Over-30 club: 4 USMNT veterans who still have value in the next World Cup cycle
More than half of the U.S. men’s national team roster called up for the critical, final 2018 World Cup qualifiers was already 30 years old or over.
While it’s high time for a lean toward youth, a few of the old hands surely retain some ongoing value: they can fill the gaps in weaker positions while helping drill the young players on what it means and what it takes at the national-team level.
All of these guys will be long shots (if they are even still playing) to participate in Qatar 2022 – assuming the U.S. makes it. Rather, these have the highest value to the program while building toward the next World Cup qualifying cycle, which begins in 2020.
Think about two things: first, how goalkeepers continue to mature through their 30s. The sweet spot, when they are old enough to really know but still young enough to perform at high levels, keeps moving north. Italy’s grand master in goal, Gigi Buffon, just retired at 39. Tim Howard held the U.S. No. 1 position at age 38.
Second, think about Nick Rimando’s role over the last several years, as the veteran safeguard against some kind of double-injury situation in goal for the U.S. So, that’s one possible role for Guzan going forward. It’s also quite possible that one of the younger U.S. wanna-be starters just isn’t grabbing the position by the scruff of the neck and claiming it for his own. (Ethan Horvath certainly didn’t look ready against Portugal.) It’s quite possible Guzan, at age 36 as qualifying begins anew, will still be the best choice in U.S. goal.
Technical craft and whip-smart tactics can only go so far. At some point, every team needs some scrap, some old-fashioned elbow grease taken to an international level. Not just for match day, but also in run-up training sessions and camps. So there’s a place for a guy like Bedoya, whose all-around package includes this willingness for toil.
That’s not to say that other, younger players don’t have it. Sebastian Lletget and Tyler Adams, for instance, represent young and a younger midfielders whose bag of skills includes that requisite willingness for hard labor. Then again, they don’t have the international experience that a guy like Bedoya does.
There’s no question that Michael Bradley’s role will change going forward. At 30, he can’t cover the same ground as a younger man, an Adams or a Kellyn Acosta. So Bradley won’t be the automatic starter that he’s been since around 2007.
But a few things won’t change, such as Bradley’s leadership and his steely demeanor. Yes, Bradley was a major piece in the group that just failed, and there can certainly be questions asked of the leadership. Still, there’s plenty that younger guys can learn from a veteran who started in two World Cups, and whose pro career has taken him to the Netherlands, Germany, England and Italy, in addition to Major League Soccer.
He’ll be close to 33 as the next qualifying cycle launches, still perhaps mobile enough to fill in strategically for certain matches. Or, if the younger guys don’t mature, it’s possible Bradley could retain a slightly more prominent role a while longer, a la Daniele De Rossi (now 34) for Italy, Andres Iniesta (33) for Spain or Luka Modric (32) for Croatia.
Sure, there are plenty of up-and-comers among the center-back ranks: Matt Miazga, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Erik Palmer-Brown, Justen Glad and Tommy Redding to name a few. But beyond John Brooks (24 years old), there’s a bit of a gap between young guys with lots of potential and the guys with plenty of stamps on their passport.
The program still needs some gap-fillers; Geoff Cameron could be one, but he’s already 32, which means he’ll be around 35 as the next qualifying cycle heats up.
That makes a guy like Besler pretty valuable going forward. In the perfect world, Brooks stays healthy and, right in his late-20s prime, partners with one of the younger guys to form that central defensive core. But, considering injuries and fickle form, we know perfect-world status can be elusive. So, yeah, keeping a guy like Besler, even into his 30s, assuming good form, seems like a pretty good idea.