The intentions of United States manager Jurgen Klinsmann were clear from the day he named the 23-man roster for the 2014 World Cup, which was the next generation of soccer players in the country will have a massive impact on the direction of the national team.
The youth on the roster did provide an impact—and a major one at that—during the inspiring run out of the Group of Death and into the round of 16 in Brazil.
Seattle Sounders right-back DeAndre Yedlin will be the young player whom fans and pundits will talk about most thanks to his daring runs down the right flank and his terrific recovery speed in Brazil.
The first homegrown player from Major League Soccer to be named to a World Cup roster entered three matches as a substitute, and he showed exactly why he will play a massive role over the next four years in the buildup to the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
The other extremely young face in the squad was Julian Green, whose inclusion was controversial due to his lack of experience. When the Americans needed an attacking threat down two goals in extra time against Belgium, Green showed his skills up front with a terrific goal off a pass from Michael Bradley.
If the signs that Yedlin and Green showed in Brazil are any indication of things to come for the next generation of American players, Klinsmann and his staff will have a multitude of athletes to choose from in the roster pool.
It is likely that Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey will not be around for the next World Cup, which leaves two major voids on the pitch for the Yanks.
Replacing Howard will be easier with Brad Guzan waiting in the wings. Although a transfer of power in between the pipes may not happen immediately, the Aston Villa keeper should be in charge in 2018.
Behind Guzan, the Yanks have a plethora of young keepers coming through the ranks in Sean Johnson, Bill Hamid, Cody Cropper, Zac MacMath and others who will challenge for the two backup positions behind him on the 2018 roster.
Dempsey's role as a playmaker in attack will be harder to fill, but the play of Green against Belgium showed us one of the candidates to take over that role.
The one player who draws the most fan interest in a playmaking role for 2018 isn't even eligible for the national team yet. Darlington Nagbe of the Portland Timbers is expected to earn his citizenship by the end of 2015, which means he could make his breakout performance in the red, white and blue at the 2016 Copa America Centenario on home soil.
Another young MLS prospect whose name is brought about in this conversation is Luis Gil, who has come up through the ranks at Real Salt Lake. Gil could easily become the man the Americans rely on in Russia to set up attacking chances.
If there's anything we learned from Kyle Beckerman's showing in Brazil, it is that the Claret and Cobalt can produce players who will perform well in big scenarios.
Mix Diskerud will also be around over the next World Cup cycle, but given his lack of influence in Brazil, he may be best suited for the Gold Cup instead of a second World Cup.
If you add in Josh Gatt, Joe Corona, Benji Joya, Wil Trapp and maybe even Brek Shea, the attacking part of the midfield should be just fine.
Gedion Zelalem could even be in the fold for the Yanks during the next World Cup cycle if the Arsenal youngster decides to commit to play for the Stars and Stripes over Germany like others before him.
As for the players they will be providing with passes up front, Jozy Altidore will still be around at 28, but Klinsmann will have to develop a few other forwards to bolster the attack behind him.
Terrence Boyd and Aron Johannsson, if they continue to score goals at a rapid rate, could earn a legitimate chance to shine in the Gold Cup and Copa America Centenario over the next two years to prove their worth at the position.
Another name to watch out for is Jack McInerney, who was called up to the 2013 Gold Cup squad but did not play a single minute.
In the defensive part of midfield, Michael Bradley will be 30 in 2018, and he should be able to concentrate on his role in that side of the pitch, which could be a concern in the years building up to Russia with Jermaine Jones and Beckerman already aged at 32.
One name that comes to mind to partner with Bradley is Reading's Danny Williams, but he will be 29 in 2018.
In the back four, Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler will still be around for selection, but they will face stiff competition from John Brooks, Shane O'Neill, Will Packwood and possibly Amobi Okugo and Erik Palmer-Brown, who at 17 is starting to break into the ranks at Sporting Kansas City.
Fabian Johnson and Timmy Chandler will still have legs underneath them at 30 and 28, respectively, but they will also be threatened by players such as Yedlin for their spots in Klinsmann's starting 11.
All of these players will have an added chance to grow over the next four years because of the competition they will face in friendlies and on home soil in the 2016 Copa America Centenario, which will be another step forward in the development of the game in the States.
Qualifying for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro will also provide the young Americans with a chance to prove themselves on the international stage, which is something they failed to do in 2012.
Adding to the growing player pool, there will be players such as Beckerman and Brad Davis who find a spot in the national team picture despite their age because of how well they have performed either domestically or abroad.
The other outlying factor in the chase for glory in Russia is the rapid development of young players such as Yedlin by clubs in MLS. There is no doubt that the competition in the domestic league has improved with each year, a fact that can be attributed to the return of national team stars and young players coming up through the development academies.
With so many bright possibilities on the horizon during the next World Cup cycle, the future of American soccer is in good hands, and a challenge for the ultimate prize in 2018 is possible based on the belief Klinsmann has shown in his players over the last three years.
Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.
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