The 2018 World Cup is around the corner and we’ve seen a surge of youth on the US Men’s National Team roster. The past two qualifying games saw no less than 10 players on the field that will not yet be 30 years old in 2018. There were a few more on the roster and still others that missed out on this round, but are on coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s radar.
Around the world we have several prospective studs like Lynden Gooch (age 20) starting on Sunderland in the English Premier League. There are those who have cracked major club lineups like Julian Green (age 21) on Bayern Munich, Emerson Hyndman (age 20) on Bournemouth and Carter-Vickers (age 18) on Spurs who have made the lineup; not to mention strong prospects like Perry Kitchen and Ethan Horvath playing in other parts of Europe who have not yet had their chance to fight for a spot on USMNT.
As we start to look down the stretch it seems several young guns have established themselves at certain positions. Here’s what I think Jurgen’s board for 2018 currently looks like (assuming all are healthy):
Pulsic Klijstan Bradley Bedoya
Johnson Brooks Cameron Yedlin
Again the above are not my choices for the positions, this is my guess at what Klinsmann is probably planning for his 2018 line-up. I’d like to look at younger options at a few key positions and offer a faster alternative lineup that with a few appearances in friendlies and qualifiers could really change the dynamic of the team.
Pulsic Hyndman Kitchen Arriola Gooch
Johnson Brooks Birnbaum Yedlin
This line up excites me, especially those in the field of play. I’m not saying these guys are ready, or even that they will be ready in 2018. I’m offering a potential line up that could really change the way the US plays. This would put (in theory) 3 players from the English Premier League, 3 from Bundesliga League, and 4 others from other parts of Europe and MLS. This line up gives us an extremely youthful side that could deliver the fast paced attacking game that Jurgen has promised. We saw a small glimpse of what could be in the second half of the T&T game. The quality of the competition aside, it was a very exciting half of soccer to watch as a US fan.
The key changes that could be made:
Probably Never Gonna Happen
Horvath for Guzan
This is a huge stretch as Horvath has been around, but not earned a minute on the field yet. The opportunity here is the fact that even after the success of Copa, Howard and Guzan are sharing the spot. Guzan is in a fight to keep his starting job in England which likely opens the door for a 39-year-old Howard, but maybe this too allows Horvath a shot. I see Howard the ageless wonder probably being the guy in this one, if Guzan can’t keep his starting job.
Birnbaum for Cameron
I’m a huge Cameron guy and as long as he’s starting at Stoke the partnership of Brooks/Cameron is my first choice. However, both Birnbaum and Gonzales have gotten minutes. Birnbaum’s recent stint of goal scoring for his club may peak Klinsmann’s interest. Birnbaum has had a few European teams interested in his services and DC United may eventually sell which could open up a door for him. I don’t see Cameron losing this spot unless he gets benched at Stoke, but Birnbaum is certainly making a case.
Intriguing possibilities that if nothing less pushes the starters to their best play
Kitchen for Bradley
This change probably won’t and shouldn’t happen, but Kitchen has done very well to get a transfer from DC United in the MLS to Hearts in Scotland. He missed Heart’s first game this season against Celtic and it hurt, but since his return to the lineup they have not lost in league play. Jurgen was behind this move to Scotland and he’s invited Kitchen to past camps. Kitchen was left out of qualifying only because of a recent injury. Stanko and Danny Williams could play here too, but I think this spot is Kitchen’s to steal from Bradley. As I said Jurgen will likely lean on his Captain that led them through the successful Copa, but a yellow card, injury or continued poor passing could see a look at Kitchen in the next two years.
Hyndman for Klijstan
I don’t think there’s even a whiff of a case here yet, but we do know that Jurgen is seeking a new creator in the middle. He has to eventual replace Jermaine Jones. It does not appear Nagbe has captured that spot and Klijstan has only just emerged as a prospective replacement. He was a last minute call up due to a John Brooks injury. Klijstan looked fantastic in the two qualifiers and if his play continues he may have secured a role here. He plays well with Pulisic and bring a creative element we haven’t see much of. However, Hyndman has done well on the U-20 team, played a few minutes for the senior team and has cracked into the bench of Premier League team Bournemouth. While he’s getting some great experience he’ll need to get regular minutes on the pitch in the next six months to really have a shot at cracking the US lineup.
Likeliest potential holes to fill
Gooch for Bedoya
Jurgen has made no secret that he’s kept an eye on Gooch breaking into a starting lineup in the Premier League. That along with Bedoya’s move to MLS (along with a change in position) and a recent unfortunate exchange with American soccer legend Eric Wynalda may not have him in the brightest light. Gooch is fast and looks like he could add some excitement to a position that Bedoya has long been lauded for his hard work and defensive support, but not his offensive prowess. I think this may be the most likely move to happen if Gooch continues to start for Sunderland.
Arriola for Dempsey
Dempsey is a mainstay and a beast, probably my favorite player that has ever worn a USMNT jersey. However, even this tough Texan will be 35 in 2018 and as of today we do not know if he’ll return from his heart issue. Assuming he doesn’t return, the Jozy/Wood experiment didn’t look great when we saw it last. That may leave the opportunity open for Jurgen to experiment with more of a 4-5-1 and a faster lineup to include Arriola who has scored a goal in each of his last two appearances. He’s small, but fast and hard working as well. He brings a little more speed and creativity on the offensive end, he may need to work on his defensive skills to threaten cracking into the midfield. This is another one based on Jurgen playing Arriola in the last two qualifiers that may not be too far off from being tested.
I’m not saying all of these are good moves, certainly would be hard to see Cameron and Bradley sitting in a meaningful game and I don’t see Jurgen having a sudden change of heart and playing any new goalie. I am looking however to the future and the possibility of fielding a team that could provide the style of play we’ve hoped Klinsmann would bring. You may think the team is set in stone today, but remember this is the guy that brought Chris Wondolowski and Julian Green to the 2014 World Cup over Landon Donovan.