U.S. national team succession will begin sooner than you might think

By Paul Kennedy

As Jurgen Klinsmann stated in his pre-Concacaf Cup camp interview with U.S. Soccer, Saturday's USA-Mexico game at the Rose Bowl may be the last hurrah for the veteran corps of the U.S. national team.

Tim Howard is 36 and Brad Guzan is 31, but they are goalkeepers, so they may still be around for a few years, but DaMarcus Beasley, Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones are all 33, Clint Dempsey is 32, and Geoff Cameron is 30. It's hard to believe that they all will be around for the 2017 Confederations Cup, if the USA beats Mexico on Saturday, let alone the 2018 World Cup.

No doubt, the USA is an aging team. Of the projected starters against Mexico -- we'll likely see the 10 field players who started against Ghana in the 2014 World Cup opener, plus Guzan in goal -- only one starter, Jozy Altidore, will be younger than 30 when the 2018 World Cup kicks off in Russia.

It's too early to talk about the USA playing in Russia in either the 2017 Confederations Cup or the 2018 World Cup, but it's not too early to talk about the national team succession. In a rare coincidence, fans will get a chance to see the future of the national team just as another era closes.

Hours before the USA kicks off against Mexico at the Rose Bowl, the U.S. U-23s will take on either Mexico or Honduras for a berth in the 2016 Olympics. And a week later, the U.S. U-17s open at the Under-17 World Cup in Chile against Nigeria.

Until now, the national team program has relied on its youth teams -- and college -- to produce a disproportionate share of the corps of the team. To add to that, Klinsmann has relied heavy on German-Americans. If he did not discover them, he certainly mentored them.

The closest thing to a German-American connection in the pipeline is Jerome Kiesewetter, though at 22 and with just two first-team appearances for VfB Stuttgart, it is hard to imagine him projecting to have the Bundesliga careers of players like Fabian Johnson, Timmy Chandler or John Brooks.

The best player on the U-23s is Stanford junior Jordan Morris. In a national team program with few established strikers, Morris stands out for all the qualities he's shown this year with the senior national team in the spring and in the two games with the U-23s against Canada and Cuba. Canada and Cuba are hardly a good measuring stick, but Morris showed off all his attacking instincts as finisher and setup man that make him the heir apparent to Dempsey, whom he'll line up alongside in Seattle if he turns pro with the Sounders.

To suggest Morris' success means college still will remain a stepping stone for the national team is wrong as Morris is an unusual case. It isn't every day a player comes along who is smart enough to pursue a Stanford education and play for the national team, neither on a full-time basis, like he has done the last year.

That leaves the youth teams -- the U-23s, U-20s and U-17s -- as continuing to play a vital role for the national team. The U-20s did not have a "wow" moment in New Zealand this past June but they held their own in reaching the quarterfinals, where they fell to eventual champion Serbia in a shootout.

What the tournament did tell us is that Matt Miazga, who as U-23 coach Andi Herzog pointed out in his pre-qualifying teleconference has the rare combination of size, mobility, touch and leadership skills that could make him a big star, and Cameron Carter-Vickers, captain of Tottenham's U-21s at the age of 17, could hold their own with any other center backs in the world at their age. And it's no surprise they are the starting center backs on the U-23s even though, in the case of Carter-Vickers, he is so young he'll still be eligible for the U-23s four years from now.

What will we see from the U-17s, who open against Nigeria in Santiago and then face Croatia and host Chile in Vina del Mar? They started off brightly with a string of impressive tournament victories but ended up struggling to just get through Concacaf qualifying.

If we could project Morris one day becoming the next Dempsey, the closest thing to the next Landon Donovan is Christian Pulisic with the U-17s. Pulisic might not possess Donovan's acceleration, but he has the vision, open-field instincts and, yes, swagger Donovan had at his age. And unlike Donovan, who was homesick and bolted Germany to start his pro career in MLS, Pulisic is progressing well in Germany, moving up from the U-17s to U-19s in his first full season at Borussia Dortmund.

Where does that leave MLS? In almost any major country in the world, it's the club development system that is responsible for the production of the next stars -- the Barcelona in Spain, the Lyon in France, the Ajax in the Netherlands.

It's imaginable that in the next year players like Sebastian Lletget from the LA Galaxy, Wil Trapp from Columbus and Darlington Nagbe from Portland will break into the senior national team. You could say the same thing for Kekuta Manneh from Vancouver if FIFA does not issue a yellow light to his eligibility application.

Trapp is a hybrid -- Crew academy player with a couple of years under Caleb Porter at Akron thrown in -- but MLS had little to do with the formative years of Lletget (five years at West Ham), Nagbe (the son of a former Liberian international who spent three years at Akron) or Manneh (who moved from Gambia as part of Rush Soccer's exchange program and joined the 'Caps out of high school in Texas).

More generally, there are not a lot of young Americans, or Americans for that matter, Klinsmann has to pick from in MLS. Of the 20 teams in action over the weekend, 10 started four or fewer players eligible for the U.S. national team. Miazga and Trapp are the poster boys for MLS's academy program, but the numbers coming through the system remain quite small.

It's an investment that some MLS owners might grudgingly make, but it's essential for the league's future. Likewise, Klinsmann might not accept the league's importance, but MLS's ability to produce better players in increasing numbers is essential to the success of the national team on his watch and for whoever succeeds him.

22 comments about "U.S. national team succession will begin sooner than you might think".
  1. Peter Greene, October 6, 2015 at 1:37 p.m.

    Gyasi Zardes - 24 years old

    Getting plenty of playing time for the Galaxy and National Team.

    Guess you forgot about him.

  2. Santiago 1314, October 6, 2015 at 2:03 p.m.

    I think the Best Formation for USA is Gk-4-1-3-1-1... The Biggest problem in the Future is Left Back...

  3. Dan Phillips, October 6, 2015 at 2:08 p.m.

    JK should be fired. And Jozy Altidore should NEVER be on USMNT roster. He sucks totally. I do not understand why JK sticks with this lazy slob.

  4. Santiago 1314 replied, October 6, 2015 at 4:32 p.m.

    Maybe has to do with Jozy "Personal" issue...Maybe that is why they have Coddled him and Protected his Position from Competition...So, the Question is ...Why didn't they afford Landon the same Courtesy???

  5. Allan Lindh, October 6, 2015 at 2:29 p.m.

    Geoff Cameron is only 30, Center backs play much longer than that. And he is currently the only field player for the USMNT playing regularly at the top level, and playing well by my reckoning. His work rate and intelligence are world class, if he were a little faster and more graceful, he would be truly world class. His best years are still in front of him.

  6. Santiago 1314 replied, October 6, 2015 at 4:24 p.m.

    He certainly plays a Young 30..Late Bloomer...Let's Hope he is Ready for Friday...

  7. Santiago 1314, October 6, 2015 at 3:29 p.m.

    And don't forget about Rubio Rubin...He was our Best player at Last u20 World Cup

  8. Kim Littleton, October 6, 2015 at 4:22 p.m.

    What about college players who are doing so well?!! Why does it have to be MLS players? Or players who live in Germany? There are 2 players out of the Red Bull Academy playing at a very high level on their respective teams and are "highly regarded" midfield/forwards that possess great vision and superior skill to their college counterparts and even most national team players...Adam Najem and Arun Basuljevic. Give them a look JK!

  9. Santiago 1314, October 6, 2015 at 5:12 p.m.

    I don't really rate Miazga that High... To me he is just a Banger...Carter-Vickers is the Stud...I would bring him NEXT National Team game...I don't care if he's 17

  10. Derek Richey replied, October 8, 2015 at 7:46 p.m.

    You don't rate him that high? I'm guessing you've missed all the NYRB games this season... Or his performances in Olympic qualifying. I agree Carter-Vickers is great, but Miazga's ceiling is very high as well... Try catching a few more games with Miazga...

  11. Santiago 1314 replied, October 9, 2015 at 12:20 p.m.

    Don't see it yet With Miazga...Watched all games with u20 last summer World Cup...What I did see was the Difference when Packwood played in Miazga Spot in USA v Panama on Tue..Same good Quality on Defense, But Packwood can Play Offense out of the Back ...Packwood was making 30 yrd connecting passes to Midfielders and Forward Checking Back...Miazga has (so far) only shown me that he can Pass Lateral and 10 yards...Let's see what happens on Saturday versus Honduras...GO USA !!! RIO AWAITS !!!

  12. Dan Phillips, October 6, 2015 at 5:57 p.m.

    Yeah I hope the succession begins with the firing of Klinsmann. And we can also start relying on and giving more minutes of playing time to other strikers, and develop a better forward than lazy/Jozy Altidore! Altidore needs to be Outthedoor.

  13. R2 Dad replied, October 6, 2015 at 11:15 p.m.

    The "lazy" moniker displays your lack of understanding of physiology. Jozy, Hulk, and other beefy bruisers can't run around for 90 minutes like all these 140lb midfielders. It takes energy to move that bulk around, and rare is the physical specimen that can play up top and go 90 at the highest levels. Jozy runs out of gas, so for him it's always an issue of energy management.

  14. Santiago 1314 replied, October 7, 2015 at 4:05 p.m.

    Agree with your Assessment of Physiology of Big Man...So, why hasn't JK developed a Sub.???...Zardes could do it...JK has passed up 5 Opportunities to Try him up there...WHERE IS WOOD???...Morris is Stuck with the Olympic Team...Heck,.Will Bruin could do the same Job for 15-20 minutes a game...But we have to watch Jozy "Pace" Himself...That is Strictly on the Coach...Not Fair to Jozy, Not Fair to the Team...Not Fair to the Country...

  15. Dan Phillips, October 7, 2015 at 12:03 p.m.

    Then he should sit down. But JK usually plays him for 90 minutes. Besides he is way too inconsistent. Jozy sucks.!!! Better trying to develop another striker. Last check Messi does not have that Beef, yet he scores consistently!!!

  16. Santiago 1314 replied, October 7, 2015 at 4:20 p.m.

    Dan, Messi is Not a Striker, that's why they got Suarez... and had Villa and Ibra...

  17. aaron dutch, October 9, 2015 at 11:03 a.m.

    All those JK haters, this is the problem MLS has no development system does not really want one and with that the US national team goes sideways. This was our golden generation we cant name 1 player who could be better then any of our best 11 the last 5-8 years. Just like Ivory Coast we are in for rough period. Add the MLS & NCAA & Youth system which is producing players that can't start or star for first team european or south american clubs or for that matter their academies. I really think the only option left is for the USSF to announce a system of play we want and steer a partnership with Dutch & Argentina leagues who could use the exposure in the US and for that we get coaching development support and US academy building for both of us. If we dont help the next generation of 8-12 year olds get ready for the 2022-26 cycle we will fall off the cliff. 2018 cycle is lost cause our team is over 30 as the article states and the crop of 18-28 year olds from youth/NCAA/MLS is not quality.

  18. Santiago 1314 replied, October 9, 2015 at 12:07 p.m.

    You haven't been watching the u23 Olympic team Qualifications or Last Summer u20...we almost have too much Talent on Offense...These teams only lack Outside Backs and Outside Midfielders...But, AriNALDO(Ariyibi)(Lt.Mid) and KeiseWetter(Rt.Mid) might be the Answer... Cuase then we can move Yedlin to Right Back and Keep Johnson at Left Back

  19. aaron dutch, October 9, 2015 at 2:45 p.m.

    I have been watching our U23's do we really think they can play at the top international level when they start in NCAA/MLS/low 1st &2nd tier europe club play. I think the Howard/Donnovan/Demps/Bradley/Beas/Johnson/Jones team was as good as we are. I dont see 7-9 players ready to come in a replace them . Thats just to stay even as everyone in the world is getting better not worse. CONCACAF gives us fake free births into the World Cup if had to earn our way thur UEFA, South America we wouldnt even qualify. The reason the 2nd tier AFC, CONCACF, OFC, Asia is not competitive is our weak club leagues, youth development systems, lack of real National plan of development. At least in in west africa, south korea, japan they have players at the top level playing champions league & top 5 leagues in europe.

  20. Santiago 1314 replied, October 9, 2015 at 6:01 p.m.

    I guess we will find out, next summer...u23+3 Olympics(World Cup)... u20 had a Pretty Good run last Summer in World Cup...and that's what(where) It matters...USA Players on Individual level may Never be in the Top 10%...But, the Collective Spirit of "AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM" Raises the Units Level AND Intimidates the Opponent....Worth ONE Goal every Game...If you have a Coach that Understands AND BUYS INTO IT.!!!...That is why we Need Former US National Player to be the Coach...

  21. aaron dutch, October 9, 2015 at 6:58 p.m.

    No offense Sant 1314 development via collective sprit is a losing model. We need real development. We need to attack our mess from U16 to U23

  22. Santiago 1314 replied, October 9, 2015 at 9:21 p.m.

    Tienes Razon..But we have to live In the next 3 years...Check out my player Rating on u23, 3 Takeaways from Panama...Let me know what u think for Manana vs Honduras...

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