Many people forget that even though the 2014 World Cup is done, the preparations for the next World Cup begins right away. So far Jürgen Klinsmann has introduced some new faces to the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT). By doing this he has sacrificed a few wins (but at this point that really does not matter) to see new players and how they react and play for the national team. This year we have two more tournaments that U.S. soccer will focus on as Klinsmann tries to prepare the team for the 2018 World Cup.
In July there will be the Gold Cup tournament which we will talk about as it gets closer, but for now we are going to focus on the Olympics where qualifying will begin in October, but it’s never too early to debate who may or may not make the roster.
To start, I need to address the key differences between the Olympics and the World Cup in terms of soccer. In the World Cup a team is allowed to select any player who has designated themselves to play for a certain country based off their nationality (some players have dual-nationality and have to decide which country they which to play for. Players are only allowed to play competitively for one nation.), and can be of any age. In the Olympics teams can select any player who have designated themselves to play for that country, and they must be under the age of 23. Now in the final competition teams are allowed to select three players who are over the age of 23, but we will address that later. For qualifying the team is only allowed 20 players and all the players must be under 23.
Now that we have those rules down, let’s talk about this article. In this article I will be saying who I would select for my 20 man squad as of right now. Jürgen recently hired a new coach for the U-23 team (Under 23), Andres Herzog, a very talented coach who know Klinsmann very well. What this very recent hiring does though, is make it tough to know what Herzog is thinking for who he would play or the players he may be leaning towards. So for this reason I am going to start by saying who I would play and in later editions I will compare my squads with his. Since I only have 20 players, I will only carry two goalies and pray neither one gets hurt (of course I pray nobody gets hurt), I also will only have four forwards as I feel the pool of midfielders is too great for me to ignore a couple players.
GK: Zack Steffen
Steffen gets the start in goal for me even though I feel Cropper may get the nod to begin qualifying. Neither one is bad – I just feel that Steffen is the better goalie right now. Steffen just finished with the University of Maryland and will now train in the Bundesliga where he just signed a contract. He has more playing time recently, even if it is against inferior competition. I feel he is the better goalie, but at the moment this is a coin flip.
RB: DeAndre Yedlin
Yes, every American Outlaw is excited to see the speedy Yedlin is eligible to play in the Olympics, as he has quickly became a fan favorite. Now, with some playing time for Tottenham looking like a possibility, he will only continue to improve as a defender and a player all-around. Back to why I choose him, well he is the best RB under 23 so that is the main reason. Also, his experience playing for the national team and against some of the top players in the world would be a huge upgrade to a backline, but also his ability to attack will definitely help the offense should they struggle to score.
RCB: John Anthony Brooks
Brooks has played very well for the USMNT at times, especially during the World Cup, but he did have a bit of a World Cup hangover and struggled for time at his club. That has changed, as Brooks now plays key minutes for his club in the Bundesliga and has impressed all who watch him as he continues to grow. He has USMNT experience and plays at an elite level. His presence would be huge for this backline as he brings credibility and a tough-minded and sure defender to anchor the middle.
LCB: Will Packwood
This is another toss-up as I give the nod to Packwood, who is still trying to regain his footing after an injury. Packwood was once consider the future center back for the USMNT as his size and technical abilities impressed several scouts. He started off fast with 18 appearances for Birmingham City in 2011. Since his injury though he has had several loan spells to multiple teams where he has struggled for time. Still, the U-23 team has called him in 3 times already this year and I believe all he needs is a chance to see more time before we see him return to pre-injury form.
LB: Kellyn Acosta
Listed as a midfielder, I see Acosta more as a full back, especially if he continues to work on his defense. He has excellent speed and a powerful left foot that would definitely aid the offense from the LB spot, but it’s whether he can lay defense consistently. If I were to play him here I would consider switching Brooks and Packwood to try and add some cover for Acosta. Another issue is he is still only 19 years old. The problem is I am not a fan of really any of the possible LB’s for qualifying and I would rather start many of the CB’s first than some of my options at LB. Still Acosta is a very experienced player for his age and has logged 30 games already in two years and the small portion of the MLS season we have played. Still, I feel comfortable enough to start him here for now for qualifying.
RM: Julian Green
It’s amazing how many USMNT players are still young enough to be on this roster. Green has had a hard year with a loan to another Bundesliga team that was supposed to allow him more playing time going south with the club giving him little to no time. The USMNT has really not given him a ton of time either since Klinsmann is a huge believer in playing time when he selects his starters. I give the nod to Green though because I believe he can turn it around this summer and will find a different loan where he can find some playing time. Even without playing time, I still believe he is one of the best player eligible to play in the Olympics for this US side. Hopefully he does regain his form, because if he does this midfield could become quite deadly.
RCM: Gedion Zelalem
Never has there been so much excitement around a US soccer player before he was even eligible to represent the US. Zelalem is an excellent midfielder, who possesses vision well beyond his years. He is calm with the ball and sees the whole field effectively, and allows other players to play their game. Obviously I am giving up a lot of size and experience with these first two selections in midfield, but I like my mids to be confident on the ball and to make smart passes. I feel mids need to be able to see all the runs that players make and need to be smart soccer players. On top of that, these are some of the most talented young players in the system and even Klinsmann said that when Zelalem is eligible he could play for the USMNT. So why not the U-23?
LCM: Emerson Hyndman
My third favorite USMNT prospect is again another young player, but another smart, field general-like player who controls the midfield and finds his open teammates. Hyndman is more willing to take the ball and score himself which this midfield will need at points, but is also an excellent passer who will drive defenders crazy with his vision and excellent passing. Fits what I look for in a midfield to a point and would be a huge difference-maker especially with the minutes he plays for Fulham, and the quality competition they face.
LM: Jose Villarreal
There was some concern after Villarreal’s exceptional first season at the LA Galaxy that he had disappeared after not starting a single game for the Galaxy last year. That has all changed with his performance this year and I feel extremely confident starting him at left-mid. His speed and powerful left foot will be huge assets to this team as we will need a little scoring help from the mid-field. Of all my picks, this is one of the ones I feel the most confident about right now with maybe Brooks being the only other at this point.
ST: Rubio Rubin
A scoring machine over in the Dutch League, he follows the path of Altidore and Johannsson and hopefully he can continue the scoring to Olympic qualifying. With the mid-field we have in place, there would be no problem with players finding him for runs and plenty of scoring opportunities for him to show his skill in front of the US coaches. Still only 19 years old, he also has some USMNT experience and I feel the level of competition here would not be as talented as what he faces in the Dutch league or for the USMNT.
ST: Jordan Morris
The most popular name in American soccer right now is the college sophomore out of Stanford, who scored a goal against Mexico, helping the US to 2-0 victory. He is an excellent player who play the game very well and again would have no shortage of opportunities to score with this mid-field. He will play in the upcoming friendly for the U-23 team and will have his first chance to prove himself to the new manager.
GK: Cody Cropper
D: Cameron Carter-Vickers
D: Shane O’Neill
D: Oscar Sorto
M: Dillon Serna
M: Wil Trapp
M: Junior Flores
F: Mario Rodriguez
F: Tommy Thompson
For my subs I made a couple choices that some may disagree with. First, people may be disappointed that I did not select another fullback for some depth in case of an injury or if Acosta was to struggle, but I feel confident that several of my defenders could play fullback in case of an injury to any of my players. Also, I choose Trapp to provide a more defensive role in the mid-field in case we have a lead or we need to adjust to a team. Rodriguez has been selected a couple times already so I feel he will be on the roster, although finding time will be difficult with Morris and Rubin pretty much already having the spots locked up.
Now for my three players I get to select for the Olympics who are over the age of 23. My first selection would be Brek Shea as I feel my roster could really use a strong LB and his play recently for the USMNT and Orlando City have impressed myself and many people in the soccer/football world. If he were to struggle again, I may consider Greg Garza who is also playing at a high level.
My second player would be Michael Bradley. I feel his experience and abilities would be such a plus to this team that it would be scary for teams to face. Especially since eight of the eleven players will be 23 and younger and do not have a ton of experience facing top quality players like Bradley. My final selection would Be Jermaine Jones and this may seem absurd to some, but give me a minute to explain myself. His style of play would be perfect protection for a young backline. He would block shots, his energy level is off the charts, and I think his physicality will scares several players from attacking him when he has the ball or from attacking the middle of the field knowing that he is there. Now Bradley and Jones may not be made available by their clubs since they will be in season during the Olympics, but I find it hard to believe that the MLS can say no if the USMNT were to come and ask for these players.
If these predictions/selections were to happen, I would start by playing a 4-4-2 for qualifying and would consider playing a 4-2-3-1 for the Olympics as I feel having Bradley and Jones in the defensive midfield would really help to control the game for the US. Still, several young quality players no matter what happens will not play as there are several players I left off this list including my favorite young player Christian Pulisic who I feel is just too young at the moment to play at this level, but I am excited for the future and hope he can crack some first team minutes in the next couple of years.