Let’s start with the obvious – projecting a roster four years in advance is impossible. A fool’s errand. So many things can happen between now and 2018. Remember when I attempted projecting the 2014 roster after the US was eliminated from the 2010 World Cup? Jurgen Klinsmann came in, cleaned house, unearthed a ton of dual-nationals, and basically had an entirely new roster in Brazil. (DeAndre Yedlin was 15 at the time and on nobody’s radar.) Fortunately, all indications are that Klinsmann is going nowhere. He’s done a fantastic job rebuilding not only the roster, but the entire US soccer brand and mindset.
Tim Howard likely closed out his storied US career with a World Cup performance for the ages – 16 saves against Belgium. Did he save his best game for last? At 35, Howard probably has a couple more good years in him at Everton, but would he really start for the US at 39 in 2018? (Colombia’s Faryd Mondragon appeared in a World Cup game last week at the age of 43.) Brad Guzan was Howard’s backup in Brazil. Looking down the list – Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire) has four caps and Cody Cropper (Southampton) has one. For what it’s worth, the two keepers on the U-23 team are Jon Kempin (21-years old) and Kendall McIntosh (20).
It gave up six goals in four games at the World Cup, but there’s a silver lining here – it’s young and no longer the team’s major concern. The big loss will be DeMarcus Beasley (32 years old), who struggled in the first half against Ghana, but then was arguably the team’s best defender the rest of the way. Where will they replace him? Timmy Chandler, who was on the World Cup roster, but didn’t play, plays left back in Germany. Right now, he’s the most likely replacement. A name to keep an eye on: Juan Pablo Ocegueda, from the U-23 national team who plays left back in a top Mexican league.
Fabian Johnson (26-years old) was excellent at times at right back, and his injury hurt against Belgium. I think his replacement, DeAndre Yedlin, is a better fit in midfield, because of his attacking ability. In central defense, look for Ghana hero John Brooks (21) to emerge as a starter, perhaps alongside Besler (27, up-and-down at the 2014 Cup) or Omar Gonzalez (25 years old), the latter who came off the bench and was solid in Brazil. Geoff Cameron will be 32 in 2018 and provide experience – perhaps off the bench.
Obvious word of caution about everything above: Of the four defenders the US started in the Round of 16 game in 2010 against Ghana – Cherundolo, DeMerit, Bocanegra and Bornstein – none made the 2014 roster.
Forgive me, I’m giddy about the potential – how many times have US soccer fans used that word? – in the middle. Say goodbye to tireless Jermaine Jones (32, had an outstanding World Cup) and tough-guy Kyle Beckerman (32) and his dreadlocks. Michael Bradley will be 30 in 2018, and Klinsmann loves him. They key will be shifting Bradley back to defensive midfield, at the bottom of the diamond. He had to help more attacking in Brazil, forcing him to cover more ground than anyone else in the Group stages. Alejandro Bedoya (27) had a solid World Cup, but will he be able to hold off the young kids in four years?
Here’s why you could get excited about the midfield between now and 2018: left side – Julian Green, the 19-year old who scored a sweet goal against Belgium. On the right side, speed merchant Yedlin (20). And maybe your controlling, attacking midfielder is 23-year old Mix Diskerud, who didn’t play at the World Cup and plays for Rosenborg, a top team in Norway. That’s a lot of pressure on Diskerud, but it’s a position the US hasn’t had since Claudia Reyna retired in 2006. Reyna made the World Cup all-Tournament team in 2002. Given how poorly the US controlled possession against Ghana and Germany, the case could be made that Diskerud’s improvement is most vital to the team’s success in the next four years.
The reserves will have some experience, assuming Bedoya and Graham Zusi make the team. I’m still surprised Brek Shea didn’t make the 2014 roster. Tall, fast and creative, he was excellent in 2013. He’s only 24, and as long as he’s not totally in Jurgen’s doghouse, I still think he’s in the mix for 2018. Daniel Williams (Reading) is 25 and has 13 caps. Young names to keep an eye on – dynamic Luis Gil (20 years old, budding star for Real Salt Lake, I can’t get this World Class goal out of my head) and Sebastian Lletget (21, plays for West Ham).
Perhaps the most interesting name is a precocious 17-year old named Gedion Zelalem, a German-American who has wowed at youth levels overseas and (according to this website) actually is still eligible to play for the US, Germany and Ethiopia. Given how Klinsmann has dotted the US rosters with German Americans, he’s got a chance to land Zelalem.
Reminder, to those hammering the US for a 1-2-1 mark at the World Cup – their biggest target up front, Jozy Altidore, played just 20 minutes before a hamstring injury sidelined him. He was arguably their most important position player (some will argue Dempsey, others Bradley). But there’s no reason to think Altidore won’t be back in 2018 (he’s only 24). The question will be whether he’s still starting or not.
Clint Dempsey and Chris Wondolowski, both 31, are almost certainly done. Aron Johannsson, 23, played against Ghana, but never saw the field again. He’s skilled, but can he take Dempsey’s role? He’ll have lots of competition. Two names who probably break out in the next year or two: Terrence Boyd (23, plays in Germany) and Juan Agudelo (21, plays in Netherlands for now). Two names a step below on the U23 team – Daniel Cuevas and Jose Villarreal, both 20, both of whom play club soccer in Mexico. And if you want to look further down the list, to the U20 team, two players are already playing overseas – 17-year old Andrija Novakovich (Reading) and 18-year old Kainoa Bailey (Bayer Leverkusen).
So there’s depth up front, but it’s very, very young. Klinsmann has four years to sift through all that (potential) talent and make some decisions.