What a time to be an American soccer fan. Despite a 2-1 loss to Belgium to be eliminated from the round of 16 at this summer’s World Cup, soccer’s increasing popularity in the United States continues on. Fans are firing on all cylinders, and blowing up social media with talk of soccer and the US Men’s National team. Message boards and fan forums are being flooded with an influx of new users, and posting everything related to the national team. Fans are praising the team, giving constructive criticism, and looking forward to the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
“So, what happens now?” is what some of you may be wondering. Where do we as fans go from here? 2018 is a ways from now, but the next World Cup cycle has already begun for Coach Jürgen Klinsmann and the US national team. Many players from the 2014 World Cup squad may make the next World Cup or be heavily involved in the buildup, but many well-known players will not because of age. How do we get fans, both new and old, to stick with the team through the thick and thin over the next four years? We overload them with information! We tell them everything that’s going to happen between now and 2018, so they can educate themselves, and be informed on everything related to the men’s national team and it’s related youth teams. So, let’s get right to it. Here’s part 1 of my timeline for the 2018 World Cup.
The rest of 2014
The 2014 World Cup is over for the US national team, but that doesn’t mean 2014 is done with. There’s still a lot of soccer to be played. The next challenge for the US is on September 3rd, as they will face off against the Czech Republic in Prague. This squad will most likely feature players only based in European leagues as the MLS season will be coming to a close, and teams will need their players to ensure a playoff berth. This is the only scheduled friendly for the remainder of 2014, but there will likely be more games that have yet to been announced or finalized.
The game against the Czech Republic will take place during the official FIFA break of September 1st-9th, so a second friendly later in that week may be announced soon. After September, there are two more official FIFA breaks in 2014. There’s one October 6th-14th, and November 10th-18th. The US national team potentially has six games left on the 2014 calender, and there is a very strong chance that Klinsmann uses these games primarily as evaluators in preparation for important games in 2015. Don’t be surprised, however, if Klinsmann uses them to also get a new wave of players involved in the national team setup.
That’s a wrap on the Men’s National Team for 2014, but the U-20 youth national team recently competed in the inaugural National Training Center Invitational against Chile, Bermuda, and Australia.
The US side beat Chile 2-1 in a second-half comeback sparked by goals from Andrija Novakovich and Zach Pfeffer. They also cruised to a 4-0 win over Bermuda. Once again Novakovich and Pfeffer found the net, Tommy Thompson added a third, and then Bermuda did the US a favor by scoring an own goal. The final match against Australia was streamed on the US Soccer website, ending in a 0-0 draw, enough to win the NTC Invitational.
These three games were a great look at players who potentially could be representing the US at the 2018 World Cup. Now, let’s move on to an important and busy year for US Soccer…
The 2015 FIFA calendar starts off with a group of players that may play a big role in the 2018 World Cup, and chances are you haven’t heard of most of them. The 2015 U-20 CONCACAF Championship takes place from January 9th-25th, and will determine the four teams from the CONCACAF region that will qualify for the 2015 U-20 FIFA World Cup. The US team was the runner-up in the 2013 tournament, and qualified for that year’s World Cup.
Here is a list of players in the U-20 pool to remember and keep an eye over the course of the next few years:
Rubin Rubio (FC Utrecht), Ben Spencer (Molde FK), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Amando Moreno (Club Tijuana), John Requeljo, Jr (Club Tijuana), Junior Flores (Borussia Dortmund), Eric Lickert (Freiberg), Russell Canouse (1899 Hoffenheim), Emerson Hyndman (Fulham), Kainoa Bailey (Bayern Leverkusen), Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas) Erik Palmer-Brown (Sporting Kansas City), and Tommy Thompson (San Jose Earthquakes).
Rubio recently signed a contract with Utrecht in the Dutch Eredivisie, and will begin with their youth squad. However, he has been receiving a lot of minutes with Utrecht’s first team during preseason matches, so his future with the first team may come sooner than expected.
Spencer plays for Molde FK in the Norwegian Tippeligean, but is playing on loan for Indy Eleven of the North American Soccer League and has looked very impressive.
We have a trio of Americans at Club Tijuana. Arriola continues to see significant minutes for Tijuana’s first team and even though he’s still in the U-20 player pool, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Klinsmann call him up for one of the Men’s team friendlies this Fall. Moreno was brought up through the New York Red Bulls academy and eventually signed to the team. However, he declined a new contract earlier this year and made the move to Tijuana. He recently started training with the first team and the future looks bright for the 18-year old. Lastly, Requeljo, Jr has moved up to the first team, and made his debut on July 5th coming on as a substitute in a 1-0 against Leones Negros. Requeljo is also only 18-years old, and it’s very promising to see these young players being relied on Tijuana. Flores began playing on Dortmund’s U-19 Academy team, but has recently moved up to the reserve team as he continues to impress those within the organization. He plays alongside a fellow American, Joe Gyau, who recently moved to the club from 1899 Hoffenheim.
Lickert caught the attention of US Soccer officials while playing for the U-17 and U-19 Academy teams at SC Freiburg, but has moved to SpVgg Unterhaching. Look for Lickert to get valuable minutes in a league filled to the brim with young talent.
Canouse spent the last two seasons with Hoffenheim’s U-19, but recently moved up to their reserve squad and will begin playing with them this Fall. If he shows well like he did with the U-19’s, he may be presented with the opportunity to join up with Hoffenheim’s first team.
Hyndman plays for Fulham’s U-18 squad, but has also made appearances for the U-21 squad. With Fulham being relegated after this past Premier League season, they’ll now play in the Championship, and potentially play about 50 games. This will open up opportunities for Hyndman to get time with the U-21 squad as some of those players will get time with the first team. Also, Hyndman has recently been getting playing time with the first-team in pre-season matches, and has been very impressive.
Bailey is only 18-years old, but has already worked his way up to Leverkusen’s reserve team. He’s only played a few minutes in each of the few appearances that he’s had, but the fact that he’s second-youngest on the squad is promising. Unfortunately, Leverkusen recently disbanded their reserve squad, and Bailey is currently a free agent.
There are also three very promising U-20 players in MLS right now: Acosta, Palmer-Brown, and Thompson. Acosta is currently recovering from a fractured kneecap, but he has appeared in 18 games, with 16 starts, in his first 12 months with FC Dallas. He has shown well when he has played with both the senior squad and the U-20s.
Palmer-Brown, who just turned 17 in April, is one of the youngest in the U-20 pool. He’s a very promising player and has been sought after by Juventus of Italy’s Serie A, who reportedly made a $1 million bid for him. He’s made a few appearances for Sporting Kansas City this season due to first team injuries, but has looked a bit shaky. Nonetheless, he has a tremendous upside and has excelled with the US U-18 side. He’s still a bit raw as a player due to his age, but he’s young and has received praise from various coaches and scouts. He’ll still be eligible for the U-20 World Cup in 2017, so with MLS, and time with the national sides he will have plenty of time to continue developing.
Thompson left Indiana University in March of 2014 following a stand-out Freshman year, and signed a Homegrown Player contract with San Jose Earthquakes. He has only made one first-team appearance for San Jose in which he came on as an 89th minute sub. He has recently been playing on loan for San Jose’s USL-Pro affiliate, Sacramento Republic FC. Thompson has made five appearances including two starts since joining the team on June 26th. He was very impressive during the NTC Invitational and turned many heads. He missed the first match, but was able to participate against Bermuda and Australia. These two games were the first time many have seen Thompson play, as his professional career has been short-lived. The NTC Invitational was his debut for the United States at any level.
Following the conclusion of the U-20 CONCACAF championship, the official draw for the 2015 U-20 World Cup will be held. As technical director of the US Men’s National team, Klinsmann is not only the coach of the men’s team, he oversees the youth national teams as well. He’s does not, however, coach the youth teams, but rather has a say in who is in charge of each team. He also tells the staff members how he wants the team run as the players will eventually feed into the men’s national team setup.
The draw is worth noting as we’ll see who the U-20 team will face-off against come May, if they qualify for the World Cup that is. The U-20 team has large implications for the future, but Klinsmann will still have the men’s national team as his first priority. While these events revolving around the U-20 team are taking place, Klinsmann will hold the annual January training camp for the Men’s national team. The training camp will end with a friendly, and because it’s not an official FIFA friendly date, they’ll play another country whose league does not compete in January.
Most leagues around the world play from August to May, but there are some leagues around the world, like Major League Soccer, who play a March to October schedule. In years past, they have played Venezuela, Canada, and South Korea; so the US team may face one of these countries, another Asian country, or a Scandinavian country whose league does not compete in January.
The year’s second official FIFA dates will be March 23rd-31st. No friendlies have been announced this far in advance, and don’t expect them to be until around December of 2014, or in January of 2015.
The next events on the US Soccer agenda occur in May, as the 65th FIFA Congress will be held on May 29th, and the U-20 FIFA World Cup kicks off in New Zealand the following day. The tournament will be played until the final on June 20th. Fans will be able to watch the U-20 World Cup through Fox and its platforms. The FIFA Congress may seem like an odd thing to mention in this timeline as it’s not a game, tournament, or squad listing, but it has future World Cup implications for the United States.
FIFA has been conducting its own private investigation into the corruption scandal of the 2022 FIFA World Cup that’s to be held in Qatar. FIFA Ethics Committee hired American lawyer Michael Garcia as the one who will investigate the matter. According to the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag an official decision on if the 2022 World Cup is to be relocated will be made at the FIFA Congress. And that’s why it’s important. The United States finished second in the original vote for the 2022 World Cup, and could possibly become the host if the tournament is to be relocated.
As soccer’s mainstream popularity is increasing here in the United States, there wouldn’t be a better time for our country to hold the tournament. The only better time for the United States could be in 2026, which would coincide with our country’s 250th anniversary.
The U-20 World Cup has a huge effect on the 2018 World Cup as these 18, 19, and 20 year olds will be the Men’s national team pool in three years’ time. Some may never see time with the Men’s national team, but many will. The US youth national teams are full of promising prospects, and potential prospects who are dual-nationals who haven’t yet decided on which country they will represent.
The future of the US Men’s national team is truly exciting. I implore you to take full advantage of the 2015 U-20 FIFA World Cup to watch the US team. Learn about the players, both their skills and weaknesses, because we very well may see some of them representing our country in Russia in 2018.
The U20 World Cup leads American soccer fans into another busy month in June. Not only are there two World Cup tournaments, but there’s also an official FIFA date on June 8th-16th. Simultaneously we’ll have the U-20 FIFA World Cup, the FIFA Women’s World Cup, and Men’s friendlies to keep track of. There may possibly be a friendly in May as well if 2015 follows the pattern of 2013. In 2013, the US Men’s national team hosted Belgium in May and Germany in June as final tune-up games for the Gold Cup, but neither of these games were on FIFA friendly dates.
Klinsmann will hold a training camp prior to these friendlies, but the exact date will depend on if any unofficial friendlies will be played in May and when exactly they will be played. This training camp will also serve as the preparation for the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup, which begins on July 7th. The 2015 Gold Cup is the first major step for the Men’s national team in their journey to the 2018 World Cup. It’s a tournament that holds valuable experience for young players who haven’t yet broken into the team fold, but also has even greater implications. The US national team won the 2013 Gold Cup and will go into a play-off against the winner of the 2015 Gold Cup for the right to play in the 2017 Confederations Cup.
Klinsmann has spoken of his support of the US youth national teams and their involvement in this World Cup cycle and because of that it’s been suggested that the Gold Cup will begin the changing of the guard. That is, removing some of the veteran and tenured players in favor of young, bright talent. I don’t think this will necessarily be the case, though, as the objective is to win the Gold Cup. You can’t win the Gold Cup with young, developing players who have little chemistry with each other, and Klinsmann knows that. We all hope he knows that, at least. Winning the Gold Cup will automatically secure a sport in the 2017 Confederations Cup as opposed to competing in a play-off. There will certainly be some younger faces in the 2015 Gold Cup squad, but the changes won’t be as drastic as one would think.
While CONCACAF is fighting for the 2015 Gold Cup title, FIFA will be holding the 2018 World Cup Preliminary Draw on July 25th. FIFA will determine how many spots each confederation will be awarded for the 2018 World Cup. The 2014 World Cup saw CONCACAF have success while only having 3.5 spots, as United States, Costa Rica, and Honduras qualified directly and Mexico qualified through a playoff against New Zealand from the OFC. It’s possible the number of spots awarded to CONCACAF increases from 3.5, and it very well may be at the expense of the AFC or CAF. AFC was awarded 4.5 spots for the 2014 World Cup, and they gave a very poor performance as the four AFC teams posted a combined record of 0-3-9. They were the only confederation to not win a game in the World Cup. CAF was awarded 5 spots, and they also gave a poor performance as its nations did not live up to their expectations. The five nations posted a combined record of 3-3-9, but Nigeria and Algeria did advance past the group stage. However, both teams lost their knockout round game. This combination of CONCACAF success and disappointment by AFC and CAF will weigh heavily on FIFA’s mind when determining spots for the 2018 World Cup.
The Preliminary Draw will affect how CONCACAF’s World Cup qualifying for 2018 will be structured. The current CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying structure is based on 3.5 spots, so it will remain the same if FIFA does not award any additional spots. If FIFA does decide to increase the number of spots for CONCACAF, the current qualifying structure will have to be modified. A new qualifying structure ultimately will not affect United States, as they will receive a bye to one of the lattermost qualifying rounds based upon their place in the FIFA Rankings.
Following the 2018 World Cup Preliminary Draw there’s only a few events left in 2015. There are two official FIFA dates, one in August-September and one in October, the 2015 U-17 FIFA World Cup in October-November, and a third official FIFA date in November. These are the first FIFA dates following the 2018 World Cup Preliminary Draw, so not only can these dates be used for friendlies, but these dates are also the beginning of World Cup Qualification for the 2018 World Cup. The first date is on August 31st through September 8th, the second is on October 5th-13th, and the third is on November 9th-17th.
The 2015 U-17 FIFA World Cup will be held in Chile from October 17th through November 8th. Four teams from CONCACAF qualify for the U-17 World Cup, as opposed to two for the U-20 World Cup, and the qualifying teams will be determined through the 2015 CONCACAF U-17 Championship. The date and location of 2015 CONCACAF U-17 Championship have not been announced yet as the qualification isn’t complete, but it will take place in the beginning of 2015. The Caribbean Zone (Caribbean Football Union) and the Central American Zone (UNCAF) still have to finish qualification, while Canada, Mexico, and USA automatically qualify as members of the North American zone (NAFU).
Stay tuned as part 2 will be out shortly covering 2016, 2017, and 2018.