It was a bittersweet 2018 World Cup for American soccer fans. On one hand, they were able to enjoy a dramatic and entertaining tournament as neutrals, but on the other hand many of those fans had to, for the first time, endure a World Cup without the U.S. national team.
The World Cup is over though, so those same American fans can jump right back into thinking about their own USMNT squad, and how it might look as we march toward the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. There should be some understandable wariness about turning toward 2022 after our all-too-recent reminder that World Cup berths are not guaranteed, but there's nothing wrong with starting to think about what an American team might look like.
Trying to figure out how a national team might shape up in four and a half years is an exercise in futility even in the best of circumstances — good luck finding anyone who would have come close to projecting France's World Cup-winning roster four years ago — but it is made even tougher when factoring in a U.S. team transitioning to a new generation of players. Throw in the fact we still don't know who will coach the team in the next World Cup qualifying cycle, and you start to realize just how difficult it is to project what a USMNT roster might look like in Qatar.
In terms of sure bets, though, Christian Pulisic is the most obvious. It's tough to not see Pulisic leading the U.S. team in 2022, barring major injury, but he is one of the few sure things in the pool. DeAndre Yedlin is still young enough and playing at a high enough level to be considered a safe bet, while the pair of Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie look well on their way to being midfield fixtures for years to come.
John Brooks would be more of a sure bet if not for the injuries that have continued to plague him. If he can stay healthy, Brooks should be the focal point of the U.S. defense in the next cycle.
Should U.S. fans feel good about the USMNT's chances in the next qualifying cycle, and the next World Cup? That will depend in large part on how many young prospects like Tim Weah and Josh Sargent develop into regulars in Europe, and break into starting roles for the United States.
What will a U.S. World Cup team look like in 2022? Here is what we could see the 23-man squad
Zack Steffen, Bill Hamid, Jonathan Klinsmann
A new generation of goalkeepers is primed to take over for long-time veterans Tim Howard and Brad Guzan, and while Guzan might still play his way back into the team in the near future, it's tough to see him being a contributor in 2022, when he would be 38.
Steffen has the most upside of the young goalkeepers in the pipeline, with his acrobatics in goal for the Columbus Crew helping lead them to a deep playoff run last year, and earning him USMNT looks since then. If current Crew coach Gregg Berhalter does wind up being the new USMNT coach, that should only help Steffen's chances, given his familiarity with Berhalter's preferred system.
Hamid spent many years being seen as the future of the American goalkeeping position, but his candidacy stalled a bit while younger options have closed the gap. Hamid has yet to break through since making the move to Europe, but if he can become a starter at Midtjylland or elsewhere in the next year or two he could re-assert himself as a serious starting option for 2022.
There are several promising young goalkeepers in the pipeline, from Alex Bono to Jesse Gonzalez and recent New England revelation Matt Turner, but we'll give the third goalkeeper spot to Klinsmann, who heads into the upcoming Bundesliga season as Hertha Berlin's third goalkeeper.
DeAndre Yedlin, Matt Miazga, John Brooks, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Erik Palmer-Brown, Antonee Robinson, Reggie Cannon, Jeremy Toljan
There is a good crop of young central defenders ready to vie for prominent spots in the next qualifying cycle, led by Miazga, who is looking like a good bet to start when World Cup qualifying begins. Carter-Vickers and Palmer-Brown have also shown good qualities but need more seasoning to be ready to make the jump. Brooks should be a starter once qualifying resumes, if he is healthy.
The fullback pool has some intriguing options beyond top right-back option Yedlin. Cannon has been impressive in his first pro season as a starter with FC Dallas, but we'll need to see him have a few strong seasons under his belt before he can really make a push into the national team pool.
Toljan is a player to whom USMNT fans should be paying special attention. The Borussia Dortmund fullback has represented Germany at the youth level, but is eligible for the United States (as well as Croatia). He would be a dream option at left back, but isn't likely to make a final decision on filing a one-time change of association to play for the United States for a while.
Unless Toljan chooses to play for the USMNT, then English-born Robinson has the look of a potential starter at left back in the next cycle. He has shown good flashes in his first U.S. national team appearances, and could boost his stock even more if he earns a breakthrough at Everton.
Other players who could break in as central defender options include Justen Glad, Walker Zimmerman, Tim Parker, Aaron Long and Auston Trusty, while Nick Lima, Sergino Dest, Jaylin Lindsey, Danilo Acosta, Brooks Lennon, Manny Perez and Matt Olosunde are some fullback prospects who could emerge in the coming years.
Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, Kellyn Acosta, Cristian Roldan, Jonathan Amon, Paul Arriola, Kenny Saief
The trio of Pulisic, Adams and McKennie has the makings of being the nucleus of the U.S. midfield for years to come. Not only are all three talented, but they all have the mentality to continue improving over the next cycle, prime years for their development.
Things get trickier after that. Acosta has seen his stock take a hit after a lengthy injury absence, while Roldan has established himself as one of the best midfielders in MLS, but has yet to do the same on the international level.
Wing options are a bit tougher to project, though a player like Arriola is easy to see being a good option at the age of 27 in 2022. Amon has game-changing speed and should be playing in a bigger European league by 2022. Saief has yet to really show what he can do with the United States, but he has already established himself in Europe and should be a strong midfield option in the next cycle.
Will there be a young midfielder who breaks through and surprises us all the way Pulisic emerged in the last cycle? Giovanni Reyna is one prospect who comes to mind as a player who could rise rapidly through the ranks in the next four years. Real Salt Lake prospect Richie Ledezma is another teenager who could flourish as he moves up the youth national team ranks.
Other midfielders who should be in the mix include central midfield options such as Wil Trapp, Emerson Hyndman, Keaton Parks, Sean Davis, Sebastian Lletget, Nick Taitague and Andrew Carleton. Michael Bradley will be 35 in 2022, and as much as he could still help the U.S. when the 2019 Gold Cup comes around, it's tough to see him still being an option in Qatar.
Wingers who could play their way into the conversation for 2022 include Julian Green, Lynden Gooch, Corey Baird, Timothy Tillman, Duane Holmes, Jonathan Lewis, Romain Gall, Joe Gyau and Uly Llanez.
Bobby Wood, Josh Sargent, Tim Weah, Jozy Altidore
The forward pool currently has a gap in between established veterans like Altidore and Wood, and young prospects like Sargent and Weah, who the USMNT will need to develop quickly to help fill out the ranks.
Is Altidore really a viable option for 2022? The answer is yes, if he can stay healthy. Injuries have plagued him through his career, and you have to wonder how his body will hold up over the next four years. Wood is a player who is coming off a terrible year, but who has shown enough quality in national team matches to be able to take another step forward over the next four years.
Sargent has the qualities to be a starter in 2022, but he needs to get on the field and start developing in a pro environment. If he can break through and earn minutes as a teenager at Werder Bremen the way Pulisic did at Borussia Dortmund, he could be a key figure for the U.S. attack before he reaches the age of 20. Weah remains an exciting prospect because of his speed, pedigree and club, but he has yet to prove himself on the pro level, and still has some maturing to do physically to really be a factor on the international scene.
There is plenty of room for other forward options to break in. If Altidore falls out of the picture, then Andrija Novakovich has a great chance to break in as a big forward option. Jordan Morris is currently recovering from a torn ACL, but he shouldn't be forgotten as a good speed option once he gets back in action. Gyasi Zardes has enjoyed a good run since joining the Columbus Crew, and could play his way back into the conversation. Rubio Rubin is also one to watch, with his ability to play either as a winger or second forward. Dom Dwyer would be 32 when the 2022 World Cup kicked off, but he was a bit of a late bloomer who doesn't have as many miles on his legs as most 27-year-olds so he deserves a mention. Longer-term prospects include Haji Wright, Emmanuel Sabbi and Gianluca Busio.