With the exception of eldest team Argentina, the semifinalists in Brazil 2014 all were below the median in average age. With the travel demands of playing a cup in a large country on a short schedule, one has to question whether the resiliency of athletes in their early 20’s added an edge to teams with deeper pools who went with youth.
It’s extremely difficult to point to this as a definitive advantage as a quantifiable statistical advantage. Younger teams did tend to better once the elimination round hit (in limited sample), so I’m going to rely on anecdote in defiance of statistics. Do you remember how you felt a little sore after a hard workout in your 20’s? Do you remember your first gig out of college how you could close the bar on a school night and put in a full shift the next day? For reference, here’s how it broke down this world cup after the elimination round.
Round of 16 (Squads under the mean squad age): 8
Finals: 1 (Champion Germany, 6th youngest mean age)
Over the past 3 World Cups, here’s a breakdown of the champions, and their constitution the cycle before:
Germany Under 25: 14. (15 in 2010, 3rd youngest)
Spain Under 25 2010: 11 (12 in 2006)- Stats not readily available
Italy Under 25 2006: 5 (6 in 2002)- Stats not readily available
Pre-2014, Younger teams did tend to do better once the elimination round hit (in limited sample). Pre-2010, data on respective mean age will require some research from my intern (if you’re interested, DM @byrdturgler). Until I fill the intern position, I’m going to rely on anecdote to make a case for youth in a demanding tournament.
Do you remember how you felt a little sore after a hard workout in your 20’s? Do you remember your first gig out of college how you could close the bar on a school night and put in a full shift the next day? What about a rave? Sources close to this writer intimate to me that while a semi-effective shift for the man was a possibility in their youth, repeating the same feat now that he’s more interested in his 401(k) is pretty much out of the question. As it pertains to the party, it does so exponentially for labor. This source is unimpeachable. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the Yanks’ youth in 2014.
Youth on the roster (Ages 20-25) for Brazil 2014:
Jozy Altidore- 24
Timmy Chandler- 24
Mix Diskerud- 23
Julian Green- 19
Aron Johannsson- 23
DeAndre Yedlin- 20
John Anthony Brooks- 21
First the bad news - the US brought one of the older teams to Brazil 14'. A slew of contributors were past their early 20's and played in what will most likely be their first and last World Cups. Yedlin and Green were relatively unproven commodities, and in the case of Green, you could make a case that he controversially replaced a certain mustachioed lottery pitchman who had a few skins on the wall.
Now, I spread the good news. Half of our six will still count as young players in 2018 according to my entirely arbitrary qualification of what a young player is. All 3 of them were useful at the Cup: Brooks scored the game winner against Ghana and excelled at desperation defense. Yedlin proved dangerous and competent in defense and a plus in attack after regularly getting burned by Fabian Castillo and Darlington Nagbe in MLS play. Jon Anthony Brooks has been immortalized in soothingly emotive video art.
This brings me to my preview of the youth pool for 2018. In memorable years past, a lot of this group would be in college. This is
the business model of the corporate overlords that mean anyone age 23 get screwed a vestige of American dedication to the ideal of amateurism, but an ideal that has given way to the fact that supreme talent needs to be realized and nurtured well before anyone outside of the guild of savants can earn their first college degree.
I spent about a month looking at YouTube video, pouring over ussoccer.com and wikipedia, and content-stalking the great Brian Sciaretta (@briansciaretta on Twitter) who basically rules the roost when it comes to US-eligible pros playing outside the states. I couldn't offer this without Brian...or Greg Setzer for that matter (@gseltz).
Given Der Klinsy's lament about the lost generation, a roster with 10 'young' guys' seems like a line item on Jurgen's Christmas wish list. There's a lot of guys in the U-17's with a ton of promise. Despite the fact that Yedlin, Green, and Brooks would have been in that class at this time in the 14' cycle, I'm avoiding that group for now (too unpredictable). Promising guys slightly too old who might be passport-eligible by then (Darlington Nagbe, Dom Dwyer, Fabian Castillo) I'm avoiding as well due to a different set of uncertainties. With that, I offer my selection of potent prospects for the next cycle while I wonder why I haven't googled 'Oxford Comma' so I can commiserate with our brave editor.
Aleks Gogic - Reading
Zack Steffen - Maryland/U-20
Cody Cropper - Southhampton
Charlie Horton - Cardiff City
Ethan Horvath - Molde
This is merely a tip of the hat to those who have thrived so far in the youth ranks. Despite Manuel Neuer's experience as a backup as a youth, the shelf life for keepers is considerably longer than our field players. To put it in perspective, Kasey Keller was 28 when he delivered, under siege, a performance that drew a handshake by the great Romario, when the US beat Brazil in the Gold Cup. Cropper is facing the toughest competition to hone his game, but I'm more impressed with Steffen given the limited evidence I could consume. Unless something horrible happens, we'll see one of you guys in Doha/somewhere where they should actually host the World Cup.
Adam Henley - Blackburn*
Jeremy Toljan - Hoffenheim*
Shane O’Neill - Colorado Rapids
Kellyn Acosta - FC Dallas
Jon Anthony Brooks - Hertha Berlin
Will Packwood - Birmingham
DeAndre Yedlin - Seattle Sounders/Tottenham
Walker Zimmerman - FC Dallas
Nick Hagglund - Toronto FC
Erik Palmer-Brown - Sporting Kansas City
Matt Miazga - Red Bull New York
AJ Cochran - Houston Dynamo
Christian Dean - Vancouver Whitecaps
Juan Pablo Ocegueda - Oaxaca
Oscar Sorto - LA Galaxy
Eric Miller - Montreal
Henley (Wales Youth Teams) and Toljan (Germany) are still available to make a one-time switch as natural-born American citizens. Both have extended first team minutes in England and Germany, respectively. Neither is likely to make a switch to the US pool, but they are worth watching as prospects.
The rest of this bunch are at the very least youth USMNT veterans. The vast majority are playing important minutes/are established starters for pro teams in the Western Hemisphere. Some of them even have World Cup experience under their belts. One of them has a 7-figure bid for the services from Juventus. By all metrics, this is the most esteemed group of American youth defenders in our footballing history (what I'm sure will become a nauseating refrain). A few of this group will be thrust into the senior team in the very near future.