The USA widely exceeded expectations by making it out of their group in Brazil and, with a young core of players left over from the campaign, there’s reason to be optimistic for 2018.
The youth levels are filled with intriguing prospects who may or may not turn out to be something special, but here’s the best bet on who could be a part of the squad in four years’ time under the returning Jurgen Klinsmann.
(Age in June 2018)
Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (33), Bill Hamid (27), Clint Irwin (29)
It’s tough to predict whether Tim Howard will still be around when 2018 rolls around but, at 35 and having cast some doubt over his international future, Guzan should have the job nailed down, even if the incumbent starter is still a part of the setup.
The battle to back the Aston Villa keeper up in Russia looks like a bit of a crapshoot at this time but Hamid will be inching closer to his prime and should be the leading candidate, while uncapped Irwin has been one of the top shot-stoppers in MLS over the past two seasons and, based on his current performances, will push himself into the picture.
Elsewhere, Southampton’s Cody Cropper and University of Maryland standout Zack Steffen are both well-regarded prospects who could develop into contenders, while other US-based options include Sean Johnson, Zac MacMath and perhaps Joe Bendik.
Defenders: DeAndre Yedlin (24), Fabian Johnson (30), Matt Besler (31), Omar Gonzalez (29), John Brooks (25), Timothy Chandler (28), Matt Miazga (22), Greg Garza (26)
There’re a few familiar names from 2014 here, with Yedlin’s emergence seeing Johnson move over to his natural position at left-back, vacated by the ageing DaMarcus Beasley. Backing up the ex-German under-21 international could be one of Liverpool’s Marc Pelosi, top domestic option Chris Klute, or the polarising Brek Shea if he can rediscover his old form. Tijuana’s Greg Garza looks like the best bet at this point though.
If Yedlin is eventually pushed up the pitch in the coming years, as some anticipate, then that would allow Chandler to stake his claim to the right-back role, although there are other intriguing names to consider, such as versatile youngsters Andrew Farrell and Kellyn Acosta.
At centre-back, Besler’s place is firmly entrenched, but the biggest call of the entire squad is to have New York Red Bulls youngster Miazga in the starting lineup, leaving Gonzalez and Brooks to settle for a place on the bench.
At 18, he’s already looked a comfortable starter, although there are many other names who could be in the conversation, such as English-based Tim Ream, Will Packwood and Danny Barbir, as well as the current youngster player in MLS Erik Palmer-Brown.
Midfielders: Geoff Cameron (32), Michael Bradley (30), Mikkel Diskerud (27), Wil Trapp (25), Emerson Hyndman (22), Gedion Zelalem (21)
With Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones likely out of the picture due to age, Geoff Cameron moves into a holding role, where some would say he’s arguably better suited. He should face competition from 21-year-old Wil Trapp though, who’s already captained the Columbus Crew in MLS and is one of the league’s rising stars, with Reading’s Danny Williams another prime option.
Other possible contenders include Shane O’Neill and Amobi Okugo, who are both MLS regulars at centre-back but could move into the midfield in the future, as well as Bundesliga prospects Russell Canouse and Caleb Stanko.
Bradley is widely considered the leading candidate to skipper the side in Russia, where he hopefully won’t be deployed in the attacking role he was forced to fill this summer. Odds are that task falls to Diserkud, who, despite failing to see the pitch in Brazil, still has a bright international future ahead of him.
There are several youngsters who could be vying for those spots, however, including Fulham’s Hyndman, the grandson of former FC Dallas head coach Schellas Hyndman, Duane Holmes, Luis Gil, Junior Flores and Dillon Powers.
The major talking point, dating back to pe-2014, is Arsenal’s Gedion Zelalem, who many see as either the heir apparent to Bradley or the future number 10 of the lineup, if he can be convinced to don the stars and stripes.
The German-born prospect has drawn comparisons to Cesc Fabregas and is said be considering switching allegiances to the US, the nation of his father’s birth, in what would prove another major coup for Klinsmann’s recruiting process.
Forwards: Jozy Altidore (28), Julian Green (23), Darlington Nagbe (27), Aron Johannsson (27), Terrence Boyd (27), Harry Shipp (26)
It’s easy to forget that Altidore is only 24 years old, considering how long he’s been in the national team picture, but the goal-shy Sunderland frontman still has his best days ahead of him.
Boasting 22 goals in 70 internationals, he remains the most logical option up top for the US in 2018, though could be pushed by the emerging Boyd, Jack McInerney or Juan Agudelo, the former fitting the mould of the physical target man Klinsmann craves.
Johannsson should also prove one of those contenders, but could be challenging for a spot on the flanks too, along with Bayern Munich wonderkid Green, who is earmarked to be the star of the side.
Liberian-born playmaker Nagbe is on his way to acquiring US citizenship in 2015 and, as arguably the most technically-gifted player in MLS, could wreak havoc cutting in from the right. He’s stagnated badly over the past 12 months but fortunately has plenty of time to grow his game for 2018.
The wildcard is New England Revolution’s 19-year-old Diego Fagundez, who, despite moving to the States from his native Uruguay aged five, likely won’t be eligible until late 2018 and could well opt to represent La Celeste in the meantime.
Clint Dempsey could still have an outside shot at making the squad but, at 31 years old, time is not on the his side.
Other names to watch out for include Harry Shipp, who claims the final spot, Josh Gatt, Kelyn Rowe, Joe Gyau, Paul Arriola, Zach Pfeffer, and Rubio Rubin, all who should have Americans excited about the attacking talent coming through the ranks.
DeAndre Yedlin Matt Miazga Matt Besler Fabian Johnson
Geoff Cameron Michael Bradley
Darlington Nagbe Jozy Altidore Julian Green