Bridging the Gap



The US Men’s National has entered the 2026 cycle and with that comes a transition of two groups, the youth, and the veteran players. It’s very likely that come the 2026 FIFA World Cup players who featured on USMNT squads during the 2022 cycle like Tim Ream, Sean Johnson and Aaron Long will have seen their last US Men’s National team roster, with many youth players like Paxten Aaronson, Gaga Slonina Kevin Paredes and many other looking to become regular fixtures on the USMNT camp rosters. 

There is also a group of players I like to call “Bridge Players” that likely have a role in the 2026 cycle for the USMNT. While my criteria for bridge players are loose, I see them as players currently aged 22 to 26 who would be ineligible for the 2024 Olympics and who have fewer than 10 caps with the USMNT.

Here’s a look at many of the players who could fall into my Bridge Player criteria for 2026 but who could have an opportunity to provide needed depth for the USMNT heading into the 2026 World Cup.  

While both Chris Richards and Daryl Dike technically fall into my classification as bridge players I believe if both remain healthy and in form then will feature in a lot of the USMNT camps and competitions during the 2026 cycle. I am also going to leave out CBs Mark McKenzie and Erik Palmer-Brown both of who were part of the USMNT during the last cycle, because generally center backs national team player careers are ones where players in their early to mid-30s can still play at a high level like we saw with Tim Ream.

Honorable mentions, but still possibilities – Christian Cappis, Jeremy Ebobisse, Keaton Parks, Kik Pierie*, Philippe Sandler*, Timothy Tillman*, Sam Vines and Eryk Williamson.

*Denotes Dual-National Status


DeJuan Jones – 25 – Left Back – New England Revolution – MLS

Due to a lack of quality depth for the USMNT at the left back position DeJuan Jones could be used during the first half of the cycle when players like John Tolkin (20) who is eligible for the 2024 Olympics, and Caleb Wiley (18) who should be part of the USYNT U-20 World Cup team this year, continue to grow, develop and hopefully get an opportunity to play in Europe for a season or 2 before the 2026 World Cup. Jones was selected to be part of the mostly, MLS 2023 January camp being held in California.


Richy Ledezma – 22 – Attacking Midfielder – PSV Eindhoven – Netherlands

While one of the younger players in this Richy Ledezma’s career with US Soccer started with the highest of hopes, unfortunately, an ACL injury sidelined Ledezma for over a year and he is only now returning to form. Ledezma who is a dual-national and has yet to officially declare who he will play his senior-level international for, is one of the few players on my list whom I think if remains fit and playing at a high level could be more than a bridge player for the USMNT, but only time will tell.

Alex Méndez – 22 – Attacking Midfielder – FC Vizela – Portugal

The left-footed Alex Mendez amazed many US Soccer fans for the U-20 USYNT during their qualification and successful run during the 2019 U-20 World Cup with 8 goals. Injuries early during the 2020/2021 season impacted his performance and standing with his club and the national team, his play and performance over the last two seasons have him as a player to watch.


Djordje Mihailovic – 24 – Attacking Midfielder – AZ Alkmaar – Netherlands

Djordje Mihailovic’s recent move to the Eredivisie League should help his chances of growing and advancing his skill and ability vs better quality talent. Mihailovic was another player many would have preferred to see on the USMNT 2022 World Cup roster, but similar to Vazquez he didn’t receive the consistent and needed call-ups to the national team.


Paxton Pomykal – 23 – Attacking Midfielder – FC Dallas – MLS

After leading and captaining a successful performance at the 2019 U-20 World Cup for the USYNT Paxton Pomykal’s stock was high amount many in US Soccer, however, injuries have impacted his standing with the national team and he has had limited to no opportunities to earn his way back after a healthy and productive 2022 MLS season.


Brandon Vazquez – 24 – Striker – FC Cincinnati – MLS

Vazquez is a dual-national for Mexico as well as the United States but has played his way up through the USYNT system. Vazquez was selected for the January 2023 camp, which features mostly MLS players. If Vazquez remains healthy and is in form after the season I would expect him to look for a move to Europe to better improve his skills at a higher level. Vazquez had 20 goals in all competitions last year for FC Cincinnati.


Haji Wright – 24 – Striker – Antalyaspor – Turkey 

Even though Wright was on and scored in the 2022 FIFA World Cup for the USMNT he still has been given significant opportunities with the national team and given the lack of a consistent striker in the pool I can see Wright helping bridge that gap if not take the position himself. There does appear to be some interest in Wright by lower-ranked teams in the EPL, a move that will allow us to see his full potential.

Alejandro Zendejas – 24 – Winger – América – Liga MX

Zendejas a dual-national who has played for the United States and Mexico at the youth level would provide needed depth and speed in the wing position for the USMNT. Back in August of 2022, FIFA submitted an investigation into two non-FIFA regulated matches that Zendejas had played in without filing the required one-time switch to FIFA in order to switch national team allegiances, and is still undecided which nation he would like to represent. Zendejas accepting an invitation to the USMNT January camp could help decide which nation he selects.


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