The United States national team needs some new blood. There are multiple big-name veterans who can't hack it anymore on an international stage, so Jurgen Klinsmann will surely be looking for younger guys to fill the gap. Clint Dempsey, Jermaine Jones, DaMarcus Beasley and Kyle Beckerman are just a few of the former starters who are aging and falling out of the picture; and this isn't even mentioning the goalkeeper situation.
So, then, who will step up? It's a question that will be asked many times over the next couple years, because the Copa Americas Centenario is coming up and 2018 World Cup qualifying has already started. Here are five players who just might be on Klinsmann's radar:
5. Sean Johnson (GK, Chicago Fire)
The top two goalkeepers in the international pool right now are Brad Guzan and Tim Howard, unquestionably. Both are seasoned veterans who are currently plying their trade in the English Premier League, and have participated in many top-tier international tournaments. But Howard is 36 and Guzan, 31, recently lost his starting spot with last-place Aston Villa. Neither could be around come 2018, so it is time for Klinsmann to look at other options.
Real Salt Lake's Nick Rimando has spent plenty of time with the Yanks, but he is getting up there in age as well. Bill Hamid is 25 and arguably the best in MLS, but a recent knee surgery could knock him out for an extended period. That leaves Sean Johnson, the 26-year old Chicago Fire starter. Johnson was named as Hamid's replacement at the USMNT's January training camp, meaning he will likely get time to prove himself in friendlies against Iceland and Canada a couple weeks from now.
Many have questioned his ability to last as a starting keeper, but there is no doubt he has talent. If he can perform well in the upcoming matches, Johnson will stick. If he can't, there are many behind him ready to take his place.
4. Wil Trapp (CM, Columbus Crew SC)
Trapp, having already been capped by multiple youth national teams, showed his abundant talent last season with the Columbus Crew, helping them win the Eastern Conference. He controlled the deep midfield area along with Tony Tchani (who also could appear for the US this month) and sprayed long balls down the field to running wingers Ethan Finlay and Justin Meram.
Klinsmann will be looking for a new holding midfielder–as Beckerman is now slowing at 33 years of age–and Trapp could very well be the solution to that problem. He's young, just 23, and has shown great intelligence and maturity throughout his short career. The only noticeable weakness you could bring up against him would be a lack of physicality, but that could be solved by giving him a strong partner, like Tchani, to offset this shortcoming.
The Columbus native isn't the only option at the position. D.C. United's Perry Kitchen could be considered, as well as a veteran like the Red Bulls' Dax McCarty. But given Trapp's age and potential, it seems likely that he is the future of the position.
3. Brandon Vincent (LB, Chicago Fire)
One of the top prospects in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft, Vincent got his first chance with the national team when he was invited to the January camp. At 21, he will probably be prepping for the all-important Olympic qualifiers a couple months from now against Colombia, but this call-up signals his place on Klinsmann's radar.
The former Stanford prodigy was drafted fourth overall by the Fire, who thought so highly of Vincent that they traded former starting left-back Joevin Jones to give him a spot in the first XI. He could end up starting for the USMNT as well with the left-back spot looking very open right now.
Beasley was the long-time starter at the position, but at 33, he won't have much of a role going forward. Other defenders like Greg Garza and Tim Ream don't seem high on Klinsmann's list, opening the door for someone like Vincent. Because of his tender age, he most likely won't see a lot of time with the senior squad this year, but with the U-23s, you'll see plenty of him.
2. Ethan Finlay (RM, Columbus Crew SC)
Trapp's teammate Ethan Finlay was a huge contributor to the Crew's championship-caliber season, providing 11 assists and scoring 13 goals. He hadn't gotten much of a look from US Soccer, possibly due, in part, to his ability to choose Canada instead, but he got called up for the first time in January.
His fitness and work rate is at Michael Bradley-levels, making him an attractive player for a coach like Klinsmann. Finlay will run up and down the wings all game, busting through holes in the defense and whipping dangerous balls into the box. Putting someone like Trapp in central midfield would do wonders for Finlay, as it would let him use his blinding speed to chase down long balls and spring counter-attacks; this is where he scored many of his goals.
Gyasi Zardes seems to be the favorite at right midfield right now, but it wouldn't hurt to give the 25-year old Finlay a try. He has shown enough over the past year to at least be considered.
1. Darlington Nagbe (CM, Portland Timbers)
After finally gaining US citizenship last season, Nagbe, born in Liberia, was capped by America in November. He came on as a sub in a blowout win over St. Vincent and Grenadines, cap-tying him to the Red, White and Blue. In MLS, Nagbe helped the Timbers win MLS Cup. It was a sign of great things to come for the 25-year old.
The success began in the middle of the 2015 MLS campaign, when a position switch ignited his ascent into attention from the US national team. Coach Caleb Porter, himself a former USMNT assistant, moved Nagbe to central midfield from right wing after years of underachieving. Goals came in bunches for Portland as a result. The Timbers scored a total of 12 goals in their final five games, winning four of them. Nagbe scored three and assisted two, finally putting up the points his exaggerated shot totals suggested.
But, alas, his World Cup qualifying appearances both saw him get played as a winger, further illustrating Klinsmann's propensity for playing players out of position. We can only hope that Nagbe gets a chance to prove his talent in the best possible situation.