U.S. national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann has his list, and he's checking it twice. In just a matter of weeks we will find out which 25-28 players he's calling into pre-World Cup training camp to battle it out for 23 World Cup roster spots.
While will be some surprising omissions, the reality is there will be an entire subset of blossoming MLS talents who won't make that training camp roster despite the fact they are coming into their own as pros.
That is the harsh reality of the deepest player pool in U.S. history, but the relatively young ages of many of those blooming standouts suggests that, while the 2014 World Cup may not be in their futures, they are very much prospects we could be discussing as World Cup options four years from now.
Consider how many of the current U.S. team's top players weren't on the radar in 2010 prior to the last World Cup. Matt Besler, Graham Zusi, Brad Evans and Kyle Beckerman were not in the conversation back then, but all four are good bets to start on, or at least make, the 2014 World Cup team.
As the 2014 MLS season rolls toward the quarter pole, we are already seeing the impressve evolutions of many players who could be options in 2018.
Here are some top young MLS players who might be evolving as players just a touch too late to be factors in the 2014 World Cup, but who could very well still have a World Cup or two in their futures:
The FC Dallas central defender has really come into his own early in 2014 and is one of the key reasons his team is sitting atop the Western Conference. Good in the air, technical and gaining confidence by the match, the 24-year-old defender has the tools to continue improving and could make the kind of move toward 2018 that Matt Besler has made toward the U.S. national team heading into the 2014 World Cup.
The 2013 MLS Rookie of the Year might have had his first chance at a U.S. national team look in January if he weren't dealing with serious concussion symptoms, but now that he has recovered he has shown that he's ready to be even better in his second year as a pro. A 23-year-old creative central midfielder who can do the dirty work while also being a distributor, Powers is the key force on a deep Colorado Rapids team.
It is scary how quickly Trapp has emerged as one of the best young midfielders in the league. Having only recently turned 21, Trapp has room to grow, but his positional sense and his ability to read the game and get the ball to the right people from his defensive midfield role have him looking like a future national team star.
The jury is still out on just what position the New England Revolution defender will ultimately settle at in his career, but there is little denying he is a quality player. A right back as a rookie, Farrell has impressed in recent matches in central defense, and while he started out as a central midfielder in college, Farrell seems destined to settle in at center back. The 22-year-old is a freakish athlete but also an intelligent player who could play almost anywhere on the field.
Yes, he is only a rookie, and no, he is nowhere near close to ready for the national team, but his starting points are extremely impressive and he has emerged as a runaway frontrunner for MLS Rookie of the Year honors. The 22-year-old midfielder is a crisp passer, provides quality set-piece delivery, and has the poise and maturity that comes with spending four years in college, including a senior year that saw him win a national title.
As much as his peers, Sean Johnson and Bill Hamid, have already garnered the bulk of the attention from the U.S. national team, it is MacMath who has shown the most improvement as a goalkeeper during the course of the past half season in MLS. In 2014, MacMath is playing like a mature and confident goalkeeper with two years as a starter under his belt. He has also shown a penchant for stepping his game up when challenged for his job. Not a bad profile for a 22-year-old netminder who should only keep getting better.
His red card this past weekend aside, Sarkodie has been one of the best fullbacks in MLS in 2014, looking ready for a breakout season he has always seemed poised to have. The 23-year-old right back boasts the speed, crossing ability and toughness to eventually make the move overseas and shouldn't be overlooked as a future national team option even with the presence of fellow Akron product DeAndre Yedlin in the right back pool.
A severe second-half slump in 2013 dropped him off the radar as potential young World Cup participant, and his recent trade from the Philadelphia Union to the Montreal Impact has turned him into a bit of a reclamation project. That said, there is no denying the talent he has, and if he can find the scoring touch he boasted in 2012 and the first half of 2013, McInerney can certainly still develop into a national team forward. He is, after all, still only 21.
THE MLS WRAP WEEKLY AWARDS
Player of the Week: Matt Hedges. The FC Dallas central defender scored a goal and set up another in his team's 2-1 victory against Toronto FC.
Team of the Week: Real Salt Lake. Facing a determined Portland Timbers side desperate for a win, Real Salt Lake stood toe-to-toe with its West rival and prevailed again, thanks to Ned Grabavoy's quality goal and Nick Rimando's outstanding goalkeeping.
Rookie of the Week: Harrison Shipp. Rinse, repeat. Shipp just keeps getting it done while the rest of his rookie classmates struggle for playing time, though San Jose midfielder J.J. Koval looks like someone who might make things interesting in the Rookie of the Year race.
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