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Looking ahead to 2018: The Attackers

Young attacking options for the USMNT

Toronto FC v Vancouver Whitecaps Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

The US U20s bounced back after a woeful opener to defeat Haiti 4-1 behind a considerably more lively attack. This leaves them in good position to advance as they conclude group play (4:30 pm CT today, click here for details) against St. Kitts and Nevis who have lost their group matches by an average of 4 goals.

Brooks Lennon provided most of the fire power, scoring a hat trick against Les Grenadiers, and may be giving us a taste of what he’ll add to Real Salt Lake this season while on loan from Liverpool. That said, he almost certainly isn’t your dark horse candidate to make the US Men’s National team roster for the World Cup in Russia next summer.

This is largely due to relative depth in the pool for attackers (Thanks alot, Klinsmann). In 2014, one of the weaknesses of the World Cup roster was a lack of good target options outside of Jozy Altidore. When Altidore was injured in the first half of the Ghana match, the US instantly lost an irreplaceable facet of their attack and suffered modest struggles in attack for the rest of the tournament.

Fast forward three years, and now Bobby Wood has shown that he’s more than capable of providing a good (if not superior) option to Altidore. Also, it seems that Juan Agudelo has re-emerged as a person of interest for leading the line. To be clear, neither is quite the equal of Altidore when it comes to hold up play, but they’re not too far off, and each possess respective attributes in their skillset not matched by Jozy. This also ignores a very promising new wave of talent that’s a lot more ready for prime time than years past.

This year’s list all have something to prove, but in most cases, all of these guys seem primed to throw their hat in the ring as a candidate for the US team that will (presumably) go to Russia. As with the other categories, I've included only 2016 Olympic-eligible players who have already committed to the US.

(For defenders, go here. For central midfielders, go here.)

Attackers (Top 10)

1. Christian Pulisic Borussia Dortmund

2. Jordan Morris Seattle Sounders

3. Julian Green VFB Stüttgart

4. Paul Arriola Tijuana

5. Kekuta Manneh Vancouver Whitecaps

6. Kenny Saief KAA Gent

7. Lynden Gooch Sunderland

8. Khiry Shelton NYCFC

9. Jerome Kiesewetter Fortuna Düsseldorf

10. Rubio Rubin Silkeborg IF

New to the list: Kekuta Manneh (Vancouver Whitecaps), Kenny Saief (KAA Gent), Khiry Shelton (NYCFC)

Dropped out from 2016 list: Andrija Novakovich (Reading), Jose Villareal (LA Galaxy), Gboly Aryibi (Nottingham Forest)

Jordan Morris is on the heir apparent to Altidore list and may be a left foot and a little experience away from being the favorite. Rubin and Green are further down that pecking order having struggled for minutes at Utrecht and Bayern Munich, respectively. Both have secured moves away from those clubs with Rubin yet to feature in Denmark while Green is regularly starting for Stüttgart, albeit on the left wing.

Pulisic, another U20 eligible talent who’ll most likely never play at that level again, has achieved wunderkind status, and he’s on the plane barring catastrophe. Arriola has been on fire to start the Liga MX apertura putting him in the conversation for March while Gooch and Kiesewetter are on the outside looking in as they struggle for consistent minutes at their respective clubs (although Kiesewetter has recently been getting sub minutes).

Manneh is 9 months from being eligible for the USMNT (in addition to citizenship, a naturalized player typically has to live in the country for 5 years after his 18th birthday before becoming eligible), and he brings enticing ability and the uncoachable speed. As was evident in the January camp friendlies, that attribute in attack is lacking deeper in the pool.

If you’re looking for Jack Harrison as a potential convert along the lines of Manneh, I did not list him because it isn’t 100% clear he wants to play with the US just yet. Also, barring a waiver of the 5 year requirement, he won’t be eligible until 2019. However, his teammate Shelton certainly is a candidate, and like Manneh, he’s a speed merchant. Shelton very quietly racked up 4 goals and 9 assists in 22 matches last year. No, really.

Finally, Kenny Saief has openly declared his desire to play for the United States despite being capped in friendlies for Israel at all levels. He’s firmly established himself as a top player at KAA Gent in Belgium, and he’s a very talented southpaw.

With the pool lacking a plethora of left-footed options, Saief provides a cultured foot (and some pretty sneaky penalty kick talent) that shouldn’t be ignored. He’s also very skilled on the ball and adds a service element on the left that is rare in the US pool. Could he even be a potential left back candidate? Regardless, the window of opportunity to get him in the team could be closing soon, and that seems like that could be a pretty bad thing.

There’s definitely young talent on the come for the United States, and the talent a cycle away makes me wonder if we’ll be talking about a ‘Golden generation’ in a few years time. Of this group, it’s hard to see fewer than 2 making the 2018 World Cup roster, and it’s definitely conceivable that as many as 5 will be there next summer. Despite the recent management turmoil, there’s plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the state of the US Men’s National Team.