With the deadline to submit the 23-man roster for next summer’s World Cup a year from this week, the picture is getting clearer of who will be representing the red, white and blue in Russia.
The unfortunate reality for manager Bruce Arena in 2018 is that long-time goalkeeper Tim Howard will be 39 years old. Howard single-handedly pushed the U.S. into extra time against Belgium in 2014 with a 16-save performance. However, a move back to the MLS and a recent injury may take its toll on Howard.
The even more unfortunate reality for Arena is that he may not have a better option than the aging Howard. Longtime backup Brad Guzan will be 33, but he has looked awful when appearing for relegated Middlesbrough this season.
Bill Hamid of D.C United will be 27 and in his prime, but he lacks the overall ability of Howard. 21-year-old Ethan Horvath could also push himself into consideration with a strong 2017-18 season for Club Brugge in Belgium.
Despite his age, Howard will likely still be Arena’s best option, and his past experience will be invaluable. Guzan, while uninspiring to say the least, also has major tournament experience. Finally, expect Arena to look towards 2022 a bit by rounding out his selection of goalkeepers with the young Horvath, who looks like the early favorite to be between the sticks in Qatar.
The likely center back pairing for the Yanks in Russia will be John Brooks of Hertha Berlin and Geoff Cameron of Stoke City. Brooks is arguably America’s best player and has proven himself to be a stalwart at the back for a side that qualified for Europa League this season. Cameron is very experienced and plays in the most competitive league in the world on a weekly basis.
Two established USMNT center halves could be backing them up in Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler. Both were featured in Brazil 2014. However, the fact that they don’t play in Europe could hurt their chances to start.
A pair of young guns could also make a push for a backup role as Walker Zimmerman of FC Dallas and Cameron Carter-Vickers of Tottenham Hotspur are showing promise.
At the right back position, DeAndre Yedlin’s quaity play at Newcastle Utd has him as a shoo-in for that role barring an injury. At left back, there is quite a large question mark.
DaMarcus Beasley will be 36 and hard pressed to make his fifth World Cup squad. Jorge Villafana of Santos Laguna in Mexico seems to be Arena’s preferred replacement. However, the new manager could bring Fabian Johnson back from midfield to play full back as Jurgen Klinsmann did in 2014.
Brooks, Cameron and Yedlin all appear to be locks to make the squad. Expect Arena to take one experienced center back and one younger one. Gonzalez and Carter-Vickers appear to have the higher upside, so we’ll go with them. Villafana should make the squad barring a drop in form and Timmy Chandler of Eintracht Frankfurt is too good of a player to leave out of the squad at right back.
The American midfield is full of both proven and unproven commodities. Among the proven is captain Michael Bradley, who is set to appear in his third World Cup next summer. The Toronto FC man may be the most experienced player on the squad if Howard, Beasley and Clint Dempsey miss out.
The aforementioned Fabian Johnson of Borussia Monchengladbach will also be in the squad either as a midfielder or a defender. Alejandro Bedoya played with Johnson in Brazil and has the ability and experience to push for a starting spot in Russia.
On the other end of the spectrum is the unproven, but massively talented 18-year-old Borussia Dortmund phenom Christian Pulisic. Pulisic has already shined for the USMNT, but is yet to appear on the massive stage that is the World Cup.
Other young midfielders who could potentially make the squad are Kellyn Acosta of FC Dallas and Lynden Gooch of Sunderland. Both 21, Acosta has the potential to be one of the best defensive midfielders to ever play for the USMNT. Gooch is a very promising attacking, creative midfielder, who could take a big step next season playing in the Championship with Sunderland.
While there are a few locks (Bradley, Pulisic, Johnson), the midfield is still looking very unclear for next summer. Assuming Acosta and Gooch continue to progress, they should be there. Bedoya provides experience that younger players will look to and that will help his case.
Finally, Arena should look to two wild cards in Darlington Nagbe and Julian Green. Both players have shown flashes of brilliance, but have also struggled with inconsistency. However, in a short one-month tournament, it’s worth the gamble to hope one of them hits top form in Russia.
Forward is perhaps the easiest position group for Arena to pick out of. The major question will be whether Clint Dempsey will be in fit enough to make his fourth World Cup appearance at age 35. Dempsey, who is one goal away from matching Landon Donovan’s USMNT record 57 career goals, can still be a major contributor if playing well and used right.
Injuries have plagued Jozy Altidore at major tournaments in the past, but the 27-year-old will be in his prime in Russia. Big things will be expected from the Toronto FC striker, who most agree is the American’s best scorer at this point in time.
Two other talented strikers look set to make their World Cup debuts as Jordan Morris of Seattle Sounders and Bobby Wood of Hamburg have enjoyed breakout seasons. Both are potential talismen for the U.S. at future World Cups, and Arena will want to expose them to the big stage.
Dempsey always seems to find a way to defy the odds, especially when he is representing his country. The Sounders striker will make his record-tying fourth World Cup appearance. Altidore, Wood and Morris all seem like pretty sure things.
Each World Cup, one pick always seems to surprise and that pick will be Josh Perez in 2018. The Fiorentina winger made his debut for the Italian club at the age of 18. He will be 20 next season and a strong 2017-18 would certainly put him on Arena’s radar.
Full Squad: Howard, Guzan, Horvath, Brooks, Cameron, Gonzalez, Carter-Vickers, Yedlin, Chandler, Villafana, Bradley, Pulisic, Johnson, Bedoya, Gooch, Acosta, Nagbe, Green, Dempsey, Altidore, Wood, Morris, Perez
Featured Image by Unrealitymag
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