The US U-20 Men’s National Team kicks off CONCACAF qualifying for the U20 World Cup this summer in South Korea. If you’re looking for a primer on the CONCACAF tournament, Once a Metro has you covered. Want to hear how U20 manager Tab Ramos rates our own Homegrown stud, Coy Craft? Look no further than the fine work of Charles Boehm. The game against co-group favorite Panama kicks off at 2:30 on Univision Deportes, and Stars and Stripes has kindly offered up their stomping grounds for your spicy takes.
These scribbles will concentrate on next year- specifically, next summer. I started tracking the next wave of US talent back in 2014 with a fairly exhaustive list that was culled to this publication, narrowed it down a bit further in 2016, and have arrived from the past to the future which is now the present today.
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
Since my last annual accounting of youth talent, Klinsy got shit-canned! Now there’s a lot of bluster about why he did or did not deserve his sentence, and that carries over to his ability/inability to integrate youth into the Senior Team. For every John Brooks and DeAndre Yedlin, there was a Julian Green and Emerson Hyndman- talented, but not quite ready. There were also old war horses that looked ready to be put out to pasture long before the 4-0 drubbing at the hands of Argentina last summer. Like so many facets of Klinsmann’s time in charge, his deployment of youth at the senior level always teased at the new era without ever fully embracing the mantra.
Is looking for youth still pertinent with Arena given his reliance on veterans in MLS? It may be more important than you think initially based on Arena’s own comparative experience in World Cup 2002 and 2006. In 2006, Arena brought only 5 young players to the tournament; two of whom, Landon Donovan and DeMarcus Beasley, were holdovers from 2002. In 2002, he brought 7 players 25 or younger, all of whom were World Cup rookies. That speedy and precocious bunch produced the greatest American performance at a World Cup since 1930 and might factor in to Arena’s thinking leading into Russia.
With that in mind, we'll start by looking at the potential goalkeepers and defenders who could crash the party in Russia (Born in 1993 or later- rankings are my own).
Goalkeepers (Top 5)
1. Ethan Horvath - Club Brugge
2. Zack Steffen - Columbus Crew
3. Justin Vom Steeg- Fortuna Düsseldorf
4. Cody Cropper - New England Revolution
5. Jonathan Klinsmann - UC Berkeley
New to the list: Jonathan Klinsmann, Justin Vom Steeg
Dropped out from 2016 list: Aleks Gogic (unattached?), Jon Kempin (unattached)
If you think I’m trolling by putting Klinsmann on the list, well he is the starting keeper for the U20’s today, and it’s not like we can count on Arena being able to recruit Jesse Gonzalez to the program. Vom Steeg was nominally first choice for the U20s before being snapped up by Fortuna. Cropper and Steffen both have a shot at minutes for their respective MLS clubs this year. Of the lot, Horvath, who has already played in the Champions League, has the best of very slim chances to make the 2018 World Cup Roster. He’s currently the backup at Brugge but looks like he’ll be first choice for the 17-18 season. If history is any guide, Arena will definitely go ‘seasoned’ here.
Defense (Top 10)
1. Jon Brooks - Hertha Berlin
2. DeAndre Yedlin - Newcastle United
3. Kellyn Acosta - FC Dallas*
4. Desevio Payne- FC Groningen
5. Walker Zimmerman FC Dallas
6. Matt Miazga - Chelsea
7 Cameron Carter-Vickers - Tottenham
8. Erik Palmer-Brown - Sporting Kansas City*
9. Justen Glad - Vancouver Whitecaps
10. Eric Miller -Colorado Rapids
New to the list: Walker Zimmerman, Justen Glad
Dropped out from 2016 list: Tim Parker (Vancouver Whitecaps FC), Brandon Vincent (Chicago Fire)
There isn’t too much change to this list year over year. Brooks is arguably the best defender in the US pool, and Yedlin also seems like a lock to make the roster for Russia 2018. Acosta earned his first 4 caps last year (all at left back), and although Arena has stated he sees him as a central midfielder, his versatility and the lack of great options at left back keeps him in the conversation here.
The biggest change with this group is experience. Payne is now the first choice at Groningen, Zimmerman locked down a first choice spot and delivered a near 1st XI performance in MLS last year, and Glad and Miller both earned the bulk of the minutes at their position for their respective clubs with reasonable marks to show for it.
Miazga and Carter-Vickers haven’t quite broken out just yet at Premier League behemoths Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, but CCV has started making the bench as well as starting some cup matches and looks on track to continue advancing. You could easily have him tied with Miazga who is getting a mix of sub and starts on loan with Eredivisie club, Vitesse Arnhem.
Palmer-Brown was almost purchased by Porto in the offseason after a strong showing with their reserve team in 2016. His technical skills are so good, he’s actually playing defensive midfield for the US U20s today. He could be primed for a breakout season with Sporting Kansas City this year if opportunity knocks.
Based on experience and opportunity, I’d set the over/under on young defenders selected by Arena for WC 2018 at 4. Barring disaster, you know you’ll see Yedlin and Brooks there. The FC Dallas duo are esteemed in the eyes of Arena, but the center back pool is relatively deep. If a player like Payne or Miller (who have both shown at least some aptitude to play on either side) steps up, will Acosta’s versatility be of less value? For a more youthful look in 2018, the defensive pool is probably the most promising supply line for the US Men’s National Team.