Predicting player success in soccer, specifically American soccer, is a hard business. Let alone USMNT.
Remember Brek Shea labeled the next big thing on the cover of ESPN Magazine? Or thinking that Juan Agudelo was the chosen one and lock for the 2014 World Cup after scoring his first USMNT team goal at age 18? Few could also forget a certain 14-year-old being titled the next Pele. What happened to that guy?
Whether it be succumbing to pressure, injuries, or just lack of true talent, USMNT always seems to have a number of hyped-up young players getting everyone before fizzling out, like flashes in a pan.
Of course, there are the exceptions to the rule, such as standouts like Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard who have lived up to their own highly touted potential and come through for the national team with flying colors, but predicting such success has become incredibly challenging.
With that said, the US is coming off an exciting World Cup and look to have a bright future in store, and though my attempt to look into the future might blow up in my face one day, the temptation to try and find the potential stars of 2018 and possibly even earlier than that is just too strong.
I’ve looked into and watched some Americans who play domestically and abroad to try and spot some players to watch out for, here are some of the names I think we might hear more of in the future.
Names to Know
1. The World Cup Trio of Youth: DeAndre Yedlin, RB, Seattle Sounders; Julian Green, LW, Bayern Munich; John Anthony Brooks, CB, Hertha Berlin
I know it probably seems like cheating to “predict” that three players who have already proven their undoubted talent and potential on the world stage are going to be big names for the United States in the future, but getting them out of the way early so I could move on to lesser known names seemed like a good idea. Yedlin (20), Green (19), and Brooks (21) have all in their own ways have shown that they can be possible cornerstones of the next generation for the US.
Whether it be the crazy speed of Yedlin, incredible attacking potential of Green, or powerful defending of Brooks, the three youngsters have shown enough to suggest they might hold down regular spots in US lineups and rosters for many years to come.
2. Gedion Zelalem, CM, Arsenal:
It looks like it is going to be down to Germany and the United States (where he lived from ages 9 to 15, just outside of DC) for the 17 year old to choose from. His decision to hold off on deciding to commit to Germany buys him time to gain his American citizenship through a green card, a possible good sign for them.
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger compared him recently to Cesc Fabregas in the way of his field vision and passing, and if he grows to be anywhere near that type of caliber player the US would have the face of their national team. US fans everywhere need to be crossing their fingers so that this potential superstar chooses the States over Deutschland.
3. Erik Palmer-Brown, CB, Sporting Kansas City
The 17-year-old has received much attention from the media after being offered a contract with Juventus, which was quickly turned down by Sporting Kansas City.
He is an exciting prospect to say the least, having pretty much all the tools a world class center half would need. Strength, speed, anticipation, and good size have made him a must watch for the future and a mouth watering prospect for fans and coaches.
The national team could always use a great center back, with the position constantly being rotated the last few years, so stay tuned to see if Palmer-Brown gets a crack at the lineup possibly as soon as Olympic qualifying.
4. Luis Gil, CM, Real Salt Lake
Gil, 20, has shown in his five years of professional soccer that he is the type of player America has been searching for. He has the silky skills and excellent field vision of a South American “number 10”, a type of player the US has been lacking possibly since the days of Tab Ramos.
He floundered along with the rest of the previous Olympic qualifying group, which disappointingly failed to qualify, but has shown that he is learning from his experiences, a fact Jurgen Klinsmann must have seen to be true as well when he called him into his January camp.
Gil has the potential to be the ultimate creator for the US midfield, which might just be extremely dangerous in a few years if and when the potential star attacking players such as Green and Zelalem see the field together.
5. Diego Fagundez, ST, New England Revolution
The 19-year-old attacking star of the Revolution has been called “the MLS Messi” ever since his debut at the young age of 16, but we might not see the goal scorer in a US jersey due to his lack of eligibility.
Fagundez has lived in Boston since the age of four but as of yet does not have the necessary paper work filled out to make him a citizen, leaving him only allowed to suit up for his native Uruguay.
Luckily, he hasn’t done that yet, but his increasing notoriety and goal scoring tallies might just be too much for Uruguay to pass up on. He has done wonders at such a young age, making 70 appearances and scoring 21 goals since his first team debut in 2011.
6. Shawn Parker, ST, FC Augsburg
Parker, 21, is another German-American dual citizen on Klinsmann’s radar. He has a pretty lethal goal scoring record so far in his career: 25 goals with the German under 19-21 international teams, and 4 in 25 matches for Mainz in the Bundesliga (one of those coming against Bayern Munich).
The fact that he has only lived in the US for one year and is only eligible because of his American father puts him in the same category of dual-nationality players which some Americans are upset about suiting up for our country, but there is no doubting he could help us out by putting the ball in the net.
He has Bundesliga experience and a great nose for goal. Sign him up Klinsmann!
7. Josh Gatt, RM, Molde FK
He is recovering from a second ACL surgery and might not see the field again for quite a while, but Gatt’s amazing set of wheels will have him in conversation for national team call ups for a number of years to come. His speed can be seen just by typing his name into YouTube and looking at his highlights, and boy is he fast.
The 22-year-old is at a good club in Norway, which will give him the experience playing in Europe that might help translate over to the international level. Imagining the speedy duo of Yedlin and Gatt playing on the same side of the field will just about make you dizzy.
8. Darlington Nagbe, RM, Portland Timbers
It might be a little while yet before we hear the rumors heating up of Nagbe, 23, playing for the US when his eligibility is officially processed. The Liberian has been keeping his options open for national team play and is said to want a place in the US team, potentially exciting news for fans.
He has been a star in MLS for the past three years and has been one of Portland and the league’s best attacking threats. His speed and ability to make chances for himself could be a great compliment for the US attack, so Klinsmann should be keeping an eye on the calendar as his days to US eligibility dwindle away.
9. Marc Pelosi, RB, Liverpool
One of our top prospects playing in England, Pelosi is finally back from a broken leg in 2013 and looks to be rated fairly highly by the Reds. The outside back has been a main feature in the Liverpool youth teams for the last few years and is certainly an exciting option for the US. Right back might just get a bit deeper if Pelosi can pull through and challenge Yedlin for it for the next decade. You can only hope.
10. 5 Names a Long Way Away: Shaquell Moore, 17, CM, IMG; Ben Lederman, 14, CM, Barcelona; Lynden Gooch, 18, ST, Sunderland; Joe Gallarado, 17, ST, Monterrey; Emerson Hyndman, 18, ST, Fulham
These players are grouped together because they are all very young and should have limited expectations until a few years down the road, but man are they exciting. These players and the clubs they play for show just how far US soccer has come in a short while.
In order: Moore is a U17 national team captain who plays at IMG and is in FC Dallas’s developmental system, but is getting serious looks from bigger sides such as Valencia, Barcelona, and Manchester City.
Lederman already plays for one of those teams, Barcelona, and is the first American to go through the fabled youth system. Gooch is a powerful young striker who is rising up the ranks at Sunderland, scoring loads of goals for the reserve team and placing himself in line for a first team spot possibly next season.
Gallarado is scoring goals for Monterrey in Mexico and is looking to be a future star in that league. Hyndman has been a key figure for Fulham youth sides and is a favorite at the club.
Other Notable Names: Dillon Powers, 23, CAM, Colorado Rapids; Wil Trapp, 21, CM, Columbus Crew; Joe Gyau, 21, ST, Dortmund; Jack McBean, 19, ST, LA Galaxy; Junior Flores, 20, CAM, Dortmund; Cody Cropper, 21, GK, Southampton; Sean Johnson, 25, GK, Chicago Fire