In 1998, the $50 million ‘Project 2010’ was established by the U.S. Soccer Federation in order to promote a common goal: make America a world power by the 2010 World Cup.
With a win this past summer against the undisputed No. 1 team in the world not withstanding, the US National Team currently sits 14th in the FIFA Rankings and still has plenty to show to the world in order to put their name in the conversation of soccer’s elite nations.
While Project 2010 did not quite shake out the way many had hoped, it has paved the way for long-term success in the future of soccer in the United States—a future that is much brighter than we may think.
As an 80-1 underdog to win this summer’s World Cup, it is all but a fact that "Project 2010" did not accomplish its’ primary goal; however, this by no means takes away from the positive effect it has had.
Although some can make the argument that the United States does not find itself any higher in the world soccer pecking order in 2010 than it has at any point this decade, beneath the surface, the U.S. is stronger than it has ever been.
The U.S. team that will travel to South Africa is a relatively young one and full of players who have not yet hit the prime of their careers. In fact, if the U.S. is going to seriously contend in a World Cup tournament, 2014 will probably be the best chance in our nation’s history.
Being widely expected to advance out of the group stages this summer is a decent step in the right direction, however, this is not a team that is poised to make a serious run at the perennial world powers—a fact that could very well be realized during the US’ opening match against the mighty English.
Regardless of what happens come June 12, rest assured that the USA player pool is getting deeper and deeper with more Americans being sought after by top-tier leagues abroad.
So with cautious optimism for this summer and dreams of grandeur for the future, here’s a brief look at a few names to remember for World Cups to come:
Omar Gonzalez (21-years-old – Central Defense)
The reigning MLS Rookie of the Year capped of a great first year as a professional by receiving a call up to national team training camp for the El Salvador and Honduras friendlies. Although he did not make the bench for either game, it was a clear indication that Bob Bradley wants this kid to start thinking about his future as a part of the national team picture.
At 6’5,” he is a coach’s dream in the back and can hopefully continue to grow under the watchful eye of former national team coach and current LA Galaxy skipper, Bruce Arena. Given the lack of depth on the US backline, don’t be surprised if Gonzalez is starting next to Oguchi Onyewu before too long.
Sebastian Lletget (17-years-old – Attacking Midfield)
The West Ham United youth product is said to be thriving since crossing the pond last year.
An attacking midfielder by trade, Lletget is a member of the West Ham U-18 squad that trains regularly with the reserves and first teamers. According to sources within the club, he has been so impressive of late that he is close to first team action.
And assuming West Ham survives its relegation battle this season, he could very well be competing for Premier League minutes at the start of next season.
Not a bad accomplishment for an American teenager.
One unfortunate side note with Lletget is the fact that he has dual citizenship with the U.S. and Italy thanks to an Italian grandfather. Despite both he and his parents being born and raised in the U.S., he has hinted that if the Azzurri ever came calling he would chose the Italians over his home country.
This is very optimistic thinking on the part of Lletget; however, he seemed to put his money where his mouth is when he snubbed an invite to participate in this past year’s U-20 World Cup, preferring to stay in training at West Ham.
Gale Agbossoumonde (19-years-old – Central Defense)
Gale is currently on loan with Portuguese powerhouse SC Braga and is widely considered a dominant center back of the future along with Gonzalez.
Big, physical and smart on the ball, especially for a kid of his age and experience level, Agbossoumonde may be closer than some people think. He was a standout at the U-20 World Cup in an otherwise disappointing tournament for the United States and has surprised many by making a bench appearance for SC Braga two weeks ago since most assumed his trial in Portugal would extend no further than the training grounds.
Whether or not this leads to any playing time this season or an extension of his contract have yet to be seen, the potential is there and it is safe to assume he is turning some heads during his time abroad.
Earl Edwards (18-years-old - GK)
The biggest problem for Edwards is that the U.S. has a long line of talented goalkeepers. Tim Howard could very well still be the starter for the US in 2014 and it would most likely take him stepping down from national team play since a drastic drop in form is not all that likely for goalkeepers.
If he does step down or slip in form, Brad Guzan appears first in line to grab the reins as he has made a case to be a full-time Premier League starter while at Villa.
Ironically enough, he is stuck behind the stellar and ageless play of fellow American and current No. 1, Brad Freidel.
Edwards is an excellent athlete who personifies American soccer fans’ favorite hypothetical question: What if some of this country’s best athletes played soccer? LeBron James and Dwayne Wade as a strike pair, anyone?
He has the physical tools to be an elite keeper and seems to also have the kind of mind set you want in the net (his favorite part of the game is taking out on-coming forwards). Edwards is headed to UCLA in the fall and it should be very interesting to see where he is two to three years from now.
Luis Gil (16-years-old - Midfield)
Gil will be 20 in 2014 and given the steadily rising level of the USA midfield pool, it is hard to see him progressing to the point where he is taking a starting spot from the likes of young and experienced midfielders like Stuart Holden, Michael Bradley, or Maurice Edu, all of whom will be in the prime stages of their careers four years from now.
However, four years is a very long time in soccer and for a kid entering a crucial developmental period in his life, he could very well emerge as the future star many hope he will become.
He recently signed with MLS after considering youth offers from several European powers, most notably Arsenal, and will hopefully continue to develop his rare talent.
Ideally, he follows the path of other young American stars and uses the MLS to gain the necessary professional experience to make a successful jump across the Atlantic before his 20th birthday ala Michael Bradley.
Emerson Hyndman (13-years-old, yes, 13-years-old)
Emerson is the closest thing the U.S. has had to a prodigy since Freddy Adu. Given how well that seems to be working out, it’s impossible to dictate what a 13-year-old will be like seven or eight years from now.
However, several factors lead me to believe that Emerson’s talent will be nurtured and developed far better than that of Adu’s.
For one thing, he has Freddy’s cautionary tale. The supremely talented youngster who took on too much too soon and perhaps let a little (or a lot) get to his head. I’m also not totally convinced Adu is as old as he says he is, but that’s another story…
Much more importantly for Hyndman, is the fact that he has knowledgeable soccer people around him. His grandfather is Schellas Hyndman, a current D-I coach at SMU who has close ties to Kenny Cooper Sr., a former Premier League player with deep soccer roots in the Dallas area and a member of the international scouting staff for Newcastle United.
Upon seeing him play in a Dallas-area tournament as a 12-year-old, former Chelsea captain, and current Newcastle United scout Dennis Wise declared after just 10 minutes, “I just love the guy. I love the way he plays.”
Newcastle Head Scout David Cooke, who has dispatched his staff to watch the young American on more than one occasion added, “Emerson is excellent. He has potential to be a Premier League superstar.”
Now, clearly Hyndman is a long time away from seeing the pitch of a Premier League match, however, it is a clear indication of the rising regard soccer minds have for American talent (a phrase that would probably have been laughable a few years ago).
If we have learned anything since 1998, it is that a player’s potential is a difficult, nearly impossible thing to dictate. There has been a great deal of hype surrounding young American players in the past that was proven to be misguided and most of it revolved around players not named Adu.
However, if ‘Project 2010’ fell short in its goal of creating a world powerhouse by South Africa, one thing has emerged out of it that is undeniable: Eventually, the Yanks are coming.