It already looks like 2017 will be a year of big changes on the U.S. men's national team. Jurgen Klinsmann is out as coach and Bruce Arena is in, which will have a ripple effect throughout the player pool. Add in some issues confronting individual players on their own, and there's plenty of Americans worth keeping an eye on this year.
After scoring a goal in a World Cup knockout round in his first USMNT cap, the German-American quickly faded from the American scene due to his lack of playing time at Bayern Munich. But now that he is moving to Stuttgart, he is putting himself in a position where he can earn regular minutes again and break back into the USMNT.
Green was the USMNT’s best player throughout a pair of friendlies in October, but he’s recently been given scant opportunity for club or country against competition that actually matters. He’s a player that can break through if given the chance, and Bruce Arena has said he wants to add depth to the striker ranks.
He’s widely considered the most promising of the USMNT's goalkeeper prospects and the 21-year-old Horvath could find himself cementing a spot as the USMNT’s future goalkeeper. After all, Tim Howard and Brad Guzan, the undisputed top two of the past several years, are not getting any younger. For Horvath, 2017 figures to be a big year.
Horvath is reportedly leaving Molde, where he has been a frequent starter, and will make his way to Club Brugge in Belgium’s top flight. He made his senior debut for the USMNT in October in a solid performance against Cuba, but it’s not clear what Arena thinks of the Americans' goalkeepers yet.
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For 20-year-old Gooch, 2017 figures to be a challenging year. He worked his way into seeing minutes for Sunderland’s senior side, but was injured in early December and is expected to be out until as late as March. The timing of the injury wasn’t great, not just because he had been solid in club play, but because the left-footed midfielder made his senior USMNT debut just a couple months before against New Zealand. He didn’t get a ton of minutes, but he looked solid and added a spark. Now, he needs to claw his way back from injury and try to pick up where he left off.
He was one of the top players to watch in 2016, and 2017 won’t be any different. At just 18, he’s already one of the most exciting attacking players the Americans have – and the USMNT needs all the creativity and dynamism they can get. Klinsmann built the USMNT’s formation vs. Mexico around Pulisic – which wasn’t such a bad idea, even if it didn't pan out for several reasons – but now there’s a new manager in charge. The question is, how will Arena use Pulisic?
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Dempsey's 2016 seemed to be going pretty well. He had been one of the USMNT’s best players at Copa America and his Seattle Sounders seemed to be turning a corner. But then in August, he was unexpectedly sidelined due to an irregular heartbeat and the Sounders later won the MLS Cup without him. How Dempsey’s 2017 will go is anyone’s guess.
Arena said he will be called into January’s camp, but it’s unclear how soon Dempsey would be ready to play, or if he'll play again at all. On top of that, Dempsey will be 34 by the start of the next MLS season, and coming back from seven months off may be easier said than done.
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Everyone was already watching the youngster closely in 2016. He made the controversial decision to turn down an offer at Werder Bremen and play for the Seattle Sounders. He went onto have the best rookie season of any American, leading Seattle to the MLS Cup and proving his critics wrong.
Now, the pressure is on for Morris to continue his good form and break into the USMNT core. Under Klinsmann, he was pretty far back in the striker pool and he didn’t even make the roster for Copa America. But can his stock rise on a Bruce Arena USMNT?
Here is another player who took 2016 by the horns and raised the stakes for 2017. Wood started off the year hitting new milestones for an American in the 2.Bundesliga, having scored the most goals of any American in the top two German leagues, and then he moved to the top flight, where he’s looked like he belongs. In the process, between injuries to Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey, he became a go-to starter for the USMNT.
Now, with a new coach, Altidore in amazing form, players like Jordan Morris on the rise and Dempsey aiming for a return, Wood is going to need to fight to maintain his position. Hamburg, his new club has been struggling and Wood will need to continue to prove himself on a team that isn’t giving him much help.
Coming into 2016, expectations were pretty high for Nagbe. He had an excellent 2015 with the Portland Timbers and the team eventually won the MLS Cup based on Nagbe being used in the right way. He got his first USMNT call-ups, too. But he didn’t continue his form and had a quiet 2016. He continued to get USMNT calls, but Klinsmann hardly played him and he later reportedly rejected a call-up, leading many to speculate his time with the USMNT could end.
Now, with a new coach, Nagbe has a new chance to break through the USMNT. Amid rumors swirling he could go to Celtic, his club situation will be one to watch – whether he stays with the Timbers or moves on, how he bounces back from a subpar 2016 will mean a lot for his national team future.
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Brooks had been not only one of the best centerbacks the USMNT has, but one of the best players, period. And then, well, November happened. He lost his mark on Mexico’s game-winning goal in World Cup qualifying, and then he was stunningly bad in the USMNT’s 4-0 loss to Costa Rica, where he made mistakes on every goal. With Hertha Berlin, Brooks has been battling some injuries that have lingered as he closes out this year, too.
How he bounces back from a horrible end to 2016 will be crucial, because the USMNT can’t afford to lose the Brooks that they saw in Copa America.
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Of the regular starters on the USMNT who could face the most change under new coach Bruce Arena, Bradley ranks near the top. Klinsmann often used him attacking roles that didn’t fit, while Bradley prefers to play in a deep-lying, holding position. Bradley was pretty solid for Toronto FC, but he’s had better club seasons, particularly abroad.
For Bradley, 2017 may just be about sticking to what he does best and knowing his role. That may mean simply getting a single role for the national team, which he never had under Klinsmann.
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