Not since Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey were working on opposite flanks in their prime during the 2010 World Cup qualifying cycle have we really seen the U.S. national team boast a dangerous and reliable set of wingers.
That could be about to change — if not in the immediate future, then very soon.
Christian Pulisic's rapid emergence has given the U.S. its most promising attacking wing option in years. Though he's still just 18, he has already shown enough to start being considered a good bet to be a starter when the final round of World Cup qualifying begins in November.
Pulisic is actually just one of a handful of talented young wing options coming up the pipeline, such as Paul Arriola and Brooks Lennon, not to mention Julian Green, who has played his way onto the Bayern Munich first-team roster, even if as a reserve striker.
What makes the winger pool even more interesting is the fact that the U.S. team's best winger may not wind up playing on the wing. Fabian Johnson remains Klinsmann's best midfielder, but he also happens to be Klinsmann's best left back. And with left back having fewer viable options than the left wing, Johnson still looks like a good bet to be starting in the back four rather than midfield when the Americans take on Mexico and Costa Rica in November.
In the latest installment in Goal USA's series on the U.S. player pool depth chart, we take a closer look at Klinsmann's wing options, including the veterans who still have a role to play in the immediate future, and younger options who could develop into difference makers in years to come.
This list doesn't include the likes of Joe Gyau and Josh Gatt, a pair of speedy wingers who would have been a part of such a list two years ago, before injuries left them both sidelined for extended periods of time. Gatt has recently returned to playing with Molde in Norway, while Gyau is continuing to rehab as he moves closer to full action in Borussia Dortmund's setup. They may not be on this list now, but they could very well be back among the top options in the near future.
Also absent from the list are MLS midfielders Lee Nguyen, Darlington Nagbe and Ethan Finlay. Though Nguyen and Nagbe have been used on the wings by Klinsmann in the past, they are more natural central midfielders, while Finlay has taken a bit of a step back after his outstanding 2015 season, which helped earn him a look from Klinsmann in March. All three are still young enough to be options on the flanks, but they will need to step it up to get back into the top 10.
Here is a closer look at how Klinsmann's top wing options stack up at the moment:
A left winger for Borussia Moenchengladbach, Johnson has shown time and time again on the club level that he is very much a capable player on the flanks. He has done the same with the U.S. when played in such a role, but with Klinsmann needing him more as a fullback, we haven't been able to see Johnson's attacking prowess on a consistent basis for the U.S.
Could that be changing? It will depend completely on new fullback options emerging in order to free up Johnson to play a more advanced role. If a player like Timmy Chandler can step up and show themselves to be a dependable starting option at left back, then we could see Klinsmann deploy a Johnson-Pulisic winger tandem, which most U.S. fans are probably already dreaming of.
September was a breakout month for Pulisic, who not only turned 18, but enjoyed a strong run for both club and country which essentially erased the lingering "he's too young" notions that were keeping him from being considered a serious factor for the U.S. Yes, he's young and will have his growing pains, but it's tough to argue that he hasn't shown enough to be considered a strong candidate to start for the U.S. from here on out.
Pulisic's versatility should help give Klinsmann some good options. He's capable of playing on either wing, and though he's not a natural left winger, his speed and ability to cut inside and wreak havoc make him effective there, as he has shown with Borussia Dortmund. He will eventually develop into a central playmaker, but for now, Pulisic is looking like the dynamic winger the U.S. had been lacking since Johnson was forced to play fullback.
A workhorse midfielder who doesn't get nearly the credit he deserves, Bedoya has been an effective wing option, if not a flashy one. His two-way work, and ability to combine well and move well in the flow of the attack has long made him a useful contributor on both ends of the field.
Bedoya has settled into central midfield with the Philadelphia Union and could float into a more central role with the U.S. soon enough, particularly as other wing options develop. But Bedoya could definitely still be a wing starter when World Cup qualifying resumes in November.
Currently sidelined as he recovers from a broken foot, Zardes had established himself as a regular starter on the wing over the previous two years. A natural striker, Zardes was able to use his speed, strength and tireless motor to be an effective flank player, even though he never was quite effective at providing service.
Zardes recently began running again, but it remains unclear whether he can make it all the way back for November's qualifiers. If he can't make it back, he should still be a strong candidate for a flank role in 2017, though Klinsmann might start eyeing him more as forward depth if some younger wingers continue emerging.
The 21-year-old winger earned his first senior national team look in May, and made the most of it by impressing in a friendly against Puerto Rico. He has parlayed that into more looks, including a goal-scoring cameo in September's World Cup qualifying win against Trinidad and Tobago.
Though he has yet to establish himself as a starter on the club level, Arriola has been a regular substitute for Club Tijuana, which is currently in first place in Liga MX. His ability to take defenders on and provide service makes him a good option off the bench for the U.S., and he's still young so we haven't seen the best of him yet.
Don't go forgetting about the Sporting Kansas City winger even though injuries have kept him from showing his best in recent years. When he has been healthy, Zusi has shown that he still can make an impact, as evidenced in March's World Cup qualifying win against Guatemala, and his goal-scoring cameo in the Copa America rout of Costa Rica.
What the 30-year-old winger provides is good service from the wing, and another set-piece/corner-kick option for Klinsmann, and he has shown a penchant for being able to step up in big moments. He will need to stay healthy to keep his place in Klinsmann's pecking order before younger options move past him permanently.
No, Gooch hasn't played for the U.S. senior team yet, but he has earned his first call-up for the current camp and is a good bet to make his debut in the coming days. The Sunderland winger has been a real revelation, earning regular minutes for the English Premier League club and showing himself to be a tenacious and versatile midfielder.
The 20-year-old is still young and a bit raw, but he has already shown good qualities, including speed and a willingness to take on defenders, that could keep him in the picture for both the U.S. and Sunderland.
Funny how fortunes can change. Julian Green has gone from prodigy and World Cup goal-scorer, to national team afterthought struggling to play on the youth national team level, to now on Bayern Munich's first-team squad and back in Klinsmann's squad. Carlo Ancelotti's decision to use Green as a striker has helped rejuvenate his standing with the German champions, though he still isn't getting first-team minutes.
So is he a winger or a striker? Klinsmann hasn't discussed yet whether he's buying into Ancelotti's belief that Green is a more effective striker than winger, but we might find out in the upcoming U.S. friendlies. It should be noted that Green has played almost exclusively on the flank for both the senior national team and youth national teams.
The least well-known of the players on this list, Brooks Lennon may have the most upside of anybody not named Pulisic. The Liverpool youth player has been turning heads since leaving Real Salt Lake's academy and signing with the English powerhouse. The 19-year-old forward-winger has been scoring goals with regularity in the Liverpool youth ranks, and should raise his profile among American fans as a key figure in the next U.S. Under-20 World Cup qualifying cycle.
Though he might develop into more of a forward option, Lennon has shown himself to be an effective wing player, and developing under the watchful eye of Jurgen Klopp is certainly not a bad thing for the teenager.
The German-American winger-forward earned a place in Klinsmann's January camp after having previously impressed on the youth national team level. As a U-23 winger, Kiesewetter was particularly impressive with his speed and service, forming a good partnership with Jordan Morris.
Now with Bundesliga 2 side Fortuna Dusseldorf, Kiesewettter is fighting for regular playing time, though he will have to establish himself as a starter to really move up these rankings.