The United States goes to Honduras in a World Cup qualifier in February, then plays back-to-back games against Costa Rica and Mexico during an international break in mid-March. While there is a lot of time between then and now for fringe players to shine for their club teams and break into the national side, it's unlikely that the teams for those games will look much different than the team that beat Guatemala to get into the hex.
Mikkel Diskerud and Josh Gatt are two of the United States' most impressive young players, but they've yet to break into the senior side. 'Mix' made a move to Belgium in which he got little to no playing time, sidetracking his national team career, while Gatt has just recently become a key part of Molde's campaign for a second straight title in Norway. At 22 and 21 years old, respectably, they have plenty of time to break into the national team.
Their club teams are about to go on a winter break, while rumors have swirled that Camp Cupcake will be no more. This is probably their last chance to impress Klinsmann and earn a spot on the team for hexagonal qualifiers, but it's highly unlikely that either would be more than a fringe member of the squad for those early matches, even if they did get called up.
For these two players, that's just fine, because the goal for them shouldn't be to make the team for the beginning of the Hex. For the United States, their goal is to do well in the World Cup itself, not just qualifying. The days where simply getting to the World Cup was an accomplishment for the USMNT are gone, and second place in the hex is now the minimum expectation for the team. Teams like Honduras and Costa Rica will give the U.S. problems, but they'll also give each other problems, and there's no reason to believe that the United States won't end up doing better than everyone but Mexico.
Diskerud and Gatt are on a different track than many older players. The goal for them is to play themselves into the USMNT by spring of 2014, not 2013. Wednesday's game against Russia is their first chance to do that.
If there is a Camp Cupcake, wonderful. They get another two games in a national team shirt, in front of Klinsmann. If not, they still have a Gold Cup and another club season to play through before a preliminary World Cup squad is named. They can never play in a single hexagonal game and still be considered the immediate future of the national team.
All of Herculez Gomez, Edson Buddle, Robbie Findley and Clarence Goodson went to the 2010 World Cup after doing little to nothing to help their team qualify from the Hex. A number of USMNT veterans who helped the team to big results early in the qualifying cycle were left at home. This is the case for nearly every national team around the world, and it's going to be the case for the United States again in 2014.
Players like Steve Cherundolo, Clarence Goodson, Carlos Bocanegra, Herculez Gomez and perhaps even Landon Donovan are going to struggle to get to Brazil after helping the team to results in the hex. Some of the players that replace them will be MLS players who have finally hit their stride in their mid-20s. Some will be players like Diskerud and Gatt, who have been waiting in the wings for years. Some will be guys who put themselves into the national team picture a couple of months before the World Cup.
U.S. fans who want to see more of Diskerud and Gatt shouldn't get mad if neither starts on Wednesday, nor should they be too frustrated if neither player makes the 18-man squad for upcoming Hex matches. They have a long way and a lot of matches to go before the World Cup. That's the endgame for Diskerud and Gatt, and Wednesday is just the beginning of their journey.