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23 for ’22: Predicting the next USMNT World Cup roster

With the 2018 World Cup now officially consigned to history, the U.S. men’s national team can finally turn the page on missing out on a trip to Russia and turn its attention to Qatar 2022.

Every country starts from scratch at the beginning of a new four-year cycle. And with a new generation of promising young players, led by 19-year-old Christian Pulisic, hell-bent on dragging the U.S. back to the sport’s grandest stage, there’s reason for American fans to be optimistic that the USMNT can not only return to the World Cup, but field a quality team when it gets there.

Should they qualify, which players are likely to be on that U.S. squad? More than a few of the names seem obvious. But the 2022 World Cup is also more than four years out, and the soccer landscape has a habit of changing at lightning pace. Add in the fact that the Americans haven’t had a permanent manager for more than nine months — one might not be named until the end of the year – and it’s an exercise in stupidity.

None of that is going to stop us from taking an educated guess at the 23, of course, even if the only guarantee is that it will be wrong. Here goes:

Players listed in order of certainty

Goalkeepers (3)

Zack Steffen, 23 years old now, 3 caps, Columbus Crew (MLS)

The odds-on favorite to man the nets en route to Qatar, the former U.S. U-20 World Cup standout appears to have the tools to become the next No. 1. With off-the-charts athleticism, he’s the best pure shot-stopper to come along since Tim Howard arrived in the early 2000s. Steffen is also slowly gaining the calm demeanor and command of his box required at the highest level, and he was outstanding in last month’s 1-1 draw with France.

Brad Guzan, 33, 58 caps, Atlanta United (MLS)

Had the U.S. made the cut for Russia, Guzan probably would’ve been the starter. He’ll be 38 by the the World Cup Qatar rolls around in November of 2018. Because he’s a keeper, that means another World Cup trip is a realistic ambition for Guzan if his body cooperates. Don’t bet against it. Guzan is a model pro, and his vast international experience and well-earned reputation as a good locker room guy should keep him in the mix through qualifying at least.

Matt Turner, 24, 0 caps, New England Revolution (MLS)

Not only did the undrafted New Jersey native beat out veterans Brad Knighton and Cody Cropper to win the Revs’ starting job under new coach (and U.S. goalkeeping legend) Brad Friedel, Turner has played every minute this season for a team surprisingly two spots above the playoff line in MLS’s Eastern Conference. That nudges him just above young Toronto FC keeper Alex Bono, who has struggled a bit over the last month, for now. 

Also in contention: Bono, Ethan Horvath, Jesse Gonzalez, William Yarbrough, Bill Hamid

Christian Pulisic is the undisputed USMNT star for the next World Cup cycle. (Getty)

Defenders (8)

John Brooks, 25, 33 caps, Wolfsburg (Germany)

Brooks is now the most experienced center back in the player pool, and probably its most talented. He’s been inconsistent at times for the U.S., but then that’s not at all unusual for a young central defender. He’s also one of the few that has actually played and scored at a World Cup. But can he stay healthy? Brooks missed almost all of last season with a thigh injury, and he’s missed big games for club and country with a variety of aliments in the past.

Matt Miazga, 22, 7 caps, Chelsea (England)

If Brooks is the top American center back, then Miazga is probably 1A. The imposing former New York Red Bull has improved his defending and his footwork over the last two seasons while on loan to Dutch club Vitesse. He still has plenty more room to grow, however, and his work ethic and ambition should allow him to realize the potential Chelsea saw in him when they signed him after the 2015 MLS season.

Erik Palmer-Brown, 21, 2 caps, NAC Breda (Netherlands)

The Sporting Kansas City product signed with English champion Manchester City in January and then made nine appearances on loan to Belgian first division side KV Kortrijk, six of them starts. Palmer-Brown will spend the 2018-19 season on loan to Dutch first division club Breda, where new USMNT general manager Earnie Stewart is well plugged in after spending seven years there as a player and four more as the club’s technical director.

Cameron Carter-Vickers, 20, 5 caps, Tottenham Hotspur (England)

The English-born and -bred son of former NBA player Howard Carter made four first-team appearances for Spurs as a teenager, and he started for the U.S. at consecutive U-20 World Cups. Carter-Vickers split last season between second-tier sides Sheffield United and Ipswich Town and is likely to be loaned out again for the upcoming campaign.

DeAndre Yedlin, 25, 52 caps, Newcastle United (England)  

A candidate for the captain’s armband in 2022, Yedlin matured playing for Sunderland in the Premier League in 2015-16 and with the Magpies over the last two seasons. His defending, once suspect, has become sound against some of the best players anywhere. The diminutive right back also still has the track star speed that helped make him the Americans’ breakout player at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Antonee Robinson, 20, 2 caps, Everton (England)

Natural left backs are like unicorns in Americans soccer, and Robinson is the best left-footed fullback to come along in some time. The UK native impressed in U.S. friendlies against Bolivia and France in May and June, and he will try to use those experiences to help him break into Everton’s first team this season.

Reggie Cannon, 20, 0 caps, FC Dallas (MLS)

Speedster Cannon has started at right back in all 19 of FCD’s games in 2018, his second as a pro after leaving UCLA in 2016. That edges him past Shaquell Moore, who will play with Reus in Spain’s second tier next season, for the spot behind Yedlin.

Jaylin Lindsey, 18, 0 caps, Sporting Kansas City (MLS)

With the ability to play either fullback spot, Lindsey, who has started four of SKC’s last six games, is an intriguing prospect who has enormous room to grow largely because of his tender age: he only turned 18 in March.

Also in contention: Moore, Tim Parker, Walker Zimmerman, Danilo Acosta, Tim Ream, Justen Glad

Midfielders (8)

Christian Pulisic, 19, 21 caps, Borussia Dortmund (Germany)

The undisputed best player and headliner this cycle, Pulisic almost single-footedly dragged the U.S. to Russia. He should have more help this time around. But ups and downs are part of any career, and Pulisic will be tested on and off the field over the next four years, especially if he ends up leaving Dortmund for a higher-profile club at some point during that span, as expected.

Weston McKennie, 19, 4 caps, Schalke (Germany)

If neither Yedlin nor Pulisic wear the armband in Qatar, it might well be McKennie. The Texan is mature beyond his years, technically skilled and versatile; he can play as a dedicated defensive ball-winner or operate in a more attacking, box-to-box “No. 8” role. He’s also currently the second-most important player in the pool after Pulisic.

Kenny Saief, 24, 2 caps, Anderlecht (Belgium)

Although he’s something of an unknown quantity to U.S. fans after winning just one cap in each of the last two years following his switch to the USMNT from Israel, Saief is good enough to be a key player for the U.S. now and in the years to come. That he’s a natural left-footed winger only makes that designation more likely.

Tyler Adams, 19, 6 caps, New York Red Bulls (MLS)

A hard-running central midfielder who can also play left back, Adams’ stock is rising fast. That progress will only continue if and when the native New Yorker makes his long-rumored move to the Red Bulls’ sister club RB Leipzig of the German Bundesliga, where he’ll be reunited with former head coach and new Leipzig assistant Jesse Marsch.

DeAndre Yedlin might wear the captain’s armband for the USMNT by 2022. (Getty)

Kellyn Acosta, 22, 17 caps, FC Dallas (MLS)

Acosta fills out the young central midfield corps along with Adams, McKennie and the attack-minded Pulisic. Like the rest, he can run all day. Acosta also boasts a mean free kick plus vital experience in high-stakes World Cup qualifying matches, including a start in a 1-1 tie at Mexico’s Azteca Stadium just over a year ago.

Paul Arriola, 23, 16 caps, D.C. United (MLS)

The right winger established himself as a starter toward the end of the 2018 cycle, and given his age and upside, there’s no reason to think the hard-working, two-way winger won’t be able to play a defensively responsible attacking role on the right side. Think Alejando Bedoya, but with a bit more going forward.

Timothy Weah, 18, 3 caps, Paris Saint-Germain (France)

Weah plays as a forward for PSG, and since that’s probably his natural position, he’ll likely be considered there if his production at club level – in Paris or elsewhere – warrants it. But it helps Weah’s chances that he can also beat players off the dribble and combine with the frontrunner(s) from out wide. That’s where was deployed in the recent friendlies against Bolivia and Ireland, and while his lack of experience was evident, he also displayed flashes of what the future could hold.

Jonathan Amon, 19, 0 caps, FC Nordsjaelland (Norway)

There’s always a player or two who comes out of nowhere to make the World Cup team. In 2014, it was Yedlin and Julian Green. In 2010, Edson Buddle and Herculez Gomez. A natural left winger, Amon could be one in 2022. U.S. U-20 coach Tab Ramos is a big fan, and if Amon impresses at next year’s U-20 World Cup in Poland, he could force his way into the senior team picture much like former U-20s Acosta, Arriola, Miazga did last cycle.

Also in contention: Keaton Parks, Marky Delgado, Wil Trapp, Rubio Rubin, Cristian Roldan, Sebastian Lletget, Lynden Gooch, Kelyn Rowe, Darlington Nagbe, Joe Corona

Forwards (4)

Bobby Wood, 25, 39 caps, Hannover (Germany)

With 12 goals for the U.S., including seven goals in competitive matches, Wood has been the national team’s most reliable scorer over the last three years. He managed just seven strikes in 50 Bundesliga games with former club Hamburg, which was relegated at the end of last season, but his summer move to Hannover offers a fresh start.

Jozy Altidore, 28, 110 caps, Toronto FC (MLS)

Altidore will just have turned 33 when the World Cup in Qatar kicks off, and could well play a role if his body will allow it. The target man has been beset by injuries in recent years – often just before or during major tournaments – so it’s fair to wonder if that’s realistic. But Altidore was in some of the best form of his career early this year against quality Mexican teams in the knockout stage of the CONCACAF Champions League, and he is the country’s third-leading scorer behind Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan, with 41 goals for the U.S.

Josh Sargent, 18, 3 caps, Werder Bremen (Germany)

Widely tipped to replicate the success of young fellow Americans McKennie and Pulisic in Germany, Sargent has already gotten on the score sheet during Bremen’s preseason. That still might be asking too much to ask of a teenage striker playing in one of the best leagues on the planet, but Sargent already has the sort of finishing ability rarely seen in an American forward. One has to think that will be hard to ignore.

Jordan Morris, 23, 25 caps, Seattle Sounders (MLS)

While speed, a big frame and a nose for goal make Morris a valuable asset at the international level, it remains to be seen how he will recover from the ACL injury that cost him the entire 2018 season for his hometown Sounders. He’ll be hard to leave out if he can still fly, especially since he can also play on the wing.

Also in contention: Gyasi Zardes, Aron Johannsson, Julian Green, Andrija Novakovich, Christian Ramirez, Juan Agudelo 

Doug McIntyre covers soccer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.

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