cup, guys like Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley and Jay Demerit were barely mentioned as being potential factors on the 2010 team. Forward Eddie Johnson was OK in the 2006 World Cup at the age of 22 and expected to be a factor in 2010. He didn’t even make the roster.

1) Defense

The three oldest players on the 2010 USA soccer roster were 31 (Tim Howard, Carlos Bocanegra, and Steve Cherundolo). The two best players (arguably) from the 2010 team will be over 31 when the 2014 Cup rolls around – Landon Donovan 32, Clint Dempsey 31. The team’s best defender (prior to his injury) Oguchi Onyewu, will be 32. The team’s best defensive performer at the 2010 World Cup, Jay DeMerit, will be 34. So clearly, a defensive overhaul will be necessary.

2014 defensive thoughts: Jonathan Spector will be contention for a starting job. One would assume Jonathan Bornstein, who played well in the 2010 World Cup, would be as well. After that, it gets hazy. Can Gooch play at 32? Will Heath Pearce be a contender? What about a guy like Chad Marshall, who missed the cut this year?

Younger players who could be in the mix include Rodney Wallace, 6-foot-5 Omar Gonzalez and well-regarded Eric Lichaj . The young defender everyone seems excited about is Gale Agbossoumonde, who has been compared to Onyewu.

We’re going to assume that Tim Howard at 35 will still be the man to beat out in the goal.

2) Midfield

A much more promising outlook than the defense. The big question will be what to do with Donovan and Dempsey, who seem like locks for the roster – though Dempsey’s body has taken a pounding and who knows how brittle he’ll be in 2014 – but perhaps not the starting lineup.

Michael Bradley, just 22 now, will probably emerge as the team’s best player in the next four years. Benny Feilhaber, who had a pretty good Cup off the bench, will be 29. Maurice Edu, who also played well in South Africa, will be 28. They figure to be they key midfield cogs in the next few years.

The questions: What becomes of Freddy Adu? Does he move up to striker? What about once-promising youngster Eddie Gaven? He sort of falls into the same category as Danny Szetela – tagged early as future stars who just never quite made it … but will have one more chance in their late 20s. Stuart Holden will certainly be in the mix; Jose Torres will probably make the roster again. Alejandro Bedoya was close to making the 2010 roster and figures to be a strong contender in 2014.

Three very young players to keep an eye on are 16-year-old Charles Renken, 16-year-old Luis Gil, and 17-year-old Sebastian Lleget. Assuming there is a new coach, how much of a chance will he give Renken and Gil? (For those wondering if 20 is too young – Jozy Altidore started all four games at this Cup and he’s 20; Germany’s Thomas Mueller, 20, has emerged as young star for Germany in the last two weeks. It’ll probably be at least two more years before Renken and Gil get serious looks.)

3) Forward

Jozy Altidore and Charlie Davies looked magnificent up front in qualifying … then Davies got in that horrific car wreck and missed the Cup. One could attribute Altidore’s less-than-stellar Cup showing to the absence of his running mate. As of now, they have to be the strongest candidates to start up front in 2014. Altidore at 24 and Davies at 28 both figure to be in their prime four years from now.

Other names to be considered – perhaps Eddie Johnson (who will be 30) gets another look. Robbie Findley, who didn’t impress us in all his non-factor minutes at the 2010 Cup, will be 28 and contending for a spot. Is there where Adu is able to fit with the team? Fan favorite Sacha Kljestan should be a name to watch as well.

Guessing the two forwards: Altidore, Davies.

Who’d we miss?

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