Do you like friendlies? If so, this is the place for you. Our long national nightmare is just beginning. The failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup represents not just abject failure and deep humiliation for the program, but it's also a lost opportunity to generate fans and revenue for the sport domestically. It is, tragically, a lost World Cup for Christian Pulisic. From October 2017 to June 2019, the USMNT will have zero competitive games, which I believe is the longest such period since the mid-1980s. Big Questions 1. Manager Who will replace Bruce Arena and his deeply tarnished legacy? The first step is to name an interim manager, which the USSF is expected to do this week or the next. All signs point toward Tab Ramos, who is currently the U20 manager and Youth Technical Director. Ramos is an uninspiring but acceptable choice, given that the pool of reasonable choices for a 9-10 month interim gig is probably not large. Though Ramos has a questionable track record in tactics and roster selection with the U20s over the last three cycles, he does know the pool well, especially the group of young players who should be the immediate focus on the program. One would hope that the USSF will wait until summer 2018 to make a permanent appointment. Following the World Cup, the pool of available managers coming off club and country jobs should be at its largest. 2. President Sunil Gulati has been USSF President since 2006 and seems likely to run for a fourth and final term in February. (The USSF has instituted term limits, but Gulati gets one more grandfathered term if he wins.) Gulati has overseen significant growth in revenue and has done a lot to grow the game over the years. However, his strengths lie on the business side of the game, not on the soccer side of the game. This would not be a problem if he were able to effectively delegate soccer decisions to capable lieutenants, but too many USSF hires at senior and youth levels have been lackluster. There is a clear lack of accountability within the USSF and Gulati's comments after the T&T catastrophe make his unsuitability for the job glaringly obvious. After running unopposed in the past, Gulati has challengers, but it's not yet clear if any of them can muster much support among the voters that count. 3. Youth Development The failure to qualify for the WC is a huge indictment of player development in the US and this merits a heavy doses of introspection and analysis and, ultimately, the formulation of a clear plan for the future. I think many things contributed to the failure of the USMNT, but one major issue is the general suckitude of the 1990-1994 age cohort, which has produced remarkably few NT caliber players: Nagbe (90), Wood (92), Yedlin (93), Morris (94) is simply not enough. There is strong evidence that the next generation of players will be significantly better. Christian Pulisic probably single handedly makes the 95-99 cohort better than the 90-94s. The 95/96 and 97/98 cohorts both reached the quarterfinals at their respective U20 World Cups [the latter without Pulisic, I might add]. The 00 cohort just reached the quarterfinals at the U17 WC and has the opportunity to go further. Success at youth WCs is not a guarantee of anything, but it's an indicator. The YNT results of the 90-94 cohort were poor across the board, which foreshadowed the crappiness of that generation. Nonetheless, it would be a big mistake to point to some nice U20 and U17 results and conclude that nothing needs to be done. A return to pre-90-94 levels of production would certainly be an improvement, but without further improvement we'd be back to the WC-R16-hoping-to-luck-into-the-QF sort of place. We should have higher ambitions. A few thoughts: a) The level of youth coaching across the board needs to improve across the board, from 6-18. The USSF can help this by reducing the cost of their coaching licenses, rather than treating them like a revenue generating opportunity. b) Pay-to-play is an issue, but it's not going to go away any time soon. Nearly all MLS academies are fully funded and many big Development Academy (DA) clubs offer scholarships. However, it's a big country and that's not enough. Since the USSF is now the gatekeeper for elite boys and girls soccer in this country via the Development Academy, the USSF can play a role in reducing the impact of pay-to-play. The ever-expanding DA should find ways to reduce travel costs and the USSF should increase the number of domestic scouts to try to ensure that fewer good players fall through the cracks. c) Going abroad is often an option for top players, but it's not as simple as some people make it sound. Players can't move abroad until they turn 18, which is very late in the development process. Players with a passport from an EU country can move to an EU country at 16, which helps on the margins, but most developmental years still occur in the US. Moving to a foreign country where you don't know the language or culture can also be tough on teenagers, to the point where it has a detrimental effect on their development. It's important to pick a club that knows what it is doing and can support the player in various ways. d) MLS has a very important role to play in all this. Pro clubs drive development in every country and it has to be the case here, too. MLS academies are increasingly magnets for domestic talent and many now have the infrastructure that allows them to recruit nationally. For example, in the past year, SKC has signed two kids from North Carolina and one from Tennessee to professional contracts after they spent some time in SKC's academy. MLS clubs need to fine-tune the developmental ladder between the U19 team and the MLS team. About half the league have USL franchises now and the number of USL minutes going to U20 American players nearly doubled in 2017. Still, too many clubs seem a bit too reticent to trust youth players and opt for foreign signings instead. Investment is good, but you need to have a development culture and development mentality at your club as well. MLS clubs can also do more to invest in grassroots youth soccer in their communities. Making improvements in the age 6-12 bracket will produce a much more robust pipeline of talent heading into the DA, which starts at the U12 level. Does anybody know of any adult pros with great technique who didn't already have well above average technique by age 12? I bet the number is very small. Much of this stuff needs to be worked out by the individual clubs, but there are concrete steps MLS HQ can take as well. Give clubs more salary cap space for academy products and let clubs keep 100% of transfer fees for academy products. e) MLS should be more open to selling young domestic prospects. The more young players go abroad and flourish, the less the league will be treated as a bargain bin in the transfer market as MLS products establish their value. It also sends the right message to young players, many of whom are bypassing the league to go straight to Europe. It is a win for everyone if the best young players can sign with MLS teams at a young age (before they are old enough to go abroad anyway), develop, and be sold on. It's important that MLS clubs continue to invest in development, so if they can get a piece of the action as a player is sold without hindering the player's development, that's ideal. f) Okay, @soxfan121 - no more in-their-prime-with-legit-options-abroad players going to MLS. The Player Pool The missing 90-94 generation is very small, which is a big reason why our current player pool is so old. The missing generation is going to remain missing, so there's going to be a tremendous amount of turnover this cycle. Whether they're good or bad, it's almost certain that our squad in 2022 will be MUCH younger. Here's our current player pool with ages as of 6/1/22 GK Tim Howard (43) Nick Rimando (42) Brad Guzan (37) It's time for a complete reboot. Howard was a shell of his former self at age 37, anyone want to take bets on how good Guzan will be in five years? Bill Hamid (31) is an option, though he is very injury-prone for a GK and is inconsistent despite being capable of the spectacular. Ethan Horvath (26), Jesse Gonzalez (27), Zack Steffen (27), and Alex Bono (28) currently look like the best bets. All have shown promise, but are inconsistent, and I'll be damned if I can figure out how to predict which GKs will gain that last bit of reliability. RB Graham Zusi (35) Timothy Chandler (32) DeAndre Yedlin (28) Yedlin is one of the few incumbents who is a good bet to remain a starter in 2022. Chandler won't be ancient, but I doubt he will play much of a role in the future. It's good that Yedlin will stick around because there aren't any slam dunk right back prospects in the pipeline. There are a trio of 98s who could be interesting, but also could be nothing as they haven't proved anything against adults yet. The U17s have a couple of right backs who look good, Dest and Lindsey, but they are a long way away. I liked Desevio Payne (26) in the 2015 U20 WC, but he just can't stay healthy. I didn't like Shaq Moore (25), but somehow he's making the bench for a La Liga club now. If we went to a formation with wingbacks, Arriola (27) might be an option. Tyler Adams (23) has been playing really well at RWB for NYRB, but may be a CM or DM long term. CB Geoff Cameron (36) Matt Besler (35) Tim Ream (34) Omar Gonzalez (33) John Brooks (29) Brooks will be the only holdover from the current group of CBs. Hopefully his endless minor injuries don't take a toll by age 29. But in any case, I'm bullish about our group of CB prospects. Matt Miazga (26) is pretty solid and could still improve. Erik Palmer-Brown (25) is heading to Man City this winter and then on loan somewhere. Cameron Carter-Vickers (24) is doing well on loan in the Championship. Justen Glad (25) already has over 50 pro appearances and is a leader for his team. There are a few other guys of a similar age to Brooks who might come in useful, depending on how the next few years go. Walker Zimmerman (29) and Tim Parker (29), but both probably wouldn't be more than depth. LB DaMarcus Beasley (40) Jorge Villafaña (32) Are we sure DMB won't still be around? Okay, the end is nigh for him and I wouldn't count on Villafaña being an NT-level player in 2022 either. As usual, LB looks to be a problem spot. A few options include Chicago's Brandon Vincent (28), RSL's Danny Acosta (24), and Portland's Marco Farfan (23). I'm not sure of Vincent's upside, but he's played well in MLS this year and I expect him to get a look given the paucity of options. Acosta was something of a whipping boy during the last U20 cycle, but perhaps everyone was too hard on him. He had recently converted to LB from DM and he's shown improvement this season. Farfan looked good early but has been hurt for much of the year. Like Acosta, he has a long way to go. CM/DM Alejandro Bedoya (35) Dax McCarty (35) Michael Bradley (34) Kellyn Acosta (26) Yet another part of the field due for a major rebuild. Like with CB, there's a lot of young firepower on the way up. I've generously not crossed off Bradley for 2022, though I think he will be very hard pressed to make it and in fact could become a bench player quite soon (though we should be testing new options anyway). Acosta is part of the new wave and I expect Seattle's Cristian Roldan (27) to get a chance now, too. Maybe Marco Delgado (27) of Toronto. The biggest names at the moment, though, are Schalke's Weston McKennie (23) who seems to be very highly regarded at his club, where he has become a rotational starter this season. Jonathan Gonzalez (23) has broken out in a big way for Monterrey this season, where he's been an important starter at DM for the first team. He should be called to the NT ASAP. Tyler Adams (23) has improved by leaps and bounds for NYRB this season, though he's been playing right wingback instead of midfield lately. Chris Durkin (22) was very impressive at DM for the U17s when I watched him against Ghana. Keaton Parks (24) is an interesting player - big, but slow, with surprisingly good feet - who was recently picked up by Benfica B. Gedion Zelalem (25) is out for a while with a torn ACL and could turn into something, although his star has fallen. AM Benny Feilhaber (37) Fabian Johnson (34) Darlington Nagbe (31) Gyasi Zardes (30) Paul Arriola (27) Christian Pulisic (23) Pulisic &.....someone, hopefully. I'm crossing off FJ; I just don't see him being good enough at age 34 and he's already publicly pondered international retirement. It's possible he's played his last US game as it is. I'm pulling the plug on Zardes. Arriola looks like a solid role player, though he'll never be a star for the US. Nagbe's enigmatic ways could stick around for a while, but he's a vulnerable incumbent. It's possible that Kelyn Rowe (30) and especially Sebastian Lletget (29) will get more chances. Maybe Kenny Saeif (28) at LM or LB. Maybe Lynden Gooch (26), though I think he's limited. Emerson Hyndman (26) still has time to emerge as a useful player. Tommy Thompson (26) is a fun, but athletically limited player. There's a whole bunch of 19-20 year olds whose futures will be clearer in a year or so including NYCFC's Jonathan Lewis (24), RSL's Brooks Lennon (24), Fiorentina's Josh Perez (24), and Chicago's Djordje Mihailovic (23). The group of 17-18 year olds looks like it could be a bit stronger (if you set aside Pulisic) -- Atlanta's Andrew Carleton (21) looked great for the U17s today, Schalke's Nick Taitague (23) has been building steam for their U19s, Dallas' Paxton Pomykal (22) and Jesus Ferreira (21) are highly regarded. FW Chris Wondolowski (39) Clint Dempsey (39) Jozy Altidore (32) Bobby Wood (29) Juan Agudelo (29) Jordan Morris (27) Fun fact: Wondo never actually appeared in a single WC qualifier. We have five more prime years of Bobby Wood. Jozy isn't a lock for 2022, but he won't be too old to be useful. Agudelo is a waste of talent who won't make it. It's hard to envision Morris as a starter, but his speed makes him handy off the bench. Aron Johannsson (31) won't be ancient if he gets his career back on track. Looking to younger age groups, Josh Sargent (22) is perhaps the most interesting player. Haji Wright (24) is playing on loan in the 2.Bundesliga right now from Schalke. Timothy Weah (22) just scored a hat trick against Paraguay today and scores consistently for PSG youth teams. Not sure he's PSG quality, but I think he could be good. We can still hold out hope for Julian Green (26), I guess. Maybe on wing as well. The Unknown When you are five years out, even U17s will be in their young 20s. If we are blessed with another Pulisic who would be age 19 at the 2022 WC, that player is 14 or 15 years old right now. There is a long time for players to come out of the woodwork. Four months ago, Jonathan Gonzalez was just a kid who had gotten a few YNT call ups and played in U20 qualifiers. Now, he is getting the recruitment pitch from Mexico and should be in line for a USMNT call up in November.