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Rudy Calderon / MLSsoccer.com

Armchair Analyst: The USMNT road ahead & more from the TwitBag

The TwitBag arrives a little earlier this week since I'll be treating Wednesday's five games (!!!) as a full slate with a recap going up on Thursday.

So into the bag we go...

Justin Meram has been the best winger in MLS this year, and an MVP candidate. For those who don't know, he is US-born and bred, but represents Iraq internationally and has since November, 2014, when he was cap-tied.

It is hard to say there was one perfect time to cap him that Jurgen Klinsmann missed out on, because Meram was very much a late bloomer. He didn't play much as a pro until the second half of the 2013 season, when he was already 24, and his breakout year came in 2014 when he had eight goals and four assists. You could argue that Klinsmann should've capped him in the camp immediately after that summer's World Cup since that's a great time to start looking at "next cycle" players, but Meram had put together only about four months of really excellent attacking play at that point. Capping him then would've been a stretch.

No, the failure with Meram was the old developmental path in the US as a whole. He wasn't identified as a kid, he wasn't recruited by any top colleges until he'd torn up the JuCo ranks, and when he finally made it to MLS, Robert Warzycha kept him on the bench for three years before Gregg Berhalter finally took over in Columbus and realized what a talent he had on hand.

This is both a bad story (our system, which has improved exponentially in the decade since Meram was a youth player, should nonetheless not have failed to identity such a talent) and a good story (Meram didn't slip through the cracks entirely – college soccer did, eventually, catch him).

If I wasn't confident that scouting, ID and development at the youth and USL levels hadn't improved so much in the past decade, I'd be a lot more upset – as a USMNT fan – about this story than I am. But it has improved, and will continue to do so, and thus I don't think there will be all that many Meram-type stories in the future.

Still would be nice to have him as part of the attacking corps, though.

The majority of the current U-20 roster – 13 of the 21 players – came through MLS academies or are on full MLS rosters, and the numbers were similar for the US U-17s that qualified for the World Cup. Both those teams played good soccer (though I'd hesitate to call the U-20s "good and entertaining" soccer).

This is an example of that progress I mentioned above. U.S. Soccer as a whole doesn't have enough scouts, but MLS teams and the USSDA in general has done a much better job of identifying and developing talent that, in the past, would've gone unseen.

But this is still like 30 or 35 percent efficiency for the US as a whole. There needs to be another decade of both ground-up and top-down growth in order to get a feel for what development here really can be.

I'll be pretty stunned if any of these guys make it. It's a very talented group, but they have very talented veterans in front of them and it's very late in the cycle. You can look forward to seeing a bunch of them in 2022.

Maybe! And for what it's worth it looks like we'll get a healthy and rested Fabian Johnson for next month's qualifiers, while a healthy and rested Darlington Nagbe may not be in the cards.

Nagbe has been very good this year, and I thought he was good for the USMNT in March. He has the talent of not just a starter, but a difference-maker at the international level. I hope he's on the field.

But it's fair to say that while he has the talent of a difference-maker he's yet to really be that in games that matter, and his club form has come-and-gone over the last six seasons. So it's not like he's indispensable, and if that means Bruce Arena starts Fabian Johnson or someone else over him... I can probably live with it.

Three will probably do it as long as Panama get drilled at Costa Rica and Honduras lose both their games (at Mexico, at Panama). That would create real separation between the top four (Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, USA) and the bottom two (Honduras and Trinidad & Tobago), which would be good enough heading into the final four games of the Hexagonal.

Four points would be superb, and obviously six would rearrange expectations for the next 14 months pretty acutely.

Regardless, I wouldn't expect all that much experimentation from Arena this summer.

He's one of the new-ish faces who I'd expect to figure into Arena's plans, partially because he's very good and partially because many of the other 'keepers in the pool – Nick Rimando, David Bingham, Bill Hamid – are suffering through injury or loss of form or both.

For what it's worth I expect Tim Howard and Brad Guzan to remain the Nos. 1 & 2 through next year's World Cup, and I can't bring myself to be overly concerned about the 'keeper spot despite both being on the wrong side of 30.

Show up on time and stay healthy. As far as I can tell it's his job to lose, which is as it should be.

I don't think so. Dax McCarty is probably at this point the top back-up defensive midfielder, cover for the ever-present Michael Bradley (though they could play together in a double pivot as well, if required). Kellyn Acosta is decidedly not a d-mid; rather, he's a box-to-box workhorse who functions as the odd-man-in on attack and can drop back to add numbers defensively as well.

Acosta should be on the roster for next month's qualifiers, and I wouldn't be shocked if he starts. He'd be competing for time with the likes of Alejandro Bedoya, and perhaps Danny Williams and Alfredo Morales, and – in certain formations, like the 4-3-1-2 the US used vs. Honduras – Nagbe and Johnson.

There's also the potential return from injury by Jermaine Jones, but I'll go ahead and admit I have no idea how he'd figure into the picture.

Perry Kitchen will get a call for the Gold Cup, I'd imagine, but he hasn't been very convincing for his club over the last six months.

Emerson Hyndman is one for the 2022 cycle because it's clear, at this point, he's not ready to handle fast or physical play. He got bossed and subbed twice against Celtic and struggled badly against the likes of Kilmarnock. When games were flowing and open – basically, when Rangers were dominating play – he was wonderful to watch. But World Cup qualifiers and the World Cup itself are rarely flowing and open, right?

Hopefully he grows into his body a little bit and surprises me by making Bournemouth's squad come August. But there's a reason they loaned him out in the first place.

Matt Miazga is a guy I think we could very well see this summer, and hope we do. I think his upside is as high as any CB in the pool and wouldn't be utterly shocked if he breaks through and claims a starting job over the next year.

But as the above question implies, the first thing he has to do is find a club where he'll start, and it's not going to be Chelsea. Miazga's not that good yet, so my hope is that he gets bought by either A) one of the three big Eredivisie clubs (Feyenoord, PSV and Ajax) or a mid-table Bundesliga/Serie A/La Liga club that sees him as a long-term building block.

Five years of that, and then perhaps he'll go back to Chelsea.


That's all I've got for today. I'll bring the TwitBag back next week, and will have World Cup qualifier roster predictions as well.

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