As the U.S. MNT opens up CONCACAF qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s roster selection for games against St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad & Tobago demonstrate that the youth moment begun since the World Cup is well underway.
That’s because the 23-man squad that began gathering in Miami on Sunday features 11 players under the age of 25. While youth is being served at the start of qualifying, the under-25 club enters camp having cultivated international experience, combining for 79 caps in 2015 alone.
During the transition period after Brazil, Klinsmann began the process of integrating young players and giving them bigger opportunities in the team – sometimes at the risk of results – in order to prepare them for this stage of the process.
“You have to water the seeds and watch them grow,” Klinsmann said. “We’ve been bringing these guys along for the last year as part of the transition period, and it’s time for them to prove their point.”
Many members of the next generation have responded well.
Bobby Wood’s star has been among the brightest for the U.S. in 2015, but it took time. The 22-year-old forward appeared in five matches before scoring his memorable game-winning goals in June friendly wins against sixth-ranked Holland and World Cup champion Germany. After clarifying a rocky club situation with his move to Union Berlin over the summer, Wood popped up again with his extra time equalizer in last month’s CONCACAF Cup against Mexico.
After turning heads at the World Cup in Brazil, 22-year old DeAndre Yedlin is tied with 2015 debutant Gyasi Zardes for a team-leading 17 appearances in 2015, with the pair combining for two goals and eight assists. Meanwhile, center back Ventura Alvarado (13 caps) and midfielder Mix Diskerud (11 caps) have also earned valuable playing time, with Diskerud adding a goal in June’s victory against Germany.
Though he still plays collegiately at Stanford University, 21-year-old Jordan Morris has also made waves this year, scoring his first international goal against Mexico back in April, while assisting on Wood’s game winner against Holland in June. Miguel Ibarra was plucked out of the NASL and Minnesota United FC to earn three caps during the last year, now returning to camp as a member of Liga MX side Club Leon where he scored his first goal a week ago in a 2-1 win against Club Atlas.
In his debut year with the USMNT, Gyasi Zardes leads the team with 17 caps.
The newest entrants into the rookie class are defender Matt Miazga and midfielder Darlington Nagbe. Just 19 years old at the beginning of 2015, Miazga has turned in stellar performances with the New York Red Bulls, all while anchoring the back line for the U.S. U-20s through CONCACAF qualifying and at the FIFA World Youth Championships in New Zealand before taking another big step with the U-23s last month in Olympic qualifying.
Nagbe’s ability has been known in MLS circles since he first joined the Portland Timbers in 2011. An original member of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy having played for Internationals FC in Cleveland in 2007, the Liberian-born attacker gained his U.S. citizenship in September and earned his first call up this month.
As all eyes turn to Game One of the semifinal round of qualifying against St. Vincent and the Grenadines, this emerging collection of talent will be expected to “make their case” and show that the last year of gains is only the beginning.