Maryland soccer coach Sasho Cirovski has built a winning program at Maryland, and one that looks poised to feed the United States National Team for years to come. Currently there are two Maryland alumni in the starting eleven for Team USA, Graham Zusi and Omar Gonzalez, who both played prominent roles during the World Cup. Four total Terrapins made the thirty player cut, but two players were left off the twenty three man World Cup roster. While it is early to be looking ahead to the 2018 World Cup, it is worth talking about the potential Terrapins that could be wearing the red, white, and blue in Russia.
A couple of analysts have said that the 2014 World Cup was about gaining experience for the players, and that the USA is poised to have a better squad for the 2018 tournament. This notion was reassured when the United States drew Germany, Portugal, and Ghana in their group for the 2014 World Cup, then powerhouse Belgium in the next round. The core of team USA is young and coach Jurgen Klinsmann had a difficult time selecting a twenty three man roster with the amount of young talent that the United States currently has, so the competition is stiff.
It is a near impossible task to say right now who will be on the twenty man roster heading to Russia in 2018, but we can take a stab at guessing some of the players to watch for. Maryland has a couple of players that could find themselves on that team:
Current USMNT Players:
Omar Gonzalez – While it does feel like forever since The Crew was shouting “O” after an Omar clearance, the LA Galaxy defender is only 25 years old. Gonzalez has been a staple of the USMNT line up and with the inexperience on defense, he is a critical stabilizer for Klinsmann. Omar would be just under 30 years old in 2018, and would be one of the most experienced players at Klinsmann disposal. Barring any major set backs it is fair to say that Omar will be on the roster.
Graham Zusi – The Sporting Kansas City midfielder has exploded onto the scene for the USA team in the past year. With a big 2014 World Cup, Zusi could find himself receiving interest from European teams. If Zusi is able to make the jump from MLS to Europe successfully, then in 2018 he would be one of the top midfielders in the tournament. Even if Zusi stays in the MLS, the midfield combination of him and Michael Bradley would be a veteran and experienced group for Klinsmann. The one concern for Zusi is that he would be 31 years old in 2018, which might cause the team to move in a younger direction or it could be an asset for the team because of his experience.
Zac MacMath – After being selected fifth overall in the 2011 MLS Superdraft, MacMath has become a staple of the Philadelphia Union line up. Currently for his career, Zac has a 1.337 goals against average. USMNT goalie Tim Howard is 35 years old and this is probably his last time on team USA. MacMath has been linked to team USA because of his time on the U-23 team. Zac will have four years to get himself onto the roster, but first he is going to need to hope Philadelphia improves on the pitch or that he is moved to a more competitive team. This is MacMath’s fourth year in the MLS and his record of 28-36-24 is not impressive and could be a concern for Klinsmann.
Zack Steffen – The likely heir to Tim Howard’s throne is the Maryland rising sophomore Steffen. As a freshman Steffen started over junior Keith Cardona and helped lead Maryland to an ACC Championship and NCAA Runner-Up. Steffen had eight shutouts and a 1.14 goal against average in his freshman season. The Pennsylvania product came to College Park with a lot of experience under his belt after playing on team USA’s U-18 and U-20 teams. This experience could place Steffen into the short list of candidates to replace Howard. At 19 years old, Steffen would be 23 in 2018 and could be the USMNT goalkeeper for at least two World Cups. It is likely that Steffen would leave college early if he continues to have the success he did as a freshman, but if he stays all four years at Maryland it will be interesting to see if Klinsmann takes a keeper with little professional experience.
Patrick Mullins – With the United States already moving on from the tenure of Landon Donovan, the front-line for the team is open and inexperienced. Jozy Altidore is young and has been manning the center forward position for the USMNT for years now, but Altidore has been in poor form ahead of the 2014 World Cup and with his injuries in Brazil he could find himself on the chopping block heading in the future should another person emerge. In thirty five games since the 2010 World Cup, Altidore has only scored eight goals, and this past season for Sunderland in the Barclays Premier League he only scored twice.
Mullins, meanwhile, appears to be finding his stride in the MLS after scoring in four straight games in May for the New England Revolution. The two time MAC Herman Trophy winner could be a favorite to take on an attacking role for team USA. Clint Dempsey is currently 31 years old, and is probably playing in his last World Cup this year, which means that at least one starting spot would open for 2018. Klinsmann will be looking for a new striker to take over Dempsey’s spot and possibly Altidore’s, and with Mullins playing in the US he could find himself called up often during the qualification process.
The 2018 World Cup could be a special one for the United States and the University of Maryland. Coach Cirovski has shown the ability to bring a lot of talent to College Park, so there may be players that come through Maryland in the next couple of years that find themselves pushing for a spot in Russia. But right now, the path seems open for Steffen and Mullins to join Zusi and Gonzalez as Maryland alumni representing the United States on the world soccer stage. If Mullins can continue his form and have a successful rookie season, then look for him to begin being called up to team USA in 2015.