We finally have a date set for the official end of Landon Donovan’s storied U.S. national team career, and as much as the October friendly against Ecuador will now be about bidding farewell to a legend, it doesn’t change the fact that the final months of 2015 should be more about beginnings than endings.
While Donovan will preparing for his 157th and final U.S. national team cap, Jurgen Klinsmann will be using the remaining friendlies in 2014 to start looking at the next generation of talent, and handing first caps to those who have yet to be fortunate enough to wear the uniform Donovan wore with distinction for the better part of the past 14 years.
Just who are the best players who have yet to make an appearance? That list could grow more and more formidable in the coming years, as an extremely talented crop of skilled prospects hits the U.S. player pipeline in the coming years, but even now there are several players who Klinsmann will surely be considering placing a call to for one of the year’s remaining friendlies, and most certainly by the January training camp which Klinsmann has continued to hold as part of the long-standing U.S. national team tradition.
We won’t bother discussion players who haven’t even played professional yet, or those who only just recently broke through with their club teams because, well, it’s pointless to speculate on those who have only just begun taking the road to a national team call-up.
Our list of top uncapped players also refers more specifically to uncapped players young enough to be considered viable options for the 2018 World Cup team. Se we aren’t talking about veterans like Mike Magee. who is an excellent uncapped American player, but isn’t likely to get a sniff come 2018, when he will be 33.
You will notice a lack of foreign-based players on this list. The simple answer for that is because any young Americans earning regular playing time in Europe have already earned national team looks before, and budding prospects like Emerson Hyndman and Rubio Rubin are just now finding their footing in the earliest part of their pro careers.
We also leave out all the players currently not eligible to play for the United States who just might gain eligibility in the coming months and years. That impressive list includes Darlington Nagbe, Gedion Zelalem, Diego Fagundez, Dom Dwyer, Shawn Parker and Tesho Akindele. Klinsmann’s track record suggests he will be able to land a few of those impressive names, but until those players can actually play for the USA, we will leave them off this list for now.
There are more than enough young and eligible American players with tangible experience as pros deserving of a mention, and actually enough to field a pretty strong team. Here is a look at a U.S. Best XI of Uncapped Americans:
Clint Irwin makes the cut on this team as he goes through his second season as a starter for the Colorado Rapids. Irwin was outstanding in 2013, and continues to show himself to be a poised and intelligent goalkeeper. The Rapids may be struggling right now, but he remains a very intriguing prospect at the age of 25.
With DeAndre Yedlin garnering plenty of attention after his World Cup, another Akron-produced right back who could be earning a call soon is Kofi Sarkodie, who has gone overlooked amid Houston’s woeful defensive struggles in 2014. It is easy to forget that he is a steady defender and dangerous getting forward. He is also still just 23 years old, and in his fourth season as a pro.
Four years ago, few would have pegged Matt Besler to develop into the U.S. national team’s best central defender at the 2014 World Cup. Matt Hedges stands the best chance of duplicating Besler’s rapid ascent. The 6-foot-4 FC Dallas central defender is skilled technically, is left-footed, strong in the air and has developed into a real leader on the FC Dallas defense in his third season as a starter. All at the relatively young age of 23.
After handing John Brooks his first national team starts just a few months back, Klinsmann could be calling on another young and tall defender in the near future in Will Packwood, who earned a call-up from Klinsmann for the March friendly against Ukraine. Packwood impressed during his run as a starter for English League Championship side Birmingham City last season, and while he has started out this season at Birmingham with the club’s Under-21 team, Packwood remains an important piece to the U.S. program’s Olympic puzzle in 2016, and could develop into a factor come 2018.
Greg Garza has made the starting left back job at Club Tijuana his own at the age of 23, showing the Xolos enough to let Edgar Castillo move on to Atlas. He showed American fans what he can do by playing outstandingly in Club Tijuana’s CONCACAF Champions League series victory against the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Perry Kitchen is rounding into an outstanding player for D.C. United, and the 22-year old is already in his fourth season as a full-time starter. He could stand to get a bit sharper technically, but it’s tough to ignore the leadership qualities and tenacity he brings to the middle of the field.
More of a connector than destroyer in the mold of the old-school defensive midfielder, Wil Trapp has blossomed into a pivotal figure in the middle of the Columbus Crew midfield at the age of 21. Adept at creating space for himself and picking out the right pass from deep in midfield, Trapp has a poise to his game that has impressed players and coaches across the league.
Dillon Powers is a box-to-box midfielder who isn’t afraid to do the dirty work deep in midfield, but is also savvy enough to surge forward and find the killer pass. Very mature for his age, the 23-year-oid’s biggest obstacle to high-level success continues to be injuries. He has been plagued by injuries since his college days, and saw concussions cut short his MLS Rookie of the Year season in 2013. If he can stay healthy, Powers could be special.
Harrison Shipp has been one of the most exciting new players in MLS in 2014, and that is including rookies and foreign newcomers. The Chicago Fire magician has impeccable touch, a killer pass, dangerous set-piece deliver, good crossing from the wing, and an ability to create his own chances.
Gyasi Zardes has gone from inconsistent rookie who frustrated Los Angeles Galaxy fans and head coach Bruce Arena alike, to dominant forward who has emerged as one of the best American forwards in the league.
Remember when Jack McInerney was called up to the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup, at the height of his goal-scoring success with the Philadelphia Union? Back then, a national team future seemed a foregone conclusion. First, he didn’t get to actually play in the Gold Cup, then fell into an awful scoring slump, then was sent to Montreal in a shocking trade. The 22-year-old forward has overcome the adversity and slowly regained his scoring touch enough to still be someone to watch for in the coming years.