11 breakout stars for USMNT in 2016
2016 is a massive year for the United States Men’s National Team simply because it is the stepping stone for the future. World Cup qualifiers continue to get more intense and the US is hosting the centennial anniversary of the Copa America. Messi, Neymar, James Rodriguez and a host of other stars will take center stage this summer.
The team has once again drawn “The Group of Death” in Copa America, facing a daunting task of getting out of a group that has Columbia, Costa Rica and Paraguay. Columbia is loaded with talent having made a quarterfinals appearance at the 2014 World Cup before bowing out to Brazil. Costa Rica is certainly not easy, but it helps that the US is familiar with them since they play each other frequently in CONCACAF play. Lastly, Paraguay are currently fourth in the World Cup qualifying ahead of both Argentina and last year’s Copa America winner, Chile. The US will look to their youth to play a key role in getting out of the group. It is not as daunting as the World Cup in 2014 but is still quite the challenge.
The long road to Russia will continue, and the USMNT is getting older. Jurgen Klinsmann has to implement some fresh faces who gain crucial experience in order for the USMNT to succeed in the future. Here are the 11 players that can have an impact that will last for years for the Red, White and Blue.
Jordan Morris, Forward, Seattle Sounders
In 2015, Jordan Morris seemingly came out of nowhere to win over American hearts. He won a national championship with Stanford, played significant roles in matches against Germany, Holland and in the Gold Cup. The 21-year-old recently signed the largest Homegrown contract in MLS history with Seattle Sounders. He signed with Seattle instead of Bundesliga side Werder Bremen, signaling a shift in players deciding to play stateside instead of overseas. So, why all this hype around Morris? Well, it’s simple, he is the Next Big Thing. It’s as simple as that. His pace is sensational, his finishing, even better. He has once-in-a-generation field vision, which is going to be crucial for the Americans going forward. We saw this when he not only started, but scored a crucial goal against Mexico in 2015. He has Michael Bradley’s drive and field presence, combined with Landon Donovan’s scoring touch. In American soccer, there is always the search for the Next Big Thing. Don’t look further. For now, Morris is going to be the face of the USMNT.
Christian Pulisic, Forward, Borussia Dortmund
Stay stateside and make a name for yourself, right? Wrong. The 17-year-old attacking midfielder from Chocolate Town USA, aka Hershey, Pennsylvania, has made three senior appearances for German side Borrusia Dortmund. He recently made his first start in the Bundesliga against Bayer Leverkusen. I’m not saying he makes his USMNT debut this year, but I’m saying he doesn’t. He proved to be a scoring machine, even with a club like Dortmund. He notched 10 goals and 8 assists in just 15 games with their Under-19 team. I would not be surprised if he makes his debut later in 2016 building him up for the 2018 World Cup, just like Klinsmann did with Julian Green. Sure Pulisic may be 5″8, but he makes up for it in his breakout speed and strength to pull away from defenders. There is real hype behind this young fella.
Matt Miazga, Defender, Chelsea FC
The former New York Red Bull recently signed for Premier League giant Chelsea FC. Although Chelsea may be struggling in the mid table of the EPL, Miazga will help clean up that mess they call a back line. The 20-year-old started 34 of 38 games last year in MLS and his Red Bulls had one of the fewest goals allowed, helping his team make the Eastern Conference Finals. In December, Miazga was named US Soccer’s Young Player of the Year award. He also led the USMNT Under-20 squad to a quarterfinals appearance in the Under-20 World Cup. He has made one cap in November and will be a regular contributor from here on out.
Darlington Nagbe, Forward, Portland Timbers
Has America found its darling in this midfielder? Quite possibly. The 25-year-old got his first USMNT cap in 2015, and helped lead Portland to their first MLS Cup. He is as quick as can be on the ball, and is adaptable no matter where he is put on the field. Although he is not as young as the previous players, Nagbe has experience in MLS and is in the prime of his career. He could be a valuable player in Copa America and early World Cup qualifiers. He is one of the most promising replacements for the older midfielders, and can certainly play his way into the starting lineup now. Nagbe is that talented.
Wil Trapp, Midfielder, Columbus Crew
Another budding star in the MLS is Wil Trapp. He made 17 starts for MLS Cup runner-up Columbus Crew, and was their team’s offensive catalyst. He missed significant time due to concussions and international call-ups for the Under-23 team, and if he stays healthy, he is a leading candidate to get some minutes. Whether Trapp stars in the Olympics, or is used for World Cup qualification, he and Nagbe could be the future stars in the midfield.
Ethan Finlay, Forward, Columbus Crew
The other Columbus Crew member who deserves to see action is Ethan Finlay. He notched 13 goals and 11 assists in 39 games for the Crew and definitely clicked with midfielder Wil Trapp and fellow striker Kei Kamara. He has pace, power and is a great addition as a left winger. Finlay is definitely one to look out for.
Cody Cropper, Goalkeeper, MK Dons
As our Secretary of Defense, Tim Howard, and his right-hand-man, Brad Guzan get increasingly older, there is worry that a new keeper will be tough to replace. Jurgen Klinsmann may have found one in MK Dons keeper Cody Cropper. Cropper is the number one pick to replace the two keepers, and a third USMNT regular, Nick Rimando, all three of whom are in their mid 30’s. It will take some time before Cropper gets called up, but he is only 23 and is starting at the Football League Championship division in England with Milton Keynes Dons, the equivalent of baseball’s Triple A (AAA) level. There is promise for this young keeper if he keeps his stats up and continually shows good performance at the Under-23 level, he will get “called up” in no time.
Gyasi Zardes, Midfielder, LA Galaxy
Zardes is one of the most dynamic and exciting players in American soccer today. He is a stud at the midfield spot for LA Galaxy, and had a breakout 2015 season. Although he only scored five goals for LA, he starred with the USMNT, breaking onto the scene as a speedy player who was not afraid to make challenges. The midfield could be stacked with the players already mentioned.
Jerome Kiesewetter, Forward, VfB Stuttgart
Yet another player in the Bundesliga with VfB Stuttgart, Kiesewetter has been a star for the Under-23 team. He made his first national team appearance last month against Iceland and Canada. He is a quick forward who has a deft first touch and can score at will. Kiesewetter grew up in Germany and has that German strictness about his play, and will do whatever it takes to get the goal. He will most likely be used for the Olympics and future World Cup qualifiers.
Brandon Vincent, Defender, Chicago Fire
The recent draft pick for Chicago Fire proves that they are headed in the right direction. Vincent is a member of the Under-23 team and won a national championship with Stanford. He led the Cardinal defense and was a stud at left back. Although he has yet to play a single professional game, analysts are hyped about Vincent because of his positioning and his ability to recover when beaten off the ball. Klinsmann played a lot of youngsters in the January camp, and Vincent happened to be one of them. Again, coach Klinsmann will probably send him down for the Olympics so he can play with the Under-23 team, and if he plays well, will be a part of the senior squad.
Cameron Carter-Vickers, Defender, Tottenham Hotspur
Finally, the son of NBA player Howard Carter has the makeup and possibility of being a long, steady defender for the USMNT. He has the makeup and potential to go down as the best defender in American soccer history, that’s how much potential this kid has. Cameron Carter-Vickers is doing well with Tottenham’s youth team, and could very easily be a mainstay with the senior squad next season. He is incredibly bruising and physical. That will be a great asset going forward for coach Klinsmann and it is promising considering his size and frame. He is both strong and quick. He reminds me of Oguchi Onyewu with a little bit of Geoff Cameron mixed in, but a lot younger and a lot faster. I think that Carter-Vickers and Miazga are the future anchors for the USMNT, along with Brandon Vincent. It will be exciting to see his progress this year and the upcoming future.
It will be exciting to see what 2016 has in store for the Stars and Stripes. Considering that the USMNT’s World Cup qualifying group is incredibly weak, do not be surprised if a lot of younger guys gain significant experience for the Americans. Although Klinsmann got a lot of heat for poor performances in the latter half of the year, he can rebound and get his stock up if these young guns succeed at the highest level. This Under-23 team may produce the greatest defenders in American soccer history, plus with players like Morris and Wil Trapp, this team will be loaded. The more I study this team, the more I see the potential for the US’s “Class of 93.” Just like Manchester United had a decade of dominance never before seen, this team has the makings of being that team that finally breaks through on the world stage. A new generation of players is upon us, and the hype behind them could not be any higher. If Jurgen Klinsmann molds their success, this team could be great for years to come.