It's inevitable: When World Cup cycles come to a close, certain veterans fade away while eager upstarts attempt to fill their shoes. But which youngsters deserve a shot? Brian Sciaretta shares his take.
IN HIS FIRST CYCLE
August 20, 2014
SHARE THIS STORY
as head coach of the United States national team, Jurgen Klinsmann looked at scores of players. Heading into this new—and extremely busy—period, you've got to believe that the thorough German has a pretty good idea of his core group.
Before next summer’s Gold Cup, however, Klinsmann is certain to give opportunities to new faces. But who? I thought it would be fun to create a list of the best Americans who have never appeared for the full U.S. national team. It's not an exact science but I considered the following factors: age, potential upside, and ability to help the U.S. team right now.
While some of the athletes listed below are future projects, they are on the list because they have a big upside and are now playing at a full professional level.
Note: I did not consider American citizens that are still on the books playing for other national teams. This includes players like Shawn and Devante Parker. I also did not include players like Gedion Zelalem or Darlington Nagbe who are not yet American citizens.
So here are the top 10 best uncapped American players:
No. 10—Emerson Hyndman
Many American fans were surprised to see 18-year-old midfielder Emerson Hyndman named to the starting lineup in the first two games of Fulham’s season. Those who follow the youth game closely, however, likely saw this coming. While the London-based club was relegated out of the Premier League last season, its future is bright because of an impressive core of younger players. Hyndman has been one of these players for quite some time and he has signed multiple contract extensions with the club in recent years.
His strengths as a player are his passing and quick decision making. He seems to know what he wants to do with the ball before he gets it. He also puts himself in positions to receive a lot of touches and influence the game. He has done well in his first two games in the Championship and it will be a lot of fun for American fans to watch him develop.
No. 9—Wil Trapp
The U.S. U-23 team will have a lot to prove in two years after the extreme disappointment suffered in 2012 when it failed to get out of its group in Olympic qualifying. The 2016 team is already shaping up to have a strong midfield and competition to make the team will be tight. While it is still early, Wil Trapp could very well be a candidate to be the Olympic captain.
Trapp, 21, has blossomed into a leader on a Columbus Crew team looking to rebuild and establish itself as a playoff-caliber team. He is a hard-working, crisp passing player who has come a long way in a short period of time.
No. 8—Rubio Rubin
Yes, it's true that Rubio Rubin has only one professional appearance on his resume, and that came last week for Utrecht in the Eredivisie. But there was always a chance he was going to make this list based on his upside. He could very well be the best American teenage prospect in the game right now, and not since Jozy Altidore in 2007 has the U.S. U-20 team had a forward as talented as Rubin. This year for Utrecht he is likely to see minutes mostly off the bench but he is rated highly by his club and is in a very good position for a teenager.
No. 7—Jack McInerney
Sometimes it's easy to forget about Jack McInerney because he has never really been on a good team. Earlier this year Philadelphia shipped him off to Montreal, the worst team in MLS. McInerney, however, still finds ways to score and that is no small accomplishment playing for a truly lousy Impact team. As of now, he has scored 10 goals in 25 games this season in all competitions (MLS plus the Canadian championship). Still only 22, he is a quality striker who is desperate to find a better club situation.
No. 6—Gyasi Zardes
There is no denying the improvement Gyasi Zardes has made over the past year. In 2013 he was exceptionally raw but in 2014 he has become one of the best American goal scorers in MLS. Currently riding a streak that has seen him score nine goals in his last 10 game, the 22-year-old California native has integrated himself into a system that features Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane. He still has a lot to learn, but if Zardes continues to improve at the rate he has in 2014, he will be capped soon enough.
No. 5—Dillon Powers
If it wasn’t for a concussion, Dillon Powers likely would have participated in the last January's U.S. national team camp. The 23-year-old Texan won the MLS Rookie of the Year award in 2013 and has demonstrated impressive ability both offensively and defensively. The 2014 season has been a bigger challenge as Colorado are adjusting to a first-year coach and the team has had to deal with numerous injuries. The Rapids are fading from the playoff picture but Powers remains one of the team’s best players.
No. 4—Chris Schuler
Injuries have plagued Schuler at times but when healthy he is a very good central defender for Real Salt Lake. He can handle the physical game well and is very effective in the air. He has been a very steady presence in a Real Salt Lake team that is consistently good. Last year, Schuler enjoyed a memorable series of playoff performances that helped Real Salt Lake advance to MLS Cup (RSL lost in a shootout). In the offseason, his foot surgery likely cost him an opportunity to participate in the U.S. team’s January camp but he should have another opportunity this winter since his 2014 season is just as strong as 2013.
No. 3—Steve Clark
Before this season Steve Clark established a solid reputation in Norway. In 2012 he was named the Tippeligaen goalkeeper of the year when he almost singlehandedly saved Honefoss from relegation. Now with the Columbus Crew, the super-athletic Clark has helped the club remain in the playoff chase with several big saves in close games.
No. 2—Perry Kitchen
Now playing primarily in his natural position of central midfield, Kitchen has been instrumental in D.C. United’s turnaround this season. Last year the team won just three games and now it sits in second place in the Eastern Conference. When Kitchen was drafted in 2011, D.C. United was terrible and despite a return to the postseason in 2012, it hit rock bottom in 2013. Kitchen was seen as a part of the club’s rebuilding effort but he was playing primarily out of position along the backline. This season Kitchen, 22, has come into his own and emerged as one of the best defensive midfielders in the league. The club’s turnaround would not have been possible without the Indianapolis native.
Just 24-years-old, Matt Hedges is the established leader of a very talented and young FC Dallas team that could contend for the MLS Cup. He has been serving as the team’s captain this season and has been a stalwart in central defense. At the World Cup, Omar Gonzalez, Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler, and John Brooks all played well. That is likely the core moving forward into the 2018 cycle but Hedges is in a position to earn his first call-up quickly if someone falls out of favor. A January call-up should be a very safe bet.
(in alphabetical order): Paul Arriola, Gregory Garza, Joe Gyau, Chris Klute, Mike Magee, Lamar Neagle, Amobi Okugo, Shane O'Neill, Will Packwood, Kelyn Rowe, Kofi Sarkodie, Dillon Serna, Harry Shipp
Which players from this list would you like to see wearing a U.S. national team jersey when Jurgen Klinsmann assembles his next North American-based squad? Tell us below.
Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.