Landon Donovan: Who Will Replace Him as the Next USMNT Talisman?
The soccer talisman: the player that possesses almost supernatural powers for his team and leads them to victory. The player who if the team is without, they will struggle to win.
Think Zinedine Zidane with the French National Team, Claude Makelele with Real Madrid, Xavi with Barcelona or Maradona with Argentina. Although usually a goalscorer or playmaker, this player is sometimes a defender, a holding midfielder or even a goalkeeper.
Over the past few years, the talisman for the United States Men’s National Team has been Landon Donovan. When the chips were down and the team needed someone to step up and win the game, Donovan has been there.
But, at 29, Donovan is entering what will most likely be his last World Cup cycle. And with other prospects to fill the void like Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey or Carlos Bocanegra also nearing the end of their international careers, who will be next?
Note: For the sake of argument and looking to the future, anyone north of 25 years of age was excluded from the list, taking Stuart Holden or even outside candidates like Benny Feilhaber or Sasha Kljestan out of the running.
No. 1: Juan Agudelo – 19 Years Old
Perhaps a bold choice this high on the list considering his young age and relative inexperience, but the flashes of brilliance have been there. At 17, Agudelo received his first call-up to the full national team in November of 2010 and didn’t disappoint, scoring a brilliant finish against South Africa to lead the team to a 1-0 victory in Capetown.
Although he faced a stiff challenge to find playing time with the New York Red Bulls this past season, he made the most of the time he did get, scoring one of the most brilliant goals in MLS history. Agudelo finished with six goals for the season, despite playing most of the year in a substitute’s role.
At 19, he already has 15 caps for the national team, and assuming he continues to improve and considering his young age, he could be a contributor for the national team for four World Cup cycles.
No. 2: Michael Bradley – 24 Years Old
While he still has plenty of detractors, at the ripe age of 24, Michael Bradley has already accumulated 63 caps, played in two Gold Cups, the Confederations Cup and a World Cup. Despite his age, Bradley has already become an established starter in three of the best leagues in the world.
With a game based on smart possession, hard tackling and a great work rate, it is not inconceivable that Bradley can and will be a part of America's next three World Cup cycles.
When one considers that the bulk of the current American superstars (Donovan, Dempsey, Howard, Bocanegra) will be passing into retirement after the 2014 World Cup, Michael Bradley will emerge as the most experienced member of the U.S. squad.
No. 3: Jose Francisco Torres – 24 Years Old
Although he has been a little unlucky with the U.S. national team, first struggling for caps under Bob Bradley, then picking up an untimely injury only several weeks into Jurgen Klinsmann’s reign, Jose Francisco Torres could easily be a future star for the Yankees.
Torres, who plays best as a box-to-box maestro, didn’t really fit into Bob Bradley’s system of two defensive center midfielders and two wide attacking midfielders. However, under Klinsmann, playing a more natural central position that counted on him to be responsible for moving possession up the field, Torres excelled.
He was composed under pressure, helped string together good passing sequences, pushed into the attack and worked back defensively.
At only 24, if Torres hits a good spell of form and health, he could be a part of the U.S. squad for the next four World Cup cycles.
No. 4: Jozy Altidore – 22 Years Old
For whatever reason, there are still plenty of U.S. fans critical of Jozy Altidore. Yes, an argument can be made that he has failed to produce goals for certain spells, but he already has 13 goals for the national side, six of them game-winners.
Altidore first hit the scene in the 2007 U-20 World Cup in which he had four goals, including two against Brazil. During the tournament he outscored Angel di Maria, Pato, Giovani dos Santos, Juan Mata, Luis Suarez and Chicharito.
While he has moved around Europe quite a bit in the years since then, he has almost 70 appearances in European first-division football, with most of those coming in the English Premier League and the Dutch Eredivisie—certainly nothing to sneeze at.
Still very young as far as strikers go, who usually don’t hit their prime until their mid to late 20s, Jozy has continued to improve each year. He is a load to handle for any defender (as Gerard Pique found out the hard way) with his raw physical size and strength and his willingness to go one v. one in the box always makes him likely to draw penalties.
His finishing will continue to improve and at only 22, Altidore should be a fundamental part of the U.S squad for the next decade, perhaps even playing in Qatar in 2022.
No. 5: Brek Shea: 21 Years Old
Although it is far too early to declare him the next great American player, there have been enough glimpses over the past few months for Brek Shea to make an appearance high on this list.
A favorite of Jurgen Klinsmann, Shea has appeared in all seven games under Klinsmann and started five of those games.
His pace, strength, dribbling and shooting ability have made him one of America’s top prospects. This season with FC Dallas, Shea came into his own, picking up 11 goals. With the national team, he showed off his potential with an outstanding assist to help the U.S. tie Mexico 1-1 in August.
No. 6: Freddy Adu – 22 Years Old
Although ignored by new American head coach Jurgen Klinsmann so far, Freddy Adu demonstrated in this summer’s Gold Cup that he still has the potential to fulfill all of the promise that was heaped on him as a 14 year-old professional.
He also remains one of the only Americans at any level, in any league, with world-class vision of the field and the passing ability to make it worthwhile.
After a couple of rough years in Europe, Adu is back in the United States reminding people that despite being on the national scene for nearly a decade, he is still only 22.
No. 7: Maurice Edu – 25 Years Old
At 25, Maurice Edu already has over 100 caps with Scottish powerhouse Rangers and 31 caps for the national team. His box-to-box coverage, ability to pop up with the odd goal and blue-collar work rate has made him key to Rangers success.
As he continues to grow, Edu should grow into a big part of the future success of the USMNT.
No. 8: Fabian Johnson – 24 Years Old
With only two caps to his name, it’s impossible to declare Fabian Johnson the next American star. However, at only 24, he has spent six seasons in the Bundesliga and Bundesliga II, most recently becoming a regular for Hoffenheim.
Johnson looked sharp for the U.S. against Slovenia in their last friendly, hitting a cracker of a volley inside the first minute of the game and drew the penalty for what would become the game-winning goal.
No. 9: Mix Diskerud – 21 Years Old
Although still a relative unknown among many American fans, diehards who actually watched the U.S. friendly in November 2010 will remember his brilliant work in the box against South Africa last winter to set up Juan Agudelo’s equally brilliant finish.
#10: Your Choice
The 17-year-old was recently signed by Liverpool and has already drawn high praise from their staff.
The 18-year-old forward was recently signed by Liverpool and loaned to a Bundesliga II side.
A top prospect, the 18-year-old forward was the No. 1 draft pick of the Vancouver Whitecaps a year ago.
Playing for Molde in the Norwegian league under the guidance of manager and former Manchester United legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the 20-year-old Gatt has recently drawn attention to himself with a series of spectacular goals made popular on YouTube.
Corona has earned youth call-ups from both Mexico and the United States and is still not committed to either. He has made 55 appearances for Tijuana in the Mexican Primera Division and recently trained with the U.S. U-23 squad preparing to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics.
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