New World Cup cycle, new faces?
News of midfielder Jermaine Jones' convoluted journey to the New England Revolution and keeper Tim Howard's hiatus from the American squad have dominated the headlines regarding U.S. national teamers in recent days.
But it's hard to say how much of a role -- if any -- the two veterans will play for coach Jurgen Klinsmann's side between now and the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
We know Howard, 35, won't be on Klinsmann's roster for next month's match in the Czech Republic, the Yanks' first since being eliminated by Belgium in the round of 16 in Brazil. And the odds are against the 32-year-old Jones being there; he hasn't played a minute since that 2-1 extra-time loss to the Belgians on July 1 in Salvador.
The same goes for several other veterans. At Klinsmann's postmortem press conference a day after the 2014 cycle ended, the coach made it clear that the first few months of the new cycle would provide an opportunity for younger, less experienced players. That should help explain why our first post-Brazil Hot List -- which over the next four years will track the week-by-week progress of 2018 hopefuls with their clubs at home and abroad -- leans heavily toward long shots or those regulars who figure to still be in the mix that far down the road.
That's why Clint Dempsey's emphatic 70-yard sprint and finish for the Seattle Sounders in Portland on Sunday doesn't get him a spot below, even though few would bet against Deuce sticking around for at least another couple years. (By the way, it's worth noting that Germany's Miroslav Klose set the all-time World Cup goals record last month at age 36 -- the same age Dempsey would be in Russia.)
And that's not to say things won't begin to skew toward the here and now as next summer's Gold Cup approaches. But for now, with a new beginning for the U.S. team at hand, this is as good a place to start as any.
Brad Guzan, G, Aston Villa (England)
Why he's here: Two days after longtime U.S. No. 1 Howard announced his yearlong break from international duty, Guzan picked up his second consecutive clean sheet for Villa, making him the lone Premier League starter not to have conceded a goal two games into the new season.
What this means: Guzan has a huge opportunity to make the U.S. job his over the next 12 months. If he plays well, the position will be his to lose even if Howard remains atop of his game upon his return.
Eric Lichaj, D, Nottingham Forest (England)
Why he's here: The Illinois native lined up at left back for the final 45 minutes of Saturday's 4-0 win over Reading.
What this means: Lichaj has made just two substitute appearances under Klinsmann over the last three-plus years. But DaMarcus Beasley, the Yanks' starting left back in Brazil, will be 36 four years from now and the position is wide open behind him. That means Lichaj -- just 25 -- could get more looks this cycle, especially if Championship-leading Forest go on to secure Premier League promotion next spring.
Julian Green, F, Bayern Munich (Germany)
Why he's here: A week after being left off Bayern's roster for their German Super Cup loss to Borussia Dortmund, Green made the bench for Friday's Bundesliga opener against Wolfsburg -- something the young attacker managed just once in 34 league games last season.
What this means: Being an unused sub is a sign of progress for Green, but at some point he must actually play. While the 19-year-old appears destined to stay with Bayern beyond next week's transfer deadline, he'll have to reconsider a loan in January if he's not getting minutes by Germany's winter break.
Shawn Parker, F, Augsburg (Germany)
Why he's here: The 21-year-old German-American made his 28th career Bundesliga appearance Sunday in his club's 2-1, season-opening loss at Hoffenheim.
What this means: Keep an eye on Parker, a German youth international who spent the last two seasons with Mainz before moving to Augsburg this summer. Klinsmann sure is, and given the competition for places with Germany's World Cup-winning senior team, don't be surprised if Parker becomes the next dual-national successfully recruited by the U.S. coach.
Matt Besler, D, Sporting Kansas City (MLS)
Why he's here: Besler, one of the U.S. team's top performers in Brazil, was subpar for the second time in three MLS games Saturday, a 3-0 home loss to D.C. United.
What this means: Besler's eventful summer -- he also signed a long-term contract extension last month -- may finally be catching up to him. Let's see how he responds in the coming weeks.
John Brooks, D, Hertha Berlin (Germany)
Why he's here: As a Bundesliga rookie, Brooks started more than half the games he was available for last season. But despite his star cameo for the U.S. in Brazil, the 21-year-old stayed on the bench for Saturday's 2-2 draw with Werder Bremen.
What this means: Not much. Not yet, anyway. While the arrival of veteran Dutch center back Johnny Heitinga could eat into Brooks' minutes this season, it's important to note that Brooks was the only Hertha defender at the World Cup, and thus earned an extended vacation. And the fact that his team blew a two-goal lead against Bremen can't hurt his odds of regaining his spot.
Timmy Chandler, D, Eintracht Frankfurt (Germany)
Why he's here: Although he was one of Thomas Schaaf's first signings after the new Eintracht manager arrived in May, Chandler didn't feature in Saturday's 1-0, season-opening win over Freiburg.
What this means: Some early struggles are forgivable when breaking into an established team. And the 24-year-old's athleticism, experience and ability to play either full-back position will make him an asset for Klinsmann, who is expected to pick a mostly European-based squad for the Sept. 3 Czech friendly. That means Chandler could get an invite even if he sits again this weekend.
Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN.