It took more than 120 minutes, but the U.S. National team eventually fell to Belgium by a score of 2-1 and were knocked out of the 2014 World Cup. While the tournament continues, it is never too early to take a fun, albeit incomplete, look at the future of the U.S. National team.
After a 16-save performance it can be hard to admit, but at 35 years old, Tim Howard likely has played his last World Cup contest. Joining Howard in this unenviable situation could be some stalwart performers of this year’s team like Jermaine Jones (32), DaMarcus Beasley (32), Kyle Beckerman (32) and Chris Wondolowski (31). In four years, it will take a fantastic run of form for any of these players to stay in Jürgen Klinsmann’s good graces.
Many stalwarts will return, Clint Dempsey (maybe, maybe not. 31), Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore to name a few, but others will not. While mourning the loss of some valiant performers,1 it is an interesting time to take a look at the future names that may find their way into the 2018 World Cup for the United States.
Many of these players may not make it, some may fall off considerably and players that are completely unexpected may win over Klinsmann’s love in the form of a 32-year-old defensive midfielder with flowing dreadlocks. But with the information we have, let’s look at the players to keep an eye on over the next four years.
10. Sean Johnson
Once tabbed as a possible successor to Howard in net for the U.S. National team, Sean Johnson will have to continue to develop and fight off younger players to take the spot of Howard for 2018 and beyond. Having said that, I find it likely that Brad Guzan is the likely starter heading into 2018, but a young, athletic keeper can certainly have their say in the next four years.
After being drafted in the fourth round (51st overall) of the 2010 MLS SuperDraft,2 Johnson is currently in the midst of his fifth professional season with the MLS’s Chicago Fire. The athletic keeper has had a bit of a rough start to the season, only making 0.96 saves per goal and has averaged 1.79 goals conceded per game.3 For comparison’s sake, Howard made 2.88 saves per goal allowed and only allowed 1.00 goals per game in the Premier League for Everton.
A move to a more talented league could be key for a jump in developmental pace for Johnson and he has been given the chance before; training with Manchester United in 2011.4
Johnson certainly has immense potential and is more likely to be the long-term backup at the final line of defense for the U.S. National team once Guzan and Howard hang up their keeper gloves.
9. Juan Agudelo
Playing for FC Utrecht of the Dutch Eredivisie, the 21-year-old forward Juan Agudelo has 18 caps for the senior squad of the U.S. National team. A man of American and Colombian descent, Agudelo made his national team debut on November 17, 2010 in a friendly with South Africa.
Agudelo made some nice impact with three goals in 14 appearances for FC Utrecht and had a nice 43% shot accuracy for a young attacker.5 Dempsey has fired shots on target at a 53% clip.
It is clearly very early in his career and his presence in European football is encouraging. If he can finalize a trip to the Premier League it could be vital for his future chances. He was slated to join Stoke City but was unable to secure a work visa.6 The future has yet to be written for this talented forward, and he will be hard pressed to find a part in the starting eleven for Klinsmann, but he could find himself as a Wondolowski style striker sub in the future.
8. Luis Gil
With only one international cap, Luis Gil is a complete unknown for the international level. However, the 20 year old has played well in the MLS for Real Salt Lake. In 11 appearances early in the 2014-15 MLS season Gil has two goals and one assist while playing a broad midfield role.
Though he has just one senior-level cap, Gil has played for the U.S. U-20 team in the U-20 World Cup. Though the U.S. were eliminated in the group stage (Ghana finished on spot ahead of them), Gil showcased his talent with the likes of Spain’s Gerard Deulofeu and France’s Paul Pogba. In a 1-4 drubbing by Spain, the attacking mid scored this fantastic goal.
While an early career in the MLS is acceptable, it will be important for Gil to attempt to ply his trade overseas while the MLS continues to build its talent base. There will be suitors over the next few years as Arsenal were tabbed to sign him in 2009 before he rebuked their offer in favor of staying the United States and playing in the MLS.7
7. John Brooks
I detailed the abilities of John Anthony Brooks, Jr. during his surprise appearance in the U.S. opener against Ghana in the past but there is one major hurdle for Brooks to beat in order to become the starting center back for Klinsmann. There is simply a glut of solid center backs for the U.S. right now. Pair that with the ability of players to continue being useful, often even getting better, as they age at this position and Brooks will have to unseat one of Omar Gonzalez, Geoff Cameron or Matt Besler. All are 28 or younger and will certainly have a lead on the two starting jobs in 2018.
Again, four years can change everything. Brooks will have a leg up on Gonzalez and Besler unless they find themselves in transfer rumors to Europe. The imposing center back currently plays for Hertha BSC of the Bundesliga while Cameron holds the right back position for Stoke City.
Brooks finished last season with 16 appearances for Hertha BSC and won 58% of aerial duels.8 Cameron won 62% of his aerial duels at right back for Stoke. The story of Besler and the skill of Gonzalez are encouragin, but Brooks has a chance to fly up the charts and steal a starting job next to the likely locked down spot of Geoff Cameron. I’d be intrigued to see a 3-5-2- based system tried in the future.
6. Russell Canouse
With the almost certain end of the Beckerman/Jones era as defensive midfielders,9 Klinsmann will look for a new ball-winning, holding midfielder. The 19 year old played for Hoffenheim’s U-19 team last season and was named their Academy Player of the Year (Organization’s top prospect performer essentially).10
Though Canouse only scored one goal to go with one assist, he helped Hoffenheim to a first place finish in the U-19 Bundesliga with a 16-5-5 record and conceded a league low 26 goals. Canouse earned his professional contract and will attempt to make the Bundesliga squad’s senior reserves in the coming years.
If the 5’10” Canouse can continue to grow he could be a tackling force as a young replacement for Beckerman and Jones in the center of the U.S. midfield.
5. Bill Hamid
The presence of two goalkeepers on this list while Guzan is the presumptive starter for 2018 may come across as odd. However, besides Guzan, there are few positions on the squad more incomplete than keeper.
While playing for D.C. United, Bill Hamid finds himself with much better stats than his U.S. National team competitor Sean Johnson. Through 12 games this season, Hamid has given up 1.17 goals per game and makes an average of 1.86 saves per goal, much closer to the venerable Howard than Johnson.11
Here is what Goal USA has to say about the prospects of Hamid going forward.
Much like Johnson, Hamid is very much a work in progress, and while the 23-year-old’s inexperience can show at times for D.C. United, there is a reason Klinsmann has kept him in the pool. Hamid is an athletic freak who has drawn comparisons to Tim Howard at the same age. The 6-foot-4 shot stopper is also a big personality, and has the characteristics to develop into a real leader in the back. But first, he must improve his understanding of the position, which should come with experience.12
He still has much to learn before having even a chance of taking the reins as a national team keeper, but with Guzan likely holding court for 2018, Hamid will look to secure a spot as a backup and supplant Guzan going into the future.
4. Mikkel “Mix” Diskerud
Mikkel “Mix” Diskerud was one of the few players that was on the squad but never earned a cap during the 2014 World Cup. However, at just 23 years old, that shouldn’t be taken as an insult or a slight by Klinsmann. Allowing Diskerud to wear the #10 jersey was a sign all its own and shows that Diskerud could be slotting in next to Bradley in a future U.S. formation.
After playing early in his soccer career for the U-18 and 19 teams for Norway, Diskerud was convinced to commit to the U.S. National team by Klinsmann.
Once given more seasoning and practice in Klinsmann’s preferred system, whether it sticks or changes over the next few years, could allow Diskerud to become exactly the type of player the U.S. needs more of; a creative, play building midfielder. The pass below represents the type of vision and ability that will help unlock the potential of all three of the players ahead of him in the rankings.
3. Aron Jóhannsson
The goal-scoring wunderkind. When pressed into action for Jozy Altidore during the World Cup, it didn’t appear that Jóhannsson was properly equipped to play Altidore’s role; the long range pass target man at the top of the formation. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a future that could ultimately take over for Altidore or be the first forward off the bench.
In 34 appearances for AZ Alkmaar of the Dutch Eredivisie, the 23 year old netted 17 goals, seven assists and created 45 scoring chances for his team.
Jóhannsson may not have the prototypical size or pace to be the target man in the middle of the box that is capable of holding up the defense and allowing his teammates to storm up the field, but he does have a great shot and can score from distance. This may make him the perfect super sub in the future or a possible secondary striker to pair up top with a true target man like Altidore.
2. DeAndre Yedlin
One man made a show of himself at this year’s World Cup coming off the bench for the U.S. He made our super sub report on June 26th after his appearance against Germany. The extreme pace of Yedlin was immensely useful for Klinsmann coming off the bench late in games when his defender was likely starting to tire.
I heard Yedlin compared to the fantastic Gareth Bale more than once this World Cup. Let me clarify, no one should compare their pure skill, but their progression can be talked about in the same sentence. Bale started his professional career as a pacey, but defensively suspect left back. Yedlin has a similar profile and I would not be shocked to see him move to winger in a future Klinsmann formation.13
In their final contest of this World Cup, Yedlin came on for an injured Fabian Johnson.14 The introduction increased the pace and saw the U.S. start to build some quality scoring chances. Crosses like this were no small part of that change.
The Seattle Sounders defenseman had yet to score before leaving for the World Cup, but has created 12 scoring chances in just 11 appearances. We’ll see what the future holds for Yedlin, for club and country, but the 2018 World Cup will almost certainly feature him prominently.
1. Julian Green
The man of the hour. The light in the darkness of a loss in the World Cup. What the U.S. National team fans have to look forward to. Outside of Howard and Altidore, the only player to be anywhere near the pitch of a top-flight squad. Bayern Munich’s Julian Green is the future of United States soccer.
We should be careful in labeling him that after the fall of players like Freddy Adu, but the German-American winger has potential on top of skills that will allow him the chance to become the most skilled U.S. player ever.
In 23 appearances for the junior squad of Bayern, Green recorded an outrageous 15 goals and eight assists. The 19 year old recorded a goal or an assist in every game … on average that is.
The well timed run below exhibits some of the skills that Green can bring to the U.S. in future World Cups. Staying on side and then storming past his defender all to strike the ball on the volley past one of the best goalkeepers in the world. Enjoy this clip soccer fans, it will be what carries our hopes and dreams to 2018 and to Russia.
2018 Starting XI
Finally, just for fun to end this, let’s build our ideal pre-pre-too early-starting XI for 2018. I’m going to build a 3-5-2 formation as I feel it fits well with the talents of the next U.S. National team and I’m fascinated by its re-emergence.
GK – Brad Guzan
Defense – Geoff Cameron, Omar Gonzalez, John Brooks
Midfield – DeAndre Yedlin, Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley, Mix Diskerud, Fabian Johnson
Forward – Julian Green, Jozy Altidore
Jermaine Jones quickly became one of my favorite, if not my absolute favorite, U.S. National player with his strength and intelligent play ↩
Yes, it is really called the MLS SuperDraft and no I don’t know why ↩
Yes, I know Jones played a much more offensive and forward thinking role in the 2014 World Cup. But, the ball winning ways will need to be replicated, whether it be as a traditional holding mid or otherwise. ↩
Ideally he could play wing back in a 3-5-2 type formation. I really want to see this if you can’t tell. ↩
If the formation doesn’t change and Yedlin remains a defender, Johnson will likely be joined on the outside by Yedlin for the foreseeable future. ↩