23 for 2018: A first projection of the next USA World Cup roster
Now that the United States is out of the 2014 World Cup, it might be cathartic to look ahead to four years from now and take a glimpse into who may be representing the country on the grand stage in Russia.
If history is any indication, it will be a much different group than the one that reached the round of 16 in Brazil before succumbing 2-1 to Belgium in extra time on Tuesday.
Only six players made both of the USA's 2010 and 2014 World Cup squads. Eight players from the 2006 team also played in 2010. World Cup cycles are four years long, and it's natural for there to be lots of turnover. For the first time in three World Cups, though, the U.S. should have the same manager. Jurgen Klinsmann is under contract through 2018 and his familiarity with the player pool should make it easier to see an improvement while maintaining some continuity.
For comparison's sake, the last manager to coach the U.S. in two straight World Cups, Bruce Arena, carried 12 players over from his first cycle in 2002 to his second in 2006.
Taking into account the players coming through the development pipeline, those established on the senior level and those whose time on the World Cup stage has likely come and gone, here is a very early estimation of the U.S.’s 2018 World Cup roster (provided, of course, the USA qualifies for its eight straight World Cup):
Goalkeepers (3): Cody Cropper, Brad Guzan, Bill Hamidhe admitted to the Dan Patrick Show on Wednesday that Guzan is likely to be between the posts in 2018. Guzan is the clear frontrunner as the next No. 1, with Southampton’s Cody Cropper and D.C. United’s Bill Hamid leading the battle to back him up in Russia.
Both have spent time with youth national teams in the past, but Cropper has a more mature, settled feel to his game than Hamid. However, if Hamid can harness some of his extraneous energy, his athleticism rivals those of the best in the world.
Defenders (8): Matt Besler, John Brooks, Geoff Cameron, Greg Garza, Omar Gonzalez, Fabian Johnson, Will Packwood, DeAndre Yedlin
The core of the American defense is young enough that it should return with more experience playing together and with more individual experience at the professional and international levels. The various central pairings that had their shaky moments in qualifying for and during the World Cup in Brazil will be four years more cohesive in Russia.
Packwood, a versatile 21-year-old center back for Birmingham, is already on Klinsmann's radar after receiving a call-up ahead of the USA's friendly against Ukraine in March.
Midfielders (7): Michael Bradley, Joe Corona, Mix Diskerud, Luis Gil, Julian Green, Joe Gyau, Kelyn Rowe
This is where it gets interesting. Midfield is probably the deepest section of the player pool, although there seems to be a shortage of out-and-out wingers, and the defensive midfield likes of 32-year-olds Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman will almost certainly be aged out of contention. With talented central players such as Gil and Corona, combined with the experience of Bradley, who will be 30 come 2018, the possibilities here are numerous.
Forwards (5): Juan Agudelo, Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Aron Jóhannsson, Jordan Morris
Juan Agudelo’s club situation should be settled in four years’ time, which will allow the potential-filled forward to focus more on producing and less on having to pack his suitcase every few months. Another young player with an exciting future is highly touted U-21 forward Jordan Morris, currently playing at Stanford, but who was pictured in training with the senior national team during its pre-World Cup camp in Palo Alto, Calif., this spring.
On Wednesday's SI Now, Philadelphia Union midfielder Maurice Edu, MLS' Eddie Pope, and SI contributor Jeff Bradley discuss if Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey will play in the 2018 World Cup.
Wild Cards (3): Diego Fagúndez, Darlington Nagbe, Gedion Zelalem
Fagúndez, Nagbe and Zelalem could fit into the U.S. picture, but their citizenship statuses make this more of a question mark right now. Nagbe would be one of the most talented in the player pool, but the Portland Timbers midfielder moved to the U.S. from Liberia when he was 11. Similarly, the Uruguayan-born Fagúndez moved to Massachusetts at age 5, and German-born Zelalem only lived in Maryland for seven years before moving to join Arsenal. Any or all of them gaining U.S. citizenship and eligibility would enhance Klinsmann's options four years from now.
GALLERY: Shots from Belgium 2, USA 1