Road to Russia 2018: What to Expect from the USMNT's 4 Friendlies to End 2014

Dennis DoyleFeatured ColumnistSeptember 2, 2014

SALVADOR, BRAZIL - JULY 01:  Julian Green of the United States scores his team's first goal in extra time against Toby Alderweireld of Belgium during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Round of 16 match between Belgium and the United States at Arena Fonte Nova on July 1, 2014 in Salvador, Brazil.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

After charting a bright future in Brazil, the United States men’s national team kicks off a new era en route to Russia 2018 with a slate of international friendlies. The U.S. is scheduled to face the Czech Republic in Prague on September 3, 2014, Ecuador on October 10 in Hartford, Connecticut, Honduras on October 14 in Boca Raton, Florida, and the Republic of Ireland on November 18 in Dublin. 

On August 28, manager Jurgen Klinsmann announced the 22-man roster for the Czech Republic match: 

We look at this as the start of our project towards Russia in 2018, and in this first step we get to look at many of our talented young players based in Europe.  We have some great youngsters coming through the ranks that are starting to break through with their clubs teams and are ready to challenge for spots on the Senior Team, and even most of our World Cup veterans from Brazil on this roster will be coming into the prime of their careers in the next four years, so this is an exciting opportunity.

The roster makeup is based on youth and geography. Fifteen of the 22 are under 25 years old, and all but five are currently playing for European clubs. Only 10 are holdovers from the World Cup.

The familiar names—Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Kyle Beckerman, Jermaine Jones and Graham Zusi—won’t be making the trip to Prague. Their futures with the national team are solidified, age notwithstanding, and Klinsmann elected not to uproot them from their MLS clubs for the European friendly. 

In their place, newly infused young blood will look to build on a promising American campaign in Brazil, where the U.S. escaped the Group of Death and reached the round of 16 for a second consecutive World Cup. Had Chris Wondolowski not shanked a sitter in stoppage time against Belgium, the U.S. would have reached the quarterfinals.

All this was accomplished without Jozy Altidore, who strained his hamstring in the first half of the opening match against Ghana and sat out the rest of the tournament. Altidore—who, at 24 years old, bridges the generational gap between the young prospects and the old guard—is one of the few established players selected for the Czech Republic match.

Success in Brazil also came without Donovan, the face of U.S. Soccer for the last 12 years. Donovan, who was unceremoniously omitted from the 23-man roster in Brazil, has announced he will retire at the end of the year but not before a well-deserved farewell appearance in the October 10 friendly against Ecuador.

Two weeks after Donovan’s announcement, goalkeeper Tim Howard announced a year-long sabbatical from international competition. Howard, 35, who became a household name after a spectacular World Cup that included a record-setting 15-save performance against Belgium, will get a much-deserved respite from international play until the Gold Cup in 2015.

The absence of the establishment opens the door for new talent to step into the limelight. With Howard away, 29-year-old Brad Guzan will start between the posts and solidify his claim as Howard’s rightful heir. Veteran backup Nick Rimando, 35, and first-time call-up Cody Cropper, 21, will back up Guzan.

Four World Cup holdovers are likely to start the European friendlies in front of Guzan: John Brooks, Geoff Cameron, Fabian Johnson and Timothy Chandler. Brooks became an overnight sensation after he headed in the game-winner against Ghana in the opening match of the World Cup, and the 21-year-old central defender could feature prominently in Klinsmann’s long-term plans.

Alongside Brooks will be another German-American, Fabian Johnson, who showed excellent speed up the flanks in Brazil. Johnson, 26, looks like a potential cornerstone at full-back during the next four years along with 21-year-old DeAndre Yedlin, who was left off the squad while he awaits a transfer from Seattle Sounders to Tottenham Hotspur.

Yet another German-American (there are five on the 22-man roster), Timmy Chandler (24), will likely round out the back four and collect his 14th cap. That likely leaves Tim Ream (26) and Michael Orozco (28)—two players infrequently called upon for international service over the past four years—and first-time call-up Greg Garza (23) on the bench.

World Cup holdover and—wait for it—German-American Julian Green headlines the midfield. The 19-year-old Green, who scored on a spectacular volley in extra time against Belgium in the World Cup, is the best prospect on the roster. The development of Green, who was recently loaned from German powerhouse Bayern Munich to another German first-division club, Hamburger SV, is critical to the United States’ growth as a soccer nation.

Green will be joined in the midfield by World Cup teammates Alejandro Bedoya (27), and Mix Diskerud (23). Bedoya started three of the four matches in Brazil and figures to have an inside track on a starting position. Diskerud didn’t play a minute in the World Cup, but the Norwegian-American will have a chance to make some headway in Prague.  

Other midfield call-ups include Joe Corona and Brek Shea, two 24-year-olds who have been in and out of the roster during Klinsmann’s tenure. Joining them will be Emerson Hyndman, an 18-year-old Texan currently with Fulham, and Alfredo Morales (German-American No. 5), a 24-year-old currently playing in the German second division.

At the forward position—where the U.S. is desperate for depth—Klinsmann called up three players currently playing for European clubs: Joe Gyau (21), Rubio Rubin (18) and Bobby Wood (21), with Wood having the only cap among the three.

World Cup holdover Aron Johannsson (23) is recovering from ankle surgery, so Stanford sophomore Jordan Morris—the lone college player to be called up—will round out what figures to be a wide-open competition to join the attack alongside Altidore.

Will the young blood show enough promise to become fixtures at the senior level? Can the World Cup holdovers maintain their level of quality? Will Brooks and Green build upon the flashes of brilliance they showed in Brazil? These are the questions that will define the final matches of 2014.

The World Cup may be over, but its legacy is not yet etched in stone. Will Brazil be remembered as another singular bright spot in the unremarkable history of a plucky footballing nation? Or will it be remembered as the dawn of a new age in American soccer?

Answers will start to arrive on September 3, when the U.S. takes the pitch in Prague, seeking to define its past and its future.