The 5 Players Who Will Elevate U.S. Soccer
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It's been clear since Jürgen Klinsmann's final selection of the USMNT for Brazil 2014 - and, infamously, his exclusion of American star Landon Donovan - that he has an eye to the future. And that future is building U.S. Soccer into a powerhouse.
In a recent interview, he went so far as to assert that the United States will make it to the semifinal in 2018: "This is our goal going towards Russia, not to stop at the Round of 16, maybe not to stop at the quarterfinal. To say clearly, listen, we have four years to prepare this cycle. Our goal is going into a semifinal in a World Cup."
Getting there, of course, will require identifying and cultivating the kind of talent that, historically, hasn't been a part of the gross domestic product of the United States. With the Klinsmann era, however, all of that appears to be changing. For our money, here are the young players to watch who will be a part of USA's rise on the international stage.
DeAndre is of Native American, African American, Latvian, and Dominican descent, and his style - of play and of fashion - is as colorful and in-your-face as his family tree. He is diverse and different, he is a bad ass and he knows it. If there was an All-Swag team in the MLS, its starting eleven would be made up of DeAndre and Yedlin, because his swag don’t need no team.
To watch Yedlin play full-back is to watch the peak of American athleticism. He bombards down the flank in attack with the kind of fearlessness and determination that would make any bluecollar worker proud. Yet, for all his brash attacking qualities, he has the class to pull of goals like this:
With his move to Tottenham having become a matter of when, not if, Yedlin’s career has moved into its most critical, and critiqued, phase. The Premier League will challenge him more than anything he has faced, even the World Cup. He will still be an exceptional athlete - he always will be - but the quality of opposition and depth of tactical knowledge to which he must acclimate will be the true test of whether or not he can become the first great American full-back.
Here’s to hoping he does well. Mario Balotelli needs some competition.
Gedion Zelalem’s future is a toss up. He could end up playing for Germany or the U.S. His career has already had its fair share of lore: upon watching Zelalem during his first trial at Arsenal FC, Arsene Wenger pulled the boy's father to the side and told him, “Your son will play for Arsenal.”
Zelalem already has immense passing ability. His vision and technique allow him to manipulate the game in ways that most players only dream of, or at least he will, once Arsene has a few years to work his magic on the boy. If everything comes up roses, Zelalem will become the midfield maestro of the USMNT. The first midfielder to have truly world class wherewithal to dictate a game. This pinnacle of play, however, could be a long way off.
Gedion is only 17 and, having been born in Germany, he could very well chose to continue the dynasty established this past summer in Brazil. Right now, Arsenal FC is the best place for him, as Arsene Wenger has an excellent history of developing young players.
He won’t even be eligible for U.S. citizenship until he turns 18, so his future in the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) is still a ways away. But even at that distance, the possibilities are absolutely glowing.
Relax, guys. Julian Green has chosen the USMNT. He is not going anywhere, and this should make us all very, very happy. He is a world class prospect who is already gunning for Bayern Munich’s first team. Oh, and he scored this goal to keep U.S. World Cup hopes alive, if only for a few minutes:
Green also has dual citizenship with Germany and the U.S., but, luckily for us, Jurgen Klinsmann polished that silver tongue of his and convinced Green to play for the USMNT. He has already scored a huge goal for the U.S., and he will undoubtedly score many more if he remains healthy and continues to grow as a player.
The precedent and paradigm for the future of American Soccer is Julian Green: technically gifted, young, and from a diverse background. A team full of such players can, and will, captivate the nation. Now he just needs to get all buddy-buddy with Zelalem, and convince him to represent the Red, White and Blue.
Aron Johannsson spurned the country of his youth, Iceland, when he decided to join the USMNT. Iceland was pissed, and with good reason. Aron Johannsson was the class of their national team.
“The Iceman” might hail from Iceland, but his slick skills and immaculate technique are reminiscent of Dutch forwards such as Robin Van Persie and Dennis Bergkamp. With similarities like that, it is no surprise that Johannsson plies his trade for the Dutch side AZ Alkmaar. Johannsson’s skills are undeniable, but the consistency with which he can produce is.
The Dutch Eredivisie is a league notorious for poor defending (The Dutch? Not wanting to defend? You don’t say…) and many forwards' goal tallies are often inflated as a consequence. Case in point, Johannsson’s ex-AZ teammate and U.S. compatriot, Jozy Altidore. Jozy was named to the League Team of the Season in 2013. He followed that up the next season by scoring only once in league play for the EPL side Sunderland, and was dropped to their U21s.
Johannsson saw limited time in the 2014 World Cup, and Jurgen Klinsmann knows he still has quite a bit of development left to do before his minute totals increase and he is considered for a starting spot. In order to develop, Aron needs to truly test himself in La Liga, the EPL, or the Bundesliga.
John Brooks is yet another entry in the list of dual citizen USMNT players. Born and raised in Germany to an American Serviceman and a German mother, Brooks chose to represent the stars and stripes this past summer in Brazil. For those who followed the tournament (shame on you if you are reading this and didn't), you will know why we are grateful that he did.
John Brooks accomplished the rare feat of captivating a nation. His go-ahead goal against Ghana in the 2014 World Cup was the defining moment of the USMNT’s tournament. It gave that entire team - the entire nation - belief.
Look at his reaction to scoring the goal (about 1:08 in the video). He knows what just happened. The gravity of the moment is not lost on him, and that makes it all the sweeter. You can see in his body language exactly what is going on in his head:
Holy Sh*t, Holy Sh*t, Holy Sh*t that just happened. I did it. We’re going to win. Just hold on a minute. We’re going to win.
John Brooks has been highly rated as a defender for a while now. The size, the technical ability, it’s all there. But what this moment showed was the flash of greatness that we as Americans have come to expect from our sporting icons. His reaction was exactly what you'd want to see from a defender: a controlled appreciation of the chaos around him. That moment coursed through his body, and he simply reacted.