Americans are always looking out for the next young "savior" to help elevate the sport stateside, but the key to U.S. success in 2014 may fall on its reliable core of veterans and what roles they take on three years from now.
The face of American soccer, Landon Donovan, is one of them and likely will go down as one of this country's all-time greats -- a debate for another day. Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, Steve Cherundolo, Carlos Bocanegra and Oguchi Onyewu have all contributed, in various capacities, on the last two World Cup teams (for Donovan and Cherundolo, it's three and counting). The question is, how many of these guys will make it to Brazil in 2014?
Barring injuries, all six are favorites to make head coach Bob Bradley's Gold Cup team this summer. Three years from now, however, could be a different story. Below is a breakdown of what these players have done since the 2010 World Cup and their chances of making a difference three years from now.
Landon Donovan, 29, returned to the L.A. Galaxy in the MLS after his successful performance in South Africa, during which he became the country's record-holder for all-time World Cup games played (12) and goals scored (5). I fully expect him to make an impact in Brazil while wearing the captain's armband as well. Donovan will lose a step or two as he ages, but he'll still be plenty quick enough to pose a threat on the attack. He'll be 32 in Brazil and will be playing in his fourth World Cup.
Clint Dempsey, 28, is back with his club team, Fulham FC, in the English Premier League and is enjoying quite a successful campaign with 11 goals in all competitions this year. Dempsey, who like Donovan has split time in the midfield and on the attack, will still be here in 2014 as the youngest of these six "elder" players. He's truly one of the most creative and dynamic players this country has seen, though he doesn't possess the attacking speed of Donovan. Dempsey gets beat up plenty by opposing defenders, but he'll be around in three years and score several more goals along the way. He'll be 31 in Brazil.
Tim Howard, 32, is still the No. 1 goalkeeper for the U.S. and for his EPL squad, Everton, which is once again sitting in the top half of the table. The U.S. has a rich tradition of breeding stellar goalkeepers and if fellow American Brad Friedal has proven, age is only a number. Howard will be 35 in Brazil and, once again, likely will beat out the younger Brad Guzan as Bradley's man between the pipes.
Carlos Bocanegra, 31, still plays in France's top league, but switched teams soon after the World Cup. He now plays for Saint-Etienne after two seasons with Stade Rennais. Bocanegra will go down as one of America's best defenders, playing both centrally and on the left. Though Bocanegra is the current captain, it's no guarantee he'll make the roster in 2014, when he'll be 35. If he's not one of Bradley's men in the middle, and if he continues to struggle with speedy wingers on the left, he could find himself trying to prove himself as a trustworthy defender.
Oguchi Onyewu, 28, also switched clubs after the World Cup. He made headlines for telling European power AC Milan he'd play an extra year for free to make up for the time lost due to a knee injury that sidelined him for most of 2009-10 season. However, Onyewu simply wasn't getting the playing time necessary to further his career and had to move on. He returned to the Dutch league and sees more minutes now for one of the league's top clubs, Twente. Onyewu (pictured above) will be 32 in Brazil, but he's clearly not the player that burst onto the scene about five years ago. Though he's an imposing defender in the middle, you have to wonder if he'll ever return to the form he displayed before his injury.
Steve Cherundolo, 32, is one of the United States' most underrated players of all time. He's started every game of the last two World Cups -- a feat only Donovan has matched. The right back is still captaining Hannover 96 in the Bundesliga. Although the U.S. has a couple of promising defenders waiting to take his spot, he'll probably hold onto it for this summer's Gold Cup. Cherundolo, however, would be 35 in Brazil, and the younger fellas may pass him on the depth chart by then.