The 2018 World Cup starts on June 14, and while 32 countries are preparing to send their best footballing talent to Russia to compete in the world’s premier international soccer tournament, the United States will sit at home, watching the festivities instead of taking the pitch. Of course, this is because the United States Men’s National Team faltered in qualifying, most notably by failing to register a point against Trinidad and Tobago in the final match of qualifying last October.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a person who was happy with this outcome, but going further, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who thought the United States had the potential to make a run at the World Cup. After the 2014 tournament, then-manager Jurgen Klinsmann said the goal in 2018 was for the Americans to make the semifinal. Klinsmann was sacked during the final stage of qualifying, and his successor, Bruce Arena, could not navigate the rest of the way forward.
There are a whole lot of reasons why, but one is that at the end of the day, the United States just didn’t have the players to get the job done. There are thousands of words that can be spent on why that happened. The youth soccer team is fundamentally broken and intrinsically tied to financial gain over improving the talent of children and the developmental system is still in its early stages with room to improve. Additionally, while the general culture surrounding the sport has shifted, it still has a long way to go, plus the domestic league (Major League Soccer) is nowhere near being the world’s best and must clear a myriad of hurdles before it gets to that point. There’s also a debate surrounding the merits of attending college for any period of time and delaying playing professionally and a number of other factors that have been written about at length in the days since the Americans failed to make the World Cup. But maybe we should talk about something else.
With nothing really going on this summer that is of interest to American footy fans, we wanted to look to the future and highlight some of the top young players the sport has to offer stateside and abroad. This is a very, very, very incomplete list — guys like Haji Wright at Schalke 04, Antonee Robinson at Everton, Shaq Moore at Levante, Kellyn Acosta at FC Dallas, and plenty of others didn’t make the cut and are all great. I highly recommend falling down YouTube wormholes of compilations of their skills, goals, and assists. But before you do that, here are a handful of young players you need to know for upcoming tournaments, whether they be the Gold Cup in 2019, the World Cup in 2022, or any of the future tournaments that are nowhere near the horizon right now.
The obvious name on this list is Pulisic, who may be the most talented American footballer ever at the ripe old age of 19. His workrate is what you expect out of an American, but what makes him so unique is that his skill and creativity is something you don’t see out of anyone from the United States, let alone someone who hasn’t turned 20 yet. Pulisic is a hyper-aggressive dribbler, which can sometimes work to his detriment, but as he gets older, he has the potential to be among the best in the world.
He’s already a regular for Borussia Dortmund, one of the best clubs in Germany, although that could change sometime soon. Pulisic’s name has been swirling in transfer rumors, partly because of the apparent value of a star footballer from the United States. Transfer rumors are a fickle thing, but there are rumblings that Pulisic could cost a club (with Liverpool and Manchester United both reportedly interested) up to €100 million. For reference, the current American transfer record is €20 million, held by John Anthony Brooks.
Pulisic is, for the foreseeable future, the face of American soccer. Not bad for a teenager, eh?
Despite all the well-deserved hype, Pulisic isn’t the American whose team finished in the top-2 of the Bundesliga this past year. That would be McKennie, who is about a month older than Pulisic and gives the United States a talented and physically imposing box-to-box midfielder.
While McKennie wasn’t a fixture in Schalke 04’s XI, partly due to a knee injury that kept him sidelined for several weeks, he did start 13 Bundesliga matches and he appeared as a substitute in nine more. He is the kind of midfielder who wants to be the heartbeat of a team, whether he’s sparking the attack with an incisive pass (or just joining Schalke as it goes forward), or wreaking havoc as opponents have their eye on the goal.
If Pulisic is going to be the dynamic creator in the midfield, McKennie, who was selected as one of Bundesliga’s breakout teenagers this season, brings the ability to impact the game all over the park.