In less than two months, the United States men’s national team will be off and running in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Although the 2014 cycle wasn’t without its hiccups, the U.S. qualified for its seventh straight World Cup by finishing first in CONCACAF.
However, when the 2014 World Cup is over, U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann will have the unenviable task of replacing many of the aging pieces of his squad and beginning the long process of preparing for 2018 World Cup qualifying.
Major League Soccer has increasingly become a part of the USMNT’s backbone. Full of bright young talent, the league will surely be a big part of the 2018 cycle as well.
Here are 18 MLS youngsters, ages 25 and under, who could be a part of the next round of World Cup qualification for the U.S.
Tim Howard could conceivably still be around in 2018, and Brad Guzan is next in line after Howard, but two MLS goalkeepers waiting in the wings are Sean Johnson and Bill Hamid.
Johnson has become the U.S.’s No. 4 over the past year, earning shutouts in both of his appearances for the U.S. in 2013. Hamid earned a shutout in his only senior appearance for the squad back in 2012. Both are in their fourth seasons as full-time starters in MLS.
When it comes to young defenders, MLS has a number of exciting prospects.
DeAndre Yedlin is viewed by many U.S. fans as the heir apparent at right-back. The 20-year-old was named an MLS All-Star in his rookie campaign, represented the U.S. in U20 World Cup last summer and already has two caps for the senior side.
Like Yedlin, Kofi Sarkodie is a University of Akron product and also plays right-back. Sarkodie is a little older at 23, but he still has plenty of time to fully develop. Sarkodie has represented the U.S. at the U17, U20 and U23 levels.
On the left side, Colorado Rapids defender Chris Klute could be the next great left-back for the U.S. Klute, 24, emerged last season for the Rapids, winning their Defensive Player of the Year award and earning his first senior national team call-up. Klute also earned high praise from former USMNT great Eric Wynalda, who said Klute is “better than anybody we’ve ever had,” per the official Colorado Rapids website.
Shane O’Neill, another Rapids defender, earned his first senior call-up this year as well. He also represented the U.S. at the U20 World Cup last summer and was named the Rapids' Young Player of the Year. He is 20 years old.
Matt Hedges, who is only 24, is already in his third season as a regular starter in MLS for FC Dallas. He impressed many in his rookie campaign back in 2012 and is off to another strong start in 2014, recently earning Player of the Week honors.
Austin Berry, a 25-year-old defender for the Philadelphia Union, is another youngster already in his third season in MLS. Berry first gained attention as a rookie for the Chicago Fire when he won league Rookie of the Year honors in 2012.
His teammates Amobi Okugo, 23, and Sheanon Williams, 24, are also highly touted young players. Okugo is a veteran of the U.S. U18 and U20 squads and has been a starter for the past three seasons. Williams has had a bit of a rough start in 2014 due to injury, but he’s been the Union’s regular right-back for three seasons.
Despite a number of strong prospects in the back, MLS boasts its top young talent in the midfield.
Dillon Powers of the Colorado Rapids was the league Rookie of the Year and team MVP in 2013, finishing the season with five goals and six assists. The 23-year-old has already represented the U.S. at the U18 and U20 levels.
Perhaps the most exciting prospect in MLS for the USMNT is the Portland Timbers' Darlington Nagbe. Nagbe, 23, is not yet a citizen, but he is expected to gain U.S. citizenship in 2015. He was the Timbers' Player of the Year in 2013, was named to the MLS Team of Week five times last season and scored the 2011 MLS Goal of Year.
Kelyn Rowe is one of several young prospects for the New England Revolution. At 22, Rowe has already represented the U.S. at the U18, U20 and U23 levels. He is a creative midfielder in his third season of MLS and finished with seven goals and eight assists last season.
Wil Trapp is a 20-year-old midfielder with the Columbus Crew in his second full season of MLS. He started to break into the Crew lineup last year and has already represented the U.S. at the U20 World Cup.
Real Salt Lake midfielder Luis Gil is already an MLS veteran at only 20 years of age. Now in his fifth season, Gil has represented the U.S. at the U17, U18 and U20 levels and earned his first senior cap this January. Many U.S. fans will remember his golazo against Spain in the U20 World Cup last summer.
Benji Joya is a 20-year-old midfielder with the Chicago Fire on loan from Liga MX side Santos Laguna. Joya represented the U.S. last summer in the U20 World Cup.
MLS has a few young prospects at forward, but the two who stand out are Jack McInerney and Diego Fagundez.
McInerney, who is 21, scored 14 goals in all competitions last year. He was on the Gold Cup roster with the senior national team this summer and has represented the U.S. several times at the youth level.
The other electrifying youngster, who plays for the New England Revolution, is Diego Fagundez. The 19-year-old is already in his fourth season of MLS and scored 13 goals last season. Fagundez is a permanent resident—currently seeking U.S. citizenship—and is still eligible to represent Uruguay at this point.
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