Scouting Ventura Alvarado, Gyasi Zardes, Greg Garza
Despite some mixed results in 2015, the U.S. national team has shown glimpses of its future in giving minutes to some exciting young prospects Ventura Alvarado, Gyasi Zardes and Greg Garza. To get an assessment of their potential, ESPN FC reached out to a scout who works for a UEFA Champions League team in one of Europe's top leagues.
Club: Club America
Strengths: Alvarado possesses a good technical level, as well as range in his passing. He's comfortable getting himself on the ball and often opts to pass to more creative players dropping in to get the ball.
That said, he has shown he is capable of hitting the big diagonals himself to kickstart counters and catch other teams on the break. He's quite good in the air because of his size (6 feet tall) and jumping ability, and he can be a threat in the opposition's box as well as a solid option on defensive set pieces.
His awareness in recovery is good and leads to many clearances and plays being broken up.
Weaknesses: He can be a bit eager at times defensively, getting too tight or overcommitting himself when he's too late arriving to the play. This can often lead to fouls and free-kicks in dangerous areas.
He's at times exposed with his one-on-one defending when playing as an outside back and having to deal with tricky players who like to run at him with the ball, whereas he's got a bit more protection and is less likely to deal with a player running straight at him when playing centrally.
Similar to: Thomas Vermaelen -- Both players are versatile in that they can play across the back line and do a good job wherever they are. Central defenders that can shift out to wider areas rarely seem to be the players who push on and get involved routinely in the attack, and that can be said for both Vermaelen and Alvarado. They are both technically adept, possess a solid range of passing and can get the job done defensively.
Current Value: $2 million
Future Value: $5 million
Club: LA Galaxy
Strengths: Big, strong, and powerful, Zardes can score goals but also combines well with his midfield and strikers to create goals as well. At the LA Galaxy, he's developed a nice relationship with Robbie Keane, and the pair will score and create a large number of goals when they are playing together.
He's comfortable checking back and playing with his back to goal, but he's also good getting in behind. His movement off the ball is good and continues to improve. He's dangerous inside the box, and he scored nearly all of his 16 league goals from inside the box the past season, with a mixture of both left and right finishes and headers. He's opportunistic, but his movement is good, and he creates a lot of the chances for himself just by moving into the right areas when he doesn't have the ball.
Weaknesses: His passing can be a bit inconsistent. He'll have moments such as his pass to Clint Dempsey against Panama, when he weights and angles a perfect ball and gives defenders no chance.
However, he'll also cheaply give the ball away in his own half when his team really needs him to hold the ball and up retain possession. At times, he can be a bit more direct and aware of his surroundings. Top strikers are ruthless and have to have that little extra bit of selfishness and confidence about them, and the sooner Zardes realizes he's capable of making things happen on his own, the more dangerous he'll become.
Similar to: Romelu Lukaku -- They've got a lot of tools target men have (strength, ability to hold up the ball, bring others in, aerial prowess), but they can also do stuff on their own and create moments of magic.
While Lukaku is left-footed and Zardes right-footed, they both are capable of scoring with either foot and in the air. They both have the power and size to be utilized up front but also the speed and dynamic nature to be thrown on the wing and still be effective.
Lukaku has consistently been compared to Didier Drogba, and it has taken him a bit of time to really start to establish himself as a consistent threat. At 23, Zardes is two years older, but the striker has potential and will continue to improve with every Galaxy game and national team call-up.
Current Value: $4m
Future Value: $6-10
Club: Club Tijuana
Strengths: Smart, confident and comfortable in possession, Garza has fought hard to become Tijuana's starting left-back and now looks eager to cement his place in the Klinsmann's plans for 2018.
Technically, Garza excels, and his quality in possession allows him to make good decisions when on the ball and join the attack whenever it's on. He's eager to get forward and join the attack and always looks to provide an outlet into space when the time is right in those areas. He's comfortable putting balls into the box and giving the opposition something to deal with from the left hand side.
Weaknesses: He's not the biggest, at 5-foot-8, but that doesn't have to be an issue when he is playing as an outside back, as long as he improves his reading of the game and defensive positioning as play builds in front of him.
He needs to become slightly more patient in one-on-one situations and really make defenders think twice about trying to run past him. At times, he'll have a tendency to ball-watch a little and get sucked into areas he shouldn't, which leaves too much space for opposition wide players and gives his own teammates difficult decisions. That'll only improve as he stays involved with the national team and continues to face tough, intelligent competition globally.
Retaining his place in Tijuana's starting XI will also ensure he becomes more and more consistent. He struggled a bit against Denmark because of the movement and pace of the opposition's attack, but that'll only help build on an already solid base he's set for himself.
Similar to: Leighton Baines -- Both Baines and Garza aren't the biggest players on the pitch, but they are tough, strong defenders who are comfortable on the ball and enjoy going forward. Baines has proven size doesn't have to be an issue, especially when you have towering center backs to deal with aerial threats.
Both players can be used as outside backs or left midfielders, and both players are more than capable of putting in dangerous balls when they are in advanced positions. Baines has had to cope with the pace and strength of the Premier League almost his entire career and has become more accustomed to dealing with fast-moving, powerful wingers and strikers who drift into his areas.
Although Liga MX is quite different from the Premier League in that respect, Garza is learning to deal with quick, tricky wingers on a weekly basis and will continue to face some of the world's best talent when involved with the national team.
Current Value: $1.5 million
Future Value: $3-5 million
Alex Labidou is a General Editor at ESPN FC. He previously worked at Goal.com USA and made appearances on CNN International. Follow Alex on Twitter.