Who will be the breakout U.S. national team stars in 2017?
In many ways, Bruce Arena's version of the United States men's national team will look similar to the squad that took the field during 2016. Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Fabian Johnson, Christian Pulisic and a few others are surefire starters, while another handful of players are locks to make the game-day roster. But that doesn't mean there's not room for new faces or changes to the depth chart.
Here are 10 players who could dramatically improve their national team standing in 2017.
The Newcomers: Players who have never been to a senior national team camp but who will make a strong case to be part of the 2018 World Cup roster
Walker Zimmerman, DF, FC Dallas: The impressive center-back teamed with Matt Hedges to produce one of Major League Soccer's stoutest defenses in 2016. The 6-foot-3 23-year-old hasn't had much luck with American youth teams, getting cut from the 2013 U-20 team and earning a single cap with the U-23s. But Arena called him into the January camp, and he should see plenty of time.
"He has a chance and should be heavily motivated to seize the moment," said Brian Sciaretta, a writer for The New York Times and American Soccer Now. "He's a good defender and his aerial game can also be a nice offensive weapon on set pieces." With Geoff Cameron out with an undisclosed knee issue and John Brooks always an injury risk, the center-back situation isn't exactly settled.
Kekuta Manneh, FW, Vancouver Whitecaps: The former Gambian U-20 earned his citizenship this month and is in camp with the U.S., but he's still not eligible to suit up for the Americans and won't play against Serbia and Jamaica. When he finally does, watch out.
"He brings something different from the wing -- raw speed, both with and without the ball -- than what we've had in the last few years, and he's progressively improved at completing plays," said Matt Doyle, MLSSoccer.com's "Armchair Analyst." "Nobody's going to mistake him for Landon Donovan in terms of his vision, but he's a better passer than most realize and is always goal dangerous when he can cut inside."
Jorge Villafana, DF, Santos Laguna: The one-time winner of reality show Sueño MLS played for Chivas USA and the Portland Timbers before moving to Santos Laguna last year. He's not young, but at 27, he still has plenty of good years ahead of him and plays left-back, a position the red, white and blue can never seem to get right. While Arena made finding full-backs a priority of the January camp and Villafana didn't get a call, he should get his chance in the near future if he continues to put in good shifts in Liga MX.
Andrew Carleton, MF, Atlanta United: A deep cut from MLSSoccer.com's Doyle on the 16-year-old Atlanta United Homegrown Player signing: "I'll pretend that Andrew Carleton takes a match and turns MLS into a bonfire this season to the extent that he's impossible to ignore. I put the chance of that happening at about 2 percent, however." So you're saying there's a chance...
The Game Day Roster: Players with fewer than five caps who will become a regular part of the rotation in 2017
Kellyn Acosta, DF, FC Dallas: The FCD player starred at every level of the U.S. youth system and appeared four times under Jurgen Klinsmann. The former American coach, however, saw him as a left back, which is neither a position he plays with his club side nor one that suits his skill set. In Arena's American team, Acosta should get a shot as a defensive midfielder. He'll have competition from Dax McCarty, Danny Williams, Wil Trapp, and others, but he's only 21, keeps improving and has the ability and the mindset to fit into the larger picture. If nothing else, Acosta will push to be a Gold Cup starter.
Emerson Hyndman, MF, Rangers: The grandson of coaching legend Schellas Hyndman debuted for the U.S. senior team in 2014 when he was 18. He captained the U-20 squad at the 2015 World Cup but struggled to find time at Fulham before transferring to Bournemouth in June. That didn't work out either; now he's on loan to Rangers in Scotland, a step down in competition but a fresh start and an opportunity to get on the field.
"He can use his time in Scotland to improve on his physical prowess and get enough game reps to force his way into the conversation," said TopDrawerSoccer's Travis Clark. Hyndman is creative and silky smooth, a combination that's often lacking in the American player pool.
Cameron Carter-Vickers, DF, Tottenham: The center-back prospect just turned 19 but played well for Tottenham in a recent FA Cup match against Aston Villa. He's already a member of the Spurs first team, although he's buried behind Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld and Eric Dier. Those players, however, are excellent mentors (especially the two Belgians) and Carter-Vickers impressed during his stint with the U.S. senior team in November. He's big, bold and unafraid to mix it up. His debut is coming sooner rather than later.
The First Team: Players who have been fringe guys but who will become a starter in 2017
Darlington Nagbe, MF, Portland: The Timbers midfielder showed great promise but never clicked with Klinsmann. Expect a new Nagbe in 2017. "If you put him at right midfield in the 4-4-2 that Bruce usually plays, you have a guy who'll help you keep your shape defensively, help you keep possession against teams that play three in central midfield and a guy who gives you a distinct skill set in terms of advancing the ball into the attacking third," Doyle says. Sold.
Juan Agudelo, FW, New England Revolution: If it feels like we've been talking about the New England Revolution forward for a decade, that's because we almost have. He played for the New York Red Bulls at 16 and first scored for the U.S. when he was 18. When the 24-year-old plays well, there's no one in the player pool with his inventiveness and confidence.
"He can be brilliant when he's on his game, combining athleticism and skill that few players have," says Sciaretta. The question is whether a newfound maturity and poise can lead to a run of form that lasts longer than a few months before it disappears again.
Graham Zusi, MF, Sporting Kansas City: This is a bit of a cheat, since the SKC player has 42 caps to his name, but Zusi's national team career looked to be on the wane until Arena brought him into camp with an eye moving the uber-fit 30-year-old to right-back. While DeAndre Yedlin has been the starter for much of the past few years, it's easy to see Zusi making that position his since he has the pace, work rate and crossing ability to succeed. The former Central Florida Kraze star could have one more successful national team stint in him yet.
Noah Davis is a Brooklyn-based correspondent for ESPN FC and deputy editor at American Soccer Now. Twitter: @Noahedavis.