For many people around the United States, the World Cup will be the only soccer they watch for the next four years. For others, this is a few of many games they’ll watch this summer alone. Wherever you stand, the World Cup always sheds light on new and exciting talent across the globe. Players have used this tournament to jump-start their careers. In 2014, it was Colombia’s James Rodriguez. At the time, Rodriguez was doing well for himself in French team AS Monaco. However, soon after claiming top scorer at the World Cup, the Colombian saw himself move to soccer giant Real Madrid, the ultimate goal for many players of today’s game. The same can be said of Costa Rica goaltender Keylor Navas. Prior to the 2014 World Cup he saw himself between the posts at Spanish side Levante. In a few quick weeks after his stellar World Cup performance, he too was playing at Real Madrid.
While young players often steal headlines, veterans can use the World Cup to cement their legacy. German striker Miroslav Klose broke the record for most career World Cup goals scored last year as he became a household name throughout the world. Goalkeepers Guillermo Ochoa of Mexico and the United States’ own Tim Howard had their heroics printed in newspapers across the globe. Mario Gotze’s winner in the World Cup final made his name known to many who do not follow soccer religiously. It’s time to look at some candidates who can make a name for themselves in the United States on the sport’s biggest stage.
Antoine Griezmann: France
Current Club: Atletico Madrid (Spain)
Where he currently stands: Griezmann is definitely someone you know if you follow soccer throughout the year. He is one of the top scorers in Spain’s La Liga year in and year out. He’s 27 years old currently, but to the average American fan he is not necessarily someone you would be familiar with.
Why he could breakout: “Breakout” is a relative term here. Griezmann has cemented himself among the world’s elite in Europe and year-round soccer fans know of his talent. However, the French forward is going to have a good opportunity to make his name known to a lot of Americans this summer. He figures to be the leading scorer in a French team that has very high expectations. I would fully expect him to challenge for the Golden Boot (World Cup’s top scorer).
Gabriel Jesus: Brazil
Current Club: Manchester City (England)
Where he currently stands: Gabriel Jesus is just 21 years of age coming off a 13 goal campaign for Premier League winners Manchester City. He is regarded as one of the top prospects in the sport and figures to be a big part of the Manchester City and Brazilian front lines for years to come.
Why he could breakout: Like Griezmann, Jesus is a forward who should handle the bulk of the goal scoring for a Brazil side that expects to play through to the final. Along side Neymar and the rest of the Brazilian talent, Jesus should be able to showcase his skills this summer. Also, Brazil holds a long history of prominent household names in America from Pele to Ronaldo to Ronaldinho to Neymar; and Jesus has every bit of talent to become that next name.
Dries Mertens: Belgium
Current Club: Napoli (Italy)
Where he currently stands: Mertens is a fantastic playmaker for Italian side Napoli. He is a free-flowing player that scores and assists in high numbers. He was a late bloomer at 31 years of age, and has enjoyed his last five seasons in Italy, but it would be interesting to see if Mertens has a spectacular World Cup, what top clubs could look to acquire him.
Why he could breakout: The wealth of attacking and playmaking talent in Belgium is incredible for such a small nation. United States fans may remember the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku who both scored against the Americans last World Cup and also used that game to jump-start their careers. Eden Hazard also features in the team along with younger playmakers Yannick Carrasco and Youri Tielemans. However, it could be Mertens at the center of it all. In reality, the names that are often remembered are those who get on the stat sheet, and you can expect a lot of that from the 31-year-old Belgian.
Current Club: Real Madrid (Spain)
Where he currently stands: Isco is a player who has shown immense promise throughout his young career. At age 26, he is finally getting the playing time at Real Madrid and for Spain to showcase his talents. Left out of the 2014 World Cup squad, Isco is expected to be a regular starter in the Spanish midfield. As with Mertens in Belgium, expect much of Spain’s play to run through this man.
Why he could breakout: The Spanish midfield guard has been held down by years of some of the best to ever do it. However, legends Xavi, and Cesc Fabregas will not be with the team this summer and Andres Iniesta is up in age at 34 years old. This opens up a clear path for Isco to become the next great Spanish midfielder for a country that has enjoyed so much success at the position. It is nearly impossible to get the ball off him and he will spray the ball all over the field with accurate passes in a Spanish team that will look to play a quick passing style of soccer.
Jordan Pickford / Jack Butland / Nick Pope: England
Current Clubs: Everton (England) / Stoke City (England) / Burnley (England)
Where he currently stands: It is really not clear who will win the England starting goalkeeper position. It is very close race between Pickford (24), Butland (25) and Pope (26), all of who have very little national team experience. However, all three have performed exceedingly well for their mid-table Premier League teams and could use a strong World Cup performance to earn a move to a bigger club.
Why he could breakout: Outside of forwards, it is goalies whose heroics are remembered. Guillermo Ochoa played spectacularly in one game for Mexico against Brazil in the 2014 World Cup, and was rewarded with a move that summer to La Liga team Malaga. Bottom line for a goalie is that you are the hero or the villain, and I believe that each of these young keepers hold a ton of talent, more than enough for them to play hero.
Timo Werner: Germany
Current Club: RB Leipzig (Germany)
Where he currently stands: If I had to pick a starting eleven of only players under the age of 23, Werner would be one of the first names on my team sheet. He plays for a team that is relatively new to success, RB Leipzig, but they will be by no means his final destination. Werner has had transfer rumors swirling around him for a couple of months now with Leipzig unwilling to sell. However, a strong World Cup may raise his price to a point that Leipzig can’t refuse.
Why he could breakout: The best word I can use to describe the German national team is a “machine.” They play fluidly together and score a whole lot a goals, something that Werner will pounce on. Miroslav Klose broke the record for career World Cup goals scored four summers ago, and Werner is sliding right into that position this summer. Werner has the potential to end up as a top 5 forward in the world at some point, and this World Cup could be the final leap he takes to the top.
Sergej Milinkovic-Savic: Serbia
Current Club: Lazio (Italy)
Where he currently stands: At 23 years old, Milinkovic-Savic had one of the best seasons among midfielders in Serie A. It was a breakout campaign for his standards, but he is still a talent that has yet to be discovered by much of the rest of the world let alone the fans of the United States. However, to those who have seen him, his style of play has been compared to that of legendary midfielders Zinedine Zidane and Yaya Toure and believe his ceiling is just as high.
Why he could breakout: Serbia will be one of those teams that could end up exceeding expectations dramatically. There is talent on their roster, and if a couple of things fall their way Serbia could find themselves making a run. It is almost certain the Milinkovic-Savic would be at the heart of that run if it was to occur. He is also another player who has his sights set on joining a bigger club, and that could also fuel his play during the summer.
Radamel Falcao: Colombia
Current Club: AS Monaco (France)
Where he currently stands: Falcao, aged 32, is by no means undiscovered to most of the soccer community. However, he is a player who hasn’t necessarily had his name cross the Atlantic. His position on the field is comparable to LA Galaxy striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who may be more well-known to the American audience. Like Zlatan, Falcao is just a goal scoring machine, and that is how you are going to get your name recognized.
Why he could breakout: As just mentioned, the man flat-out scores goals. Despite having James Rodriguez, the 2014 World Cup top scorer, Falcao will be the target man in this Colombian side. There is no reason why Colombia couldn’t go back to back World Cups having the top scorer in their team because of Falcao. He is closer to the end of his career than the beginning, but this World Cup could provide an opportunity for the Colombian to cement his legacy.
Kasper Dolberg: Denmark
Current Club: Ajax (Netherlands)
Where he currently stands: Dolberg is one of the most exciting prospects in Europe. Two seasons ago as a 19-year-old, the Dane scored 23 goals as he burst onto the scene. This past year was injury-plagued for the now 20-year-old, but the forward still promises to be one of the world’s best when he hits his prime.
Why he could breakout: Denmark is going to need someone besides Christian Eriksen to make plays, and that burden could lie on the shoulders of a very young Dolberg. He has played on some large stages and shined in his young career, but the biggest stage will be set this summer in Russia. Like Milinkovic-Savic for Serbia, if Denmark were to make a cinderella run, it will likely be due to the positive play of Dolberg in a perfect situation to get his name out to the world.