Building off positives: Which 2014 USMNT players will remain in 2018?

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Doing our best to not simply toss out “Requiem for a Team” posts in the wake of the United States 2-1 extra time loss to Belgium in the World Cup’s Round of 16, let’s look forward to the 2018 World Cup for a few hundred words.

Assuming the States continue to qualify through CONCACAF, how many of the 23 players to make the trip to Brazil will have plane tickets to Russia? Let’s take a look.

[ MORE: Analyzing Jurgen Klinsmann’s first World Cup with U.S. ]

[ MORE: Three things we learned in U.S. loss to Belgium ]

This is assuming form stays relatively-strong and bodies are relatively-healthy. Would you have thought Stu Holden, Benny Feilhaber, Jonathan Bornstein and Jonathan Spector would all be on the outside looking-in come Brazil? Maybe, maybe not.

Goalkeepers (age at time of 2018 World Cup):
Tim Howard (39)
Brad Guzan (33)
Nick Rimando (39)

Analysis: Rimando will likely cede the third spot to someone, while Guzan will be back in some role. Howard’s return will be based largely on whether he wants to continue playing internationally. Many keepers switch to ‘club-only’ status by the age of 39; Kasey Keller played for the US until he was nearly 38, while Brad Friedel stopped at age 34.

Pipeline (club, age at time of 2018 World Cup): Cody Cropper (Southampton, 25), Bill Hamid (DC United, 27), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire, 29), Tally Hall (Houston Dynamo, 33), Ethan Horvath (Molde, 23)

 
source:  Defenders:
DaMarcus Beasley (36)
Matt Besler (31)
John Brooks (25)
Geoff Cameron (32)
Timothy Chandler (28)
Omar Gonzalez (29)
Fabian Johnson (30)
DeAndre Yedlin (right, 24)

Analysis: It’s very difficult to believe Yedlin, Gonzalez and Brooks won’t all be on the scene in 2018, while the only name that seems a long shot for Russia duty, based on age, is Beasley. It’s reasonable to expect Cameron, Besler and Johnson will be in camp at the very least.

Pipeline (club, age at time of 2018 World Cup): Erik Palmer-Brown (Sporting KC, 21), Will Packwood (Birmingham City, 25), Shane O’Neill (Colorado Rapids, 24), Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas, 23), Eric Miller (Montreal Impact, 25), Miguel Palafox (Leon, 23).


source: APMidfielders:
Kyle Beckerman (36)
Ale Bedoya (31)
Michael Bradley (30)
Brad Davis (36)
Mix Diskerud (27)
Julian Green (23)
Jermaine Jones (36)
Graham Zusi (31)

Analysis: A tricky group to diagnose, but certain names seem gone by 2018 (Beckerman and Davis for sure, with Jones having a chance considering Klinsmann’s love for the midfielder). Bradley and Green seem certain, and you’d say the same for Diskerud if not for the lack of playing time this tournament. Bedoya and Zusi are X-factors, but Klinsmann is likely hoping others make his decision easier.

Pipeline (club, age at time of 2018 World Cup): Luis Gil (Real Salt Lake, 24), Joe Corona (Tijuana, 27), Joshua Gatt (Molde, 26), Duane Holmes (Huddersfield Town, 23), Gedion Zelalem* (Arsenal, 21), Jordan Allen (Real Salt Lake, 23).

Forwards:
Jozy Altidore (28)
Clint Dempsey (35)
Aron Johannsson (27)
Chris Wondolowski (35)

Analysis: Wondolowski’s wondrous run is likely done. It feels counter-intuitive to rule Dempsey out of anything, but 35 is a real obstacle for someone who gets abused as much as the Texan. Altidore should still be fine, while Johannsson has a really good look at coming back, too.

Pipeline (club, age at time of 2018 World Cup): Juan Agudelo (unattached, 25), Terrence Boyd (Red Bull Leipzig, 27), Shawn Parker* (FC Augsburg, 25), Jerome Kiesewetter (Stuttgart, 25), Boxi Yomba (Atletico Madrid, 21), Jack McInerney (Montreal Impact, 25), Bobby Wood (1860 Munich, 25), Will Bruin (Houston Dynamo, 28)

*Not yet committed to United States.

Sampaoli defends Messi, blasts Argentina squad

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Jorge Sampaoli is lambasting his team after a 3-0 loss put Argentina on the edge of failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup’s knockout rounds.

“The reality of the Argentina squad clouds Lionel Messi’s brilliance,” Sampaoli said. “The team doesn’t gel as well as it should.”

[ MORE: Modric urges humility ]

Sampaoli said his players could not find a way to get the ball to Messi, and that the introduction of Boca Juniors youngster Cristian Pavón was aimed at opening up the field a little bit.

And Sampaoli is not shying away from the long-discussed comparison between Messi and Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo. From the BBC:

“Cristiano is a great player and he has achieved a lot with club and country. Right now it is hard to compare these two players because of the ability in the Argentinian squad clouds the judgment. Leo is in a difficult position because the squad doesn’t gel with him. As coach I have to accept that. I don’t feel shame but I definitely feel pain. It has been a long time since I have gone through this experience as a coach and obviously it is more painful when I’m wearing the colours of my country.

“We have no alternative but to give it our all in the final match. We have not performed at the level the country expects. We were ambitious ahead of the game but now it is harder for us as a group. We did think this would be the match we can take off as a team, but it wasn’t in the end. I think this is an excellent squad but we didn’t gel or come together. We need to take advantage of the next match, when the pressure will be on, and hope to progress.”

Now, of course Sampaoli is going to defend Messi, but Argentina’s team is not chopped liver. The side certainly isn’t as deep or solid as Croatia, but 1-1 with Iceland preceded this one.

That said, Argentina’s performance once Croatia essentially decided to surround Messi was unacceptable. If favored Nigeria doesn’t handle its business against Iceland, the World Cup finalists won’t have a prayer of going back.

Modric urges humility after big win, stunning goal (video)

AP Photo / Ricardo Mazalan
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There are few teams who’ve looked as strong as Croatia at the World Cup in Russia.

[ RECAP: Argentina 0-3 Croatia ]

Zlatko Dalic’s men now have a pair of shutout wins against decent competition, topping Nigeria 2-0 over the weekend before hammering Argentina 3-0 on Thursday.

The nature of those performances will have many, us included, debating just how far Croatia can run in this tournament. Veteran midfielder Luka Modric is hoping his team doesn’t do the same.

Let’s not be euphoric or get ahead of ourselves,” Modric said. “Of course this win will boost our confidence for the next game, and we have shown we can create opportunities, but let’s keep our feet firmly on the ground.”

Modric noted that Willy Caballero‘s howler “was a shot in the arm,” but added that they had played a “perfect game.”

That’s true. And while so much focus will be on Messi’s struggles, don’t sleep on the terrific performance of Vatreni. 

Modric also seemed to bristle when asked about shutting down Messi.

“I don’t want to talk about other players. We are happy with our own performance. We wanted to cut out Messi receiving the ball because he is the most dangerous player.”

Croatia smashes disheveled Argentina

AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan
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Ante Rebic, Luka Modric, and Ivan Rakitic have Croatia in the knockout rounds and Argentina on the verge of World Cup disaster.

Croatia scored a trio of second half goals, one aided by a Willy Caballero howler, in a 3-0 win in Nizhny Novgorod on Thursday.

Argentina will enter its final match against Nigeria on the outskirts of the knockout rounds regardless of how Nigeria-Iceland ends on Friday.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Ivan Perisic forced a big save out of Wily Caballero for an early Croatia corner kick that came to nothing.

Messi had a chance stopped inside of 10 minutes, then started a play that Dejan Lovren blocked for a corner in the 13th.

Enzo Perez missed an open goal off a poor Croatia giveaway in the 30th minute.

There were a pair of fouls not out of place on a red card lowlight reel, one for each team, but neither resulting in a sending off.

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Croatia took the lead through Caballero’s gaffe and Rebic’s smash in the 54th.

Argentina nearly answered moments later. After a mazy Messi dribble, Argentina regained possession in the 64th minute, spearheaded by a Gonzalo Higuain run that led to a corner.

Croatia came close to making it 2-0, as Mario Mandzukic couldn’t turn a flick on frame and instead saw it glide into the outside of the goal.

Then Modric put the match to bed as the clock hit 80, an absolute beauty. Another huge defensive mistake allowed Mateo Kovacic to cue up Rakitic for the third.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

WATCH: Caballero blunder punished as Rebic rip puts Argentina on ropes

AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin
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Willy Caballero has made one of the bigger blunders in recent World Cup history.

His Argentina side needs at least a point from Thursday’s match-up with Croatia, and the match remained scoreless into halftime.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

But 10 minutes after the break, Caballero flubbed a clearance in a big way.

The Argentina goalkeeper then could only watch as Ante Rebic kept his composure to blast a side volley into the goal.

It was a fine finish, to be sure, but not possible without such a terrible gaffe.