Danny Carbassiyoun was definitely on the list at some point. Gedion Zelalem too. Freddy Adu, obviously. Brian Ching was exactly what we needed. We’re old enough that guys like Jesse Marsh and Taylor Twellman will almost certainly be on the list at some point. Oh, what could be, Charlie Davis. I still have hope, Joe Corona. You broke my heart, Bobby Conwy.
For years, some of my nerd friends and I have had the same habit. As soon as the United States men’s team is eliminated from the world championships – starting in 2002, as far as I can tell, and continuing in 2006, 2010 and 2014 – we immediately fast forward four years. We made spreadsheets of player names (I realize this shocking behavior came from me) convincing ourselves not only that the young players on any particular World Cup team would make huge strides forward, but also that a promising generation of American teenagers were going to transform the player pool and turn the US into a real contender.
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The funny thing is that we didn’t do it after 2018 for obvious reasons, which is that the USA didn’t even qualify for the World Cup, so damn it made sense, and then… it really kind of happened . . Youth topped the pool of US players in the five years between the team’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup (we won’t mention Kuva!) and their advance to the round of 16 of the 2022 World Cup. A total of 16 Americans played. at least 45 minutes at the World Cup in Qatar, and 12 of them were aged 24 or younger, meaning they were teenagers when the US lost in Trinidad and Tobago in October 2017.
This group of breakout youngsters – Tyler Adams, Weston McKenney and Yunus Musa dominating midfield, Sergino Dest at full-back and just about everyone who has played in attack, led by Tim Weah and Christian Pulisic – will face huge expectations on their way to victory. for the 2026 World Cup, which they will play on home soil. And the key to living up to that hype will be another group of young people trying to make exactly the same impact this generation has just made.
It will be much harder for a new generation to break through because the same playing time opportunities will be harder to find. But they must try. Especially if they can score goals. Let’s see how the pool of players in the US will be formed by 2026.
First things first: four years is a long time
Looking back, remembering who played for the USA in the 2018 qualifiers is almost painful. Tim Howard, then 38, was still in goal. Linebackers Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman, both 35, continued to play an important role. DaMarcus Beasley, also 35, has made two appearances as a left-back. On a per-minute basis, Clint Dempsey (34) and Sasha Klestan (32 and linebacker) were the team’s top goalscorers.
Only two players – Pulisic and right-back DeAndre Yedlin – have recorded opening minutes in this 2018 cycle and then also played in 2022. Only three other players – Tim Rome, Kellin Acosta and Jordan Morris – appeared in both matches. 2017 and 2022. Jürgen Klinsmann and Bruce Arena played 38 different guys in hopes of finding a squad that would save their World Cup hopes, and only five of them actually made it into the next World Cup squad. it dramatic turnover amount.
Whoever leads the national team for this next four-year cycle, whether it’s Gregg Berhalter or someone new – plans we’ll know shortly as Berhalter’s contract expires – won’t be forced to go through the same amount. transition. But let’s go through the positions to see where important decisions need to be made and/or where breakthroughs would be most useful.
Players participating in the 2022 World Cup and qualifying (listed in minute order): Matt Turner (will be 31 when the 2026 World Cup starts), Zach Steffen (31)
Other players with at least two U.S. appearances in the last two years: Ethan Horvath (30)
How long ago was the failed 2018 qualifier? Well, Turner had made his professional debut just months before, and the Fairfield graduate didn’t make his MLS debut until the following spring. He then started for the USA at the next World Championship.
It seems that this position is solid. At 28, Turner had just joined Arsenal just in time to get close to what sometimes proves to be the pinnacle of a goalkeeping career. He’s an understudy there and we’ll see how he does, but he was one of the best clean defenders in Qatar. Steffen still has some time to get back into his career after a recent injury spell, and while the likes of Sean Johnson (aged 37 at the time of the next World Cup) are likely to be aging out of the pool, it doesn’t look like The US lacks exciting young options.
Five names that inspire
1. Gabriel Slonina (age 22 in 2026) Needless to say, if you sign for Chelsea at the age of 18, you will be pretty high up on any prospect list. The 6’4″ Elephant has maintained her position in the MLS and is now leading a risky life as part of Chelsea’s loan army.
2. Chitura Odunze (23 years old). He moved from the Vancouver Whitecaps to Leicester City without playing a single game at senior level, and he didn’t for the Foxes either. But he’s 6-7 and remains one of the top prospects in the pool.
3. Diego Cook (20). The lanky 16-year-old has spent the last year and a half at Barcelona. He is far from the first team, but only this club allows you to get into such a list.
4. John Pulskamp (25 years old) The 5-10 Sporting KC goaltender looks more like an athlete than an outstanding figure, but Berhalter paid enough attention to him to get a call-up to camp last December.
5. Chris Brady (22). The 18-year-old has already shone at the USL League One level and made his Chicago Fire debut last season.
Players participating in the 2022 World Cup and qualifying (listed in minute order): Walker Zimmerman (will be 33 when the 2026 World Cup starts), Miles Robinson (29), Tim Rome (38), Chris Richards (26), John Brooks (33), Cameron Carter-Vickers (28), Eric Palmer- Brown (29), Mark McKenzie (27)
Other players with at least two U.S. appearances in the last two years: Aaron Long (33), Matt Miazga (30), Henry Kessler (27), Donovan Pines (28)
Berhalter relied on the centre-back duo of Zimmermann and Robinson for much of World Cup qualifying, but he was baffled when Robinson tore his Achilles in May. Assuming he eventually returns to full form, Robinson will be 29 years old and stand a good chance of making the 2026 team, but the position could still see quite a bit of turnover in the coming years. Zimmerman and Rome have played the most minutes in the World Cup, but Zimmerman is getting older and Rome ancient. (I’m even older, so I’m allowed to say that.)
It’s true that many centre-backs age gracefully, but even if Zimmermann remains viable, he and Robinson could come under pressure from up-and-coming players like Carter-Vickers, a Celtic defender who played well against Iran and an often injured player. Richards, who could have been the best player in 2022 if he had stayed healthy.
Unless high-earning names emerge in the coming years, veterans can still take good care of this position, but there are still some intriguing prospects to watch out for.
Five names that inspire
1. Justin Che (age 23 in 2026) The FC Dallas product performed well in MLS in 2021 (its ball progression was excellent) before being loaned to Hoffenheim. He has yet to enter a heavy rotation, but he is big, active and physical. His future may be either in the center of defense or on the right flank.
2. Grayson Dettoni (20). He is already 6ft 4ft and has been in development by Bayern Munich for some time now. What else do you need to know?
3. Kobe Henry (22). Lakeland, Fla., made his USL Orange County SC debut at 16 and signed with France’s Stade de Reims last summer.
4. Brendan Craig (22). He can find himself in both center defense and defensive midfield, he made his Philadelphia Union debut at 18 and is a full-time member of the U.S. Under-21 team.
5. Tyler Hall (20). A product of Inter Miami, the 16-year-old is already playing in the US U17 and MLS Next Pro. There is great potential here.
Players participating in the 2022 World Cup and qualifying (listed in minute order): Anthony Robinson (will be 28 when the 2026 World Cup starts), Sergino Dest (25), Deandre Yedlin (32), Shaq Moore (29), George Bello (24), Reggie Cannon (27)
Other players with at least two U.S. appearances in the last two years: Sam Vines (27), Joe Scully (23), Brian Reynolds (24)
The speed and pressing ability of Fulham’s Robinson and Milan’s Dest made a huge difference to the US in Qatar, though both struggled with fatigue as the tournament progressed. Meanwhile, although Scully didn’t have much success under Berhalter for some reason, he has started playing for Borussia Mönchengladbach in the Bundesliga for most of the last season and a half, and won’t be 20 before New Years.
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One might wonder about the potential of the US full-back corps beyond these three players; Moore has been wrestling in the World Championship, Bello’s development seems to have come to a halt after his move to German Arminia Bielefeld, and we’ll see if Mackenzie or Cannon has other gear to find in the coming years. There should be a couple more names coming up so the US doesn’t depend entirely on three guys for two jobs. Luckily, there are many benefits to the development process and I struggled to keep the following list of five names.
Five names that inspire
1. Kevin Paredes (age 23 in 2026) After a solid season at the age of 18 at D.C. United in 2021 – he scored three goals with one assist and was a pressure machine – Paredes moved to Bundesliga Wolfsburg in January this year. He has made 10 appearances so far and remains…