MLS academies, for the first time, could lead the way for US at 2018 World Cup

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As the post-mortem continues into the USA’s World Cup exit to Belgium on Tuesday, we can now dig deep and look at where this U.S. national team is heading.

On Wednesday PST’s Nick Mendola did a terrific job at projecting which players would be available and sniffing around the U.S. squad at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, if the USA qualify. Of course.

Something struck me when scrolling through Nick’s list, then comparing it the 2014 World Cup squad. It was startling.

How many MLS Academy products were in Brazil? How many MLS Academy products could be in Russia?

In Brazil, only DeAndre Yedlin flew the flag for Homegrown products in Major League Soccer. The 20-year-old Seattle Sounders stud performed admirably and was arguably one of the big plus points to come out of the tournament for Jurgen Klinsmann and his staff. It proved that within the domestic league, specifically it’s academies, unpolished gems are sitting their ripe and ready to be picked and buffered into valuable jewels.

[ RELATED: Time for U.S. to develop game-changers ]

[ RELATED: Which USMNT players will remain in 2018? ]

With the MLS academy system only just starting to bear fruit after a more structured basis was introduced in 2007, youngsters like Seattle’s Yedlin, Colorado’s Shane O’Neill and many others are now shining in MLS. You only have to look at the athleticism, guile and endeavor of Yedlin to see that something special is happening with MLS clubs who are taking their Homegrown talents seriously.

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O’Neill could be one of the next academy stars to rise through the ranks.

Of course he is just one player but if you look at the list below, there are many more just as capable. The college game (my thoughts on its impact on U.S. soccer is an article for another day…) is still an important part of players development if you look around the current U.S. roster, with 10 of the USA’s 23 players playing at least one season of college soccer during their careers.

However, the growing trend of players either exclusively playing for MLS academies or being tied to that academy even after college and not going through the MLS SuperDraft, is certainly on the rise.

Looking around, Russia 2018 provides the first real opportunity for the MLS academies to provide a large chunk of the pie when it comes to players on Klinsmann’s roster. Players such as Jozy Altidore have come through the ranks of the New York Red Bulls before all of this became well-organized, but this new generation of Homegrown talent could really show what MLS has to offer. Developed at clubs across the league, by coaches who have been sent over especially by MLS to Clarefontaine in France to gain their UEFA coaching badges, these players can be the new breed and shine a new light on American soccer that we’ve never seen before. They will have different ethos and identities drilled into them but most importantly: they will be top caliber talent who have been developed and nurtured in the ever-strengthening professional environment of MLS. Many will still visit the U.S. national team residency program in Bradenton, but their core development will take place with their MLS clubs.

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Where is the next DeAndre Yedlin?

Of course we will still have the likes of Julian Green and other German-American stars who have been developed overseas, plus some wily old veterans who will hopefully steer the ship towards Russia 2018. However the big hope lies within Major League Soccer’s academies. As Klinsmann proved during the 2014 World Cup and throughout the qualifying campaign, he believes in MLS talent and giving youth a chance.

As we mull over the USA’s performance in 2014, let’s also gaze wondrously into the future at what things could look like in 2018. It’s a brave new frontier we are about to enter. Homegrown players from the USA’s domestic league have perhaps never been thought of so highly as they are right now. Get along to you local MLS academy side, follow this link for details, and support the stars of the future.

Below is a list of some MLS academy products, with their academy club and age in 2018 in parenthesis, who could be in and around the squad. Some have been to college, but were deemed Homegrown players, others are purely academy players. Here is the full list of MLS Homegrown player signings, as of April 2014.

Take a gander. Is the future looking bright?

MLS Academy products to watch for 2018 World Cup

Goalkeepers: Bill Hamid (DC United, 27)

Defenders: DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders, 24), Shane O’Neill (Colorado Rapids, 24), Erik Palmer-Brown (Sporting Kansas City, 21), Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas, 23),

Midfielders: Luis Gil (Real Salt Lake, 24), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew, 25), Harrison Shipp (Chicago Fire, 26), Bryan Salazar (Houston Dynamo, 23), Dillon Serna (Colorado Rapids, 24), Scott Caldwell (New England Revolution, 27)

Attackers: Jack McInerney (Philadelphia Union, 25) Juan Agudelo (New York Red Bulls, 25), Jack McBean (LA Galaxy, 23), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy, 26),

Reina faces hearing over links with trio connected to mafia

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ROME (AP) Outgoing Napoli goalkeeper Pepe Reina has been summoned to a hearing at the Italian football federation over his association with people with links to the mafia.

Reina, along with Paolo Cannavaro and Salvatore Aronica, is to face the FIGC’s disciplinary committee after an investigation by Naples’ anti-mafia department.

It is reportedly one of the reasons why Napoli decided not to renew Reina’s contract, with the former Liverpool goalkeeper set to move to AC Milan on a free transfer.

The FIGC says Reina “has had and continues to have inopportune association and friendship with Gabriele Esposito, Francesco Esposito and Giuseppe Esposito.” It adds that that includes holidays and “an exchange of favors.”

Cannavaro, who had two spells with Napoli, retired at Sassuolo last year. Aronica also spent several years at the southern club before joining Palermo in 2013.

Iran names initial squad for World Cup

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TEHRAN, Iran (AP) Jalal Hosseini and Vouria Ghaffouri have both been left off Iran’s provisional 24-man squad for the World Cup.

Iran coach Carlos Queiroz did not say why Hosseini, a Persepolis defender, and Ghaffouri were not included.

There was space for midfielders Masoud Shojaei and Ehsan Hajsafi, however. Both played with Greek club Panionios against Maccabi Tel Aviv in August 2017. Iran does not recognize Israel and its supreme leader has threatened the country in the past. Both Shojaei and Hajsafi missed matches with the national team after the game.

Alireza Jahanbakhsh, a 24-year-old forward who plays in the Netherlands with AZ Alkmaar, is also in the squad, which was announced Sunday.

In the midfield, Queiroz chose Saeid Ezatolahi, although the Amkar Perm player will miss the team’s first World Cup match because he was given a red card in a game against South Korea in qualifying.

Nottingham Forest midfielder Ashkan Dejagah was also chosen.

Goalkeeper Amir Abedzadeh of Portuguese club Maritimo made the squad. His father, Ahmadreza Abedzadeh, was Iran captain and goalkeeper at the 1998 World Cup in France.

Iran will play in Group B at the World Cup with Portugal, Spain and Morocco. The team will play warm-up matches in Turkey and Greece before heading to Russia.

Goalkeepers: Alireza Beiranvand (Persepolis), Rashid Mazaheri (Zob Ahan), Amir Abedzadeh (Maritimo)

Defenders: Ramin Rezaeian (KV Oostende), Mohammad Reza Khanzadeh (Padideh), Morteza Pouraliganji (Al Saad), Pejman Montazeri (Esteghlal), Seyed Majid Hosseini (Esteghlal), Milad Mohammadi (Akhmat Grozny), Roozbeh Cheshmi (Esteghlal)

Midfielders: Saeid Ezatolahi (Amkar Perm), Masoud Shojaei (AEK Athens), Mehdi Torabi (Saipa), Ashkan Dejagah (Nottingham Forest), Omid Ebrahimi (Esteghlal), Ehsan Hajsafi (Olympiakos), Vahid Amiri (Persepolis), Saman Ghoddos (Ostersunds FK), Ali Gholizadeh (Saipa)

Forwards: Alireza Jahanbakhsh (AZ Alkmaar), Karim Ansarifard (Olympiakos), Mahdi Taremi (Al-Gharafa Sports Club), Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan), Reza Ghoochannejhad (SC Heerenveen)

Six Premier Leaguers named to Argentina, but no Icardi

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Argentina’s World Cup roster features a number of the usual suspects, particularly up front, but Serie A’s top goalscorer has been surprisingly left off the list of 23.

[ MORE: Belgium goes to World Cup without Nainggolan ]

Manager Jorge Sampaoli’s squad was made official on Monday, which includes the likes of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain.

The Albiceleste won’t be taking Inter Milan striker Mauro Icardi though, which has raised some questions about the decision.

Icardi led all scorers in Italy’s top flight this season, scoring 29 goals in 34 Serie A matches, while Paulo Dybala edged out the final striker spot in the Argentina squad.

Dybala is teammates with Higuain at Italian giants Juventus.

Meanwhile, six Premier League players were named into the South American nation’s squad, including goalkeepers Sergio Romero (Man United) and Willy Caballero (Chelsea), as well as Nicolas Otamendi (Man City), Marcos Rojo (Man United) and Manuel Lanzini (West Ham).

Men in Blazers POD: FA Cup recap, UCL final preview and more

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Rog and Davo recap a spite-fueled, snear-filled, peak Phil Jones FA Cup Final, preview this weekend’s Champions League tilt between Liverpool and Real Madrid and eulogize Big Sam… gone the opposite of too soon. Plus, World Cup rosters and MLS.

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