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USMNT: Looking ahead to 2018's defenders and goalkeepers

Russia is only a couple years away as we look at where the USMNT stands right now in the back.

Harry How/Getty Images

Back in 2014 after the World Cup, I started keeping tabs on the next wave of American internationals. Now that we're a year and a half closer to Russia 2018, it seems like a good time to revisit our up and coming prospects.

The US brought one of the older teams to Brazil 14'. Only 7 'young' players made the last World Cup roster (based on being eligible for the 2012 Olympic team), and Jurgen Klinsmann has hinted on more than one occasion (including with the composition of the January camp) that he'd like to have a younger roster at his disposal in Russia.

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

The good news is that three of the seven 'youth' from Brazil 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. He's since become a fixture for Hertha Berlin's rearguard. Yedlin proved dangerous and competent in defense and a plus in attack. He earned a transfer to Tottenham but has still struggled for first team minutes even after a loan to Sunderland. Julian Green scored in his only apperance, but a failed loan and a return to Bayern Munich's U23 team has been the encore to his sizzling start with only a single first team appearance in a December Champions' League match (a meaningless match against Dinamo Zagreb) offering a hint that he hadn't disappeared entirely.

The bad news is that the US squandered a chance to advance to Rio 16' by losing to Honduras in the semifinals of the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament. They managed a win in the 3rd place game and now face a home and home series with Colombia (the US date is at Toyota Stadium in Frisco). Advancement for this group will be a factor in determining call ups to the full national team in the future so success against Colombia is crucial. The good news is that the US did defeat Colombia 1-0 in the knockout round of the U20 World Cup.

We'll start by looking at the goalkeepers and defenders who are eligible for the Olympic team (Born in 1993 or later). This time, I'll rank them (rankings are my own).

Goalkeepers (Top 5)

1. Ethan Horvath - Molde

2. Zack Steffen - SC Freiburg

3. Jon Kempin - Sporting Kansas City

4. Cody Cropper - Southhampton

5. Aleks Gogic - Fleetwood Town (English League One)

New to the list: Jon Kempin

Dropped out from 2014 list: Charlie Horton (unattached)

Of the 10-12 youth I think Klinsmann ultimately takes to Russia, it's likely that none will be a goalkeeper. While it's not unheard of for a keeper to become a fixture on his pro team (see Gianluigi Donnaruma with Milan for a recent example) At the moment, Horvath is the only one getting regular playing time with the first team at the moment (albeit in league and European play). I'm eliminating potential dual-nationals from these rankings. If I did, Jesse Gonzalez, who is still eligible to represent the US, would be neck and neck with Horvath after his superb display with FC Dallas this fall.

Defense (Top 10)

1. Jon Brooks - Hertha Berlin

2. DeAndre Yedlin - Tottenham/Sunderland

3. Kellyn Acosta - FC Dallas

4. Desevio Payne- FC Groningen

5. Matt Miazga - Chelsea

6. Cameron Carter-Vickers - Tottenham

7. Brandon Vincent - Chicago Fire

8. Tim Parker - Vancouver Whitecaps

9. Eric Miller -Colorado Rapids

10. Erik Palmer-Brown - Sporting Kansas City

Dropped out from 2014 list: Adam Henley - Blackburn*, Jeremy Toljan - Hoffenheim*, AJ Cochran - Unattached, Will Packwood - Unattached, Nick Hagglund - Toronto FC, Christian Dean - Vancouver Whitecaps, Shane O’Neill - Apollon Limassol*, Juan Pablo Ocegueda - Oaxaca, Oscar Sorto - LA Galaxy

Since 2014, the CVs of the top five on my list have become increasingly interesting. Brooks is a fixture in Berlin. Yedlin, with fits and starts, is making his way in the Premier League (had a good game in Sunderland's defeat of Manchester United this weekend). Acosta is fresh off an impressive season in midfield for FC Dallas an impressive performance with the full National team as an outside back. His versatility, talent, and ability to play competently on the left give him a decent shot at making the World Cup roster in 2018.

Parker and Payne have enjoyed consistent minutes with the 1st teams of their respective clubs. Payne gets a higher slot because he can play both left and right back and is already integrated into the pyramid at the youth level (U20 World Cup). Vincent also gets a bump for being a pure left back and getting his first cap at the senior level. A good rookie season with Chicago could easily see him knocking at the door of a thinly stocked position.

The impressive U20 centerback pairing of Miazga and Carter-Vickers have immense potential. Carter-Vickers, the son of former Dallas Maverick Howard Carter, is on the cusp of making the 1st team at Tottenham despite having just turned 18 in December. Miazga is perhaps even closer to the 1st team at Chelsea having just earned a transfer to the London club in January, but he'll need regular minutes if he wants to be a regular call up to the full national team. Depending on how his time at Chelsea goes, Miazga could easily find himself making the roster for Russia if he lands a good loan or breaks into the 18. Miazga could also easily get lost in the wilderness with this move, although I doubt it will be to the same extent as Shane O'Neill.

O'Neill, very recently a regular with the U23s, seems to be another cautionary tale about the perils of Europe for American players. He took a move to Cyprus last year which would be odd enough if he were doing it for EU passport status, but it is even more eyebrow-raising when you consider that he's already eligible for work permits since he was born in Ireland. He was then loaned to Royal Mouscron in Belgium where he never played, returned to Cyprus in December, and then was sent out to English 4th division (League 2) side Cambridge United where he's made the 18 but has yet to feature. At this point, it seems more likely he'll end up featuring for Ireland at the senior level than the United States.

Given this group's development at this point, and the competition ahead of them at the Senior level, I can see anywhere from 3-5 players from this group making the 2018 roster. If the aim is to bring a younger roster than the roster that played in Brazil, this group is primed to provide its share.