Thursday, July 31, 2014

Career Numbers Comparison: Antonio Brown and Hines Ward

Antonio Brown is the Steelers unquestioned number one receiver. By all reports, his work ethic is second-to-none and he was the only one of the Young Money Crew to sign a long-term deal with the Steelers. Brown inked his 5-year, $41.96 million contract before the 2013 season when the Steelers were going through the saga of negotiating with Mike Wallace. As the results have shown the last few years, the Steelers made the right decision in locking up Brown for the long term. In just four NFL seasons (only 2 as a primary starter), Brown has reeled in 261 passes for 3561 yards. As I detailed last week in my post on Steelers records that could be surpassed this year, Brown is already in the Top 10 in receptions and should easily move into the top 10 in receiving yards.

This begs the question - just how good can Antonio Brown be? He is obviously a long way from breaking Hines Ward's team records of 1000 receptions and 12,083 yards. Brown is coming off a season where he was just two catches shy of Hines Ward's single-season mark in receptions (112) and shattered Yancey Thigpen's single-season receiving yards record by 101 yards. He also broke Buddy Dial's record of 92.5 yards per game from 1963. All things told, Brown's 110 catches for 1499 yards (93.7 yards per game) will go down as one of the best single seasons in history by a Steelers receiver. In his four years with the team, Brown has recorded two 1000-yard seasons. Hines Ward did not record his first 1000-yard season until his fourth year. In fact, Brown is ahead of Ward's career pace in both receptions and yards through four seasons.

Antonio Brown is under contract for four more years (through the 2017 season). It was in Hines' fifth through eighth seasons that he cemented his place as one of the Steelers all-time greats.

Obviously, it would be a bit of a stretch to assume that Brown will replicate his franchise record season of 2013 in the four remaining years of his contract. However, given that Brown averages a yard and a half more per reception than Ward (13.6 to 12.1) and ten more yards per game (65.9 to 55.7), it is entirely possible that Brown makes significant progress in chasing down Ward over the next four seasons.

Over the remainder of his current contract, Antonio Brown can make significant progress up the Steelers All-Time lists in both receptions and yards.

To date in his career, Antonio Brown has averaged 4.8 receptions per game, 13.6 yards per reception and 65.9 yards per game. However, these numbers include his rookie year when he only played in 9 games and recorded 16 catches for 167 yards. If you take his rookie year out of the equation, Brown's averages jump to 5.4 receptions per game, 13.9 yards per reception and 75.4 yards per game. In the last 3 seasons, Brown has only missed 3 games, averaging 15 games per season. Based on these numbers, we can create projections for the next four years of Antonio Brown's career.

Projection 1
Career Averages

For his entire four-year career, Brown has averaged playing 13.5 games per season and 4.8 receptions per game. Based on these numbers, a career average season would mean 65 receptions for Antonio Brown. If Brown records 65 receptions in 2014, he will finish the season with 326 receptions, just shy of Elbe Nickel for 6th on the all-time list. By the end of his current contract (2017), he would have 521 receptions, which would likely land him in fourth on the Steelers all-time list (depending on how many more catches Heath Miller has).

In his career, Brown has averaged 13.6 yards per reception. At a rate of 65 receptions per year this comes to an average of 884 yards per season. With 884 yards in 2014, Brown would vault past Plaxico Burress into 8th on the Steelers all-time list, finishing the season with 4,445 career yards. Over the rest of his contract, based on an average of 884 yards per season, Brown would end the 2017 season with 7097 yards and pass Louis Lipps for third on the Steelers all-time list.

Projection 2
Average of Last 3 Years

As I mentioned previously, Brown did not see significant playing time in his rookie year, which dragged down his career average. Over the last three years he has averaged 15 games per year and 5.4 receptions per game. These numbers yield an average of 82 receptions per year for Antonio Brown. If Brown records 82 receptions in 2014, he would have 343 and vault into the top 5 in Steelers history, passing Lynn Swann. By the end of his current contract, Brown would pass John Stallworth and have 588 receptions by the end of 2017.

If we use Brown's career 13.6 yards per reception, he would average 1111 yards per season with 82 catches. As we saw in the first projection, Brown would pass Plaxico Burress in 2014 and finish the year with 4,672 yards. By the end of 2017, Brown would have 8,004 yards. If we use Brown's average over the last three seasons of 13.9 yards per reception, 82 receptions vaults his average per season to 1,131 yards. His place on the all-time lists would be the same after 2014 (8th, ahead of Burress) and 2017 (3rd, ahead of Lipps) as the other two projections.

Comparing to Ward

Antonio Brown enters the fifth year of his career with 261 catches and 3,561 yards. At the same point in his career, Hines Ward had 218 catches and 2,559 yards. Over the next four seasons (fifth through eighth year of his career), Ward had 356 catches for 4,471 yards bringing his career totals to 574 receptions and 7,030 yards. Based on the low-end Projection 1, Brown would still be ahead of Ward's yardage pace at the end of his current contract. Based on Projection 2, Brown would pass Stallworth in receptions and also stay ahead of Ward's pace by the end of 2017. The high end of the yardage projection in Projection 2 would keep Brown about 1,000 yards ahead of Ward's career pace at the end of 2017.

But what if Brown equals Ward's production? Adding 356 catches and 4,471 yards to his current total, Brown would finish his current contract with 617 receptions and 8,032 yards. Equaling Ward's production in the fifth through eighth year of his career would propel Brown well past Stallworth in receptions and put him about 700 yards shy of Stallworth.

One thing that is important to note - based on every projection so far, Antonio Brown would stay ahead of Hines Ward's career pace in receiving yards. Ward's 356 receptions in four seasons (an average of 89 per year) may be difficult to replicate, but given that the Steelers receiving corps is largely unproven, Brown will certainly see a lot of balls coming his way. It is entirely possible that by the time we are talking about Antonio Brown's next contract we are also talking about him passing Stallworth and chasing Hines Ward's records.

Chasing Stallworth

Most of the projections above have Antonio Brown either coming very close to John Stallworth's career marks or surpassing them by the end of his current contract in 2017. Hines Ward did not surpass Stallworth's 537 career receptions until the 8th year of his career and it took him two more seasons to catch Stallworth's record of 8,723 yards. Stallworth had a Hall of Fame career over his 14 seasons and was considered the greatest receiver in Steelers history until Hines Ward came around. Could Antonio Brown realistically catch John Stallworth in both measures by the end of 2017, just eight years into his career?

To accomplish this feat, Brown would need 276 catches and 5,171 yards in four seasons. To pass Stallworth in receptions, Brown would need to average 69 catches per season over the next four years. Based on his career to date, this should be an achievable feat (barring injury). The more difficult mark will be yardage. To pass Stallworth by the end of 2017, Brown would need to average 1,293 yards per season (approximately 81 yards per game). While Brown is coming off a season where he broke the Steelers single-season receiving yards record with 1,499 yards, replicating that performance will be difficult. Only 9 times in Steelers history has a receiver had a 1200-yard season and there have only been 6 1300-yard seasons.

Based on both projections, Brown should pass Swann in receptions this season and in yardage in 2015. Brown should also surpass Lipps in receptions in 2015 but would need 2,458 yards (1,229 per season) over the next two years to catch Lipps' yardage mark. It seems the most likely that Brown would not surpass Lipps in yardage until 2016. Heath Miller does have a chance of passing John Stallworth in receptions (Miller trails by just 71) and could pass Lipps in yards (trails by 745) but it is unlikely that Miller will surpass Stallworth's yardage total. Depending on how many more years Heath Miller plays, Antonio Brown could surpass him in receiving yards by 2017 as well. Obviously, this is mostly speculation based on the small sample size of Antonio Brown's first four seasons. However, with him coming off a record-breaking season and under contract for four more years, it will be exciting to watch Brown chase down some of the Steelers all-time greats that are enshrined in Canton.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Record Chasing: Steelers All-Time Stats Heading Into 2014

As the Steelers enter their first full week of training camp, I took a look through some of the All-Time Records to see if any were in danger of falling this season. While Hines Ward's career receiving marks and Franco Harris' rushing records are safe for the time being. Ben Roethlisberger already owns most of the quarterbacking records. Therefore, most of this post is not about a new career leader in the Steelers record books, but about three players moving up into the top 10 or top 5 in their respective stat categories. Since it would be nearly impossible to predict a single-season record being broken (though Antonio Brown came within 2 catches of tying Hines Ward's 112-catch season last year), I decided to restrict this to only the Career lists. Additionally, since most of the

Quarterback Record

Terry Bradshaw holds the record with 107 wins over 15 seasons. Ben Roethlisberger enters the season with 95 career wins in 10 seasons. Big Ben could surpass Bradshaw with 12 wins this season. As an interesting aside, a 12-4 season for Ben would give him a 107-51 career record, the same as Bradshaw. Bradshaw also holds the record for most losses by a quarterback (51) which Ben could surpass if the Steelers lose more than 4 games.

Rushing Touchdowns

Le'Veon Bell rushed for 8 touchdowns in his rookie campaign. If he repeats the feat in his sophomore season he will catapult into the top 20 on the Steelers all-time list in rushing touchdowns. Ben Roethlisberger enters the year with 15 rushing touchdwns and can move into the top 20 with just one touchdown, which he should get as he has averaged 1.5 per season in his career.

The List

Receiving Touchdowns

Heath Miller needs just 3 touchdowns to pass Buddy Dial for 4th on the Steelers all-time receiving touchdowns list. It is highly unlikely he will record the 11 he needs to catch Lynn Swann for third.

The List


Antonio Brown obviously has a long way to go to catch Hines Ward's 1000 career receptions. Brown enters the year with 261 catches and has the opportunity to make a gigantic leap in the standings. He needs just 4 catches to pass Plaxico Burress for 8th, 46 catches to pass Franco Harris for 7th, 69 catches to pass Elbe Nickel for 6th and 76 catches to pass Lynn Swann and break into the top 5. Last season Brown led the team with 110 receptions and came up just shy of Hines Ward's single-season record of 112. A 98-catch season (which would be the third best single season in Steelers history) would put Brown ahead of Louis Lipps for 4th on the Steelers all-time receptions list.

Heath Miller is currently third on the list with 466 receptions and is the all-time leader in all categories for tight ends. While unlikely, if he could repeat his 2012 season of 71 catches he would tie John Stallworth for second on the all-time receptions list.

The List

Receiving Yards

Antonio Brown enters the season 14th on the Steelers all-time list with 3561 yards. He has two 1000-yard seasons in his 4-year career. Brown needs just 359 yards to break into the Top 10 on the Steelers all-time list and could get as high as 7th on the all-time list with 1163 yards this season.

Heath Miller enters the season 5th on the all-time list with 5273 yards. He needs just 190 yards to pass Lynn Swann for 4th on the list. While it seems unlikely, a 745-yard season for Heath would catapult him ahead of Louis Lipps into third.

The List

Thursday, July 17, 2014

2014 Training Camp Primer

It seems like a long time since I've written about football. With a cursory glance through my blog archives since the 2013 season ended, I have published 20 World Cup articles, 18 Winter Olympics articles, 11 NCAA Tournament articles, 9 NFL Draft articles, 2 data analysis posts on the possible NFL Playoff Expansion, 1 post on NFL Free Agency, 1 post with the Steelers 2014 schedule and 1 post on WPIAL realignment. With that said, it's good to get back in the swing of the NFL Football season. Here we go.

The 2014 iteration of the Pittsburgh Steelers will hit Latrobe on July 25. The 90 men that will take the field at St Vincent College are almost entirely different from the team that lost Super Bowl XLV in Dallas in January 2011. From that team, only 7 offensive players (Roethlisberger, Brown, David Johnson, Miller, Spaeth, Foster and Pouncey), 7 defensive players (McLendon, Timmons, Worilds, Taylor, Gay, Polamalu and Will Allen) and Long Snapper Greg Warren enter this year's training camp. Pouncey, Worlids and Brown were rookies on that 2010 squad and now are established veterans and among the highest paid players on the team. After back-to-back 8-8 seasons, the Steelers roster rennovation is nearly complete. The team has shed their aging veterans and enters camp with just 12 of the 90 players on the roster over 30. By contrast, 31 players are under 24 years old.

Barring any injuries, most of the starting lineups on both sides of the ball are set. There may be a few camp battles that develop should rookies out-perform expectations, but for the most part the starting lineups are set. Conversely, with the exception of Quarterback, Running Back and Strong Safety, all of the backup positions are up for grabs. This should make for an exciting camp and for preseason games that are incredibly meaningful in the construction of the final 53-man roster.

The Steelers were aggressive in free agency and despite their limited cap space, they were able to add 8 veteran players to the team. In the draft, the Steelers focused on size and speed, adding dynamic players like LB Ryan Shazier (who ran a 40 equivalent to Terrelle Pryor) and RB Dri Archer (who ran the fastest 40 at the combine). With these young players comes a certain degree of uncertainty - will Shazier be more like Kendrell Bell or more like Lawrence Timmons? Will Archer be more like Chris Rainey or Dexter McCluster? Will fourth round pick Martavis Bryant be more like Plaxico Burress or Limas Sweed? Not all of these questions will be answered in the first training camp, or even in the first season. However, the Steelers front office has made their bed with these players (in selecting Shazier over Mosley and Dennard and Tuitt over Nix) and we will have front row seats to see if they made the right decisions.

As the roster stands right now, there are 27 players who should be considered "Locks" to make the 53-man roster.

Roster Locks (27)
QB: Ben Roethlisberger, Bruce Gradkowski
RB: Le'Veon Bell, LeGarrette Blount, Dri Archer
WR: Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Lance Moore
TE: Heath Miller
OT: Kelvin Beachum, Marcus Gilbert, Mike Adams
OG: Ramon Foster, David DeCastro
C: Maurkice Pouncey

DE: Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt
NT: Steve McLendon
OLB: Jason Worlids, Jarvis Jones
ILB: Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shazier
CB: Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen
SS: Troy Polamalu, Shamarko Thomas
FS: Mike Mitchell

Additionally, there are 13 players who should make the roster, barring any injury, terrible play or getting into some kind of trouble with the law.

Should Make the Team (13)
QB: Landry Jones
WR: Martavis Bryant
TE: Matt Spaeth
OT: Wesley Johnson
OG: Guy Whimper
C: Cody Wallace

DE: Cam Thomas
OLB: Arthur Moats
ILB: Vince Williams
CB: William Gay
FS: Will Allen

K: Shaun Suisham
LS: Greg Warren

The 27 locks and the 13 players that should make the squad account for 40 roster positions. Additionally, the Steelers will carry a punter which will likely be decided by a camp battle between Adam Podlesh and Brad Wing. This leaves 12 roster positions that are open to be claimed in training camp.

Roster Battles

Fullback/H-Back: Will Johnson, Rob Blanchflower

The Steelers have used Will Johnson both as a true blocking fullback and as a 3rd tight end. Seventh-round pick Rob Blanchflower is a beastly blocker who the Steelers may decide to keep as a 3rd tight end. Both of these players could make the roster and would add some serious beef to the short-yardage ground game.

Tight End: Rob Blanchflower, Michael Palmer, David Paulson

Blanchflower, the 7th round pick out of UMass can be an absolutely devastating blocker but doesn't bring much in the passing game. Palmer is a veteran who was on the team last year primarily as a special teams player. Paulson was the forgotten tight end of last season after some absolutely brutal performances early in the season. Paulson showed some flashes as a rookie but can not block to save his life which will likely spell the end of his tenure with the Steelers. If Blanchflower proves capable of handling the speed of the NFL game, this is likely his spot to lose. The 3rd tight end spot has typically been a contributor on special teams so it will be important to see if Blanchflower can equal Palmer's production on special teams.

Wide Receiver: Darrius Heyward-Bey, Derek Moye, Justin Brown

The Steelers have traditionally kept 5 Wide Receivers on their 53-man roster. The first four are relatively set with Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, free agent signing Lance Moore and 4th round pick Martavis Bryant. This is a position that is somewhat lacking in depth and the Steelers could explore signing a veteran receiver during camp to bolster the unit. Currently, the in-house options consist of veteran Darrius Heyward-Bey who went from being the first receiver taken in the 2009 draft by Oakland to being relegated to Special Teams duties for the Colts last year. Heyward-Bey has the size and speed to be a factor in the NFL but his hands have never been consistent. Derek Moye was on the team last year and was the tallest receiver of the group but only saw a handful of snaps per game and was only thrown 6 passes the whole season. Justin Brown spent last year on the practice squad after the Steelers used a 6th round pick on him in the 2013 draft. All three of these players have good size (DHB is 6'2", Brown is 6'3" and Moye is 6'5"), making this a wide open race that has the potential to be altered by an additional veteran signing during camp.

Offensive Line: Chris Hubbard, David Snow

This "roster battle" basically becomes a discussion if the Steelers decide to carry 9 or 10 offensive linemen on their roster. The first 9 are fairly set in stone, but if Hubbard or Snow impress in camp the Steelers could protect them from waivers by keeping them on the roster. Hubbard spent last year on the practice squad. David Snow was signed late last year for interior line depth after Pouncey and Velasco were injured. It is very possible that the Steelers keep only 9 offensive linemen on the roster and neither make the team.

Defensive End: Brian Arnfelt, Nick Williams

Ziggy Hood and Al Woods left in free agency. Brett Keisel's contract expired and the Steelers did not re-sign him. This created a void at the defensive end position, which was already strapped for depth. Cam Heyward, Cam Thomas and 2nd-round pick Stephon Tuitt will be the top three in the rotation, but the Steelers will keep a 4th player in the event of injury. The current favorite appears to be Brian Arnfelt who spent much of last season on the practice squad before being promoted to the active roster in December. Arnfelt was an undrafted free agent signing last year and will compete with 2013 7th round pick Nick Williams, who spent last season on the IR after suffering a knee injury in training camp. There wasn't any news about Williams out of OTAs this spring so his recovery timeline is unknown. If Williams isn't healthy, this will essentially be Arnfelt's job to lose unless the Steelers sign another veteran during camp to add depth. The depth here is razor-thin and signing Brett Keisel to a 1-year deal would seem to make all the sense in the world, if he's willing to play for the veteran minimum.

Nose Tackle: Daniel McCullers, Hebron Fangupo

The Steelers opted to keep Fangupo coming out of training camp last year instead of 2012 4th round pick Alameda Ta'amu. To no one's surprise, the Cardinals signed Ta'amu and he played 226 snaps. Fangupo only saw the field for 14 snaps last season as the Steelers used Al Woods as both a defensive end and nose tackle (similar to the role Cam Thomas will play this year). McCullers was the biggest player in the draft at 6'8" 350 lbs. The 6th round pick out of Tennessee will have to learn how to play low to match the pad level of offensive linemen. The Steelers will keep 2 nose tackles on the final roster and McCullers is a candidate for the practice squad if he fails to surpass Fangupo.

Linebacker: Chris Carter, Terrence Garvin, Jordan Zumwalt, Vic So'oto, Howard Jones, Sean Spence

I was going to break this down into Outside Linebackers and Inside Linebackers, but special teams play is far more important for reserve linebackers than where they line up on defense. Chris Carter enters his fourth year with the team as a reserve outside linebacker, but has yet to record a sack. He has been a contributor on special teams, but isn't exactly a trustworthy player to have as the top reserve outside linebacker. Terrence Garvin was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2013 and had an impressive preseason playing both inside and outside linebacker. Garvin started the season on the practice squad but was elevated to the active roster and laid a jaw-breaking block on the Bengals punter to spring Antonio Brown for a punt return touchdown in December. Garvin is the top candidate to replace Carter as the top reserve outside linebacker and could win the spot with special teams play. Zumwalt was the Steelers 6th round pick and has a ferociousness that makes him an asset on special teams and could land him on the 53-man roster. He can play both inside and outside but a lack of practice reps due to UCLA's bizarre graduation rules could ultimately land him on the practice squad. So'oto has been a bit of a practice squad journeyman in the league and will have to play his way onto the team if he is to make the 53-man roster. Howard Jones is everyone's favorite dark horse to make the roster as an undrafted free agent out of Shepherd. Jones was a Division II all-star and is the early favorite for "Camp Phenom." Sean Spence is the most intriguing player of the group. A 3rd round pick in 2012, he suffered a devastating knee injury in the preseason that kept him out each of the last two seasons. All reports from OTAs say that he is back to being healthy and he could provide a tremendous upgrade at inside linebacker if he makes the team. Kion Wilson made the team last year and shared time as a starter with Vince Williams after Larry Foote was injured but was cut on the eve of training camp, which could be a sign that Sean Spence has returned to full health. At the end of the day, the Steelers will likely keep 9 or 10 linebackers and the players that stand out on special teams will be the ones that earn the last few spots on the roster.

Cornerback: Brice McCain, Sheldon Richardson, Antwon Blake, Isaiah Green

The Steelers signed Brice McCain as a free agent this offseason to add depth to the cornerback position. In 5 seasons with Houston, McCain had 124 tackles and 5 interceptions. McCain will likely battle Antwon Blake for the 5th cornerback position. Blake spent last season with the Steelers and played primarily on Special Teams where he was second on the team in tackles. Sheldon Richardson was the Steelers 5th round pick out of Arizona and has experience with secondary coach Carnell Lake. Richardson will likely make the team since the Steelers used a draft pick on him and is a practice squad candidate at worst. Isaiah Green seemed to always be the 53rd man on the Steelers roster last year and pinballed back and forth between the active roster and the practice squad. The Steelers will likely keep 5 cornerbacks, which means there are two jobs to be won between these four players.

Safety: Robert Golden, Ross Ventrone

The Steelers top four safety positions are set in stone. If the Steelers decide to keep a fifth, the battle will be between Golden and Ventrone. However, if either of these players falter on special teams, the Steelers could opt to keep a 6th cornerback rather than a 5th safety. Golden was an undrafted free agent who made the team out of camp in 2012. He is a player that seems to shine on the practice field but hasn't been able to translate that into games yet. The fact that the Steelers went out and signed Mike Mitchell is very much a referendum on Golden's abilities to be an every-down safety. Ventrone spent last season on the practice squad and could challenge Golden for the last position. Ultimately, as is the case with most of the battles for the last few roster positions, special teams play will decide who gets a job and who does not.

Punter: Adam Podlesh, Brad Wing

After last year's experiment of Zoltan Mesko and Mat McBriar failed miserably, the Steelers went out in free agency and signed the only punter who was worse than the Mesko/McBriar combo: Adam Podlesh. I wish I was joking about that, but look at the breakdown between the Steelers punters and Podlesh from 2013:

In addition to Podlesh, the Steelers also added former LSU punter Brad Wing who did not sign with an NFL team out of college. This has all the makings of being a wide open camp battle after Podlesh was dead last in the league in punting last season. 

Roster Projection

As things stand right now, entering camp, here is my projected 53-man roster for the Steelers:

QB (3): Ben Roethlisberger, Bruce Gradkowski, Landry Jones
RB (3): Le'Veon Bell, LeGarrette Blount, Dri Archer
FB (1): Will Johnson
WR (5): Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Lance Moore, Martavis Bryant, Darrius Heyward-Bey
TE (3): Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth, Rob Blanchflower
OT (4): Kelvin Beachum, Marcus Gilbert, Mike Adams, Wesley Johnson
OG (3): Ramon Foster, David DeCastro, Guy Whimper
C (2): Maurkice Pouncey, Cody Wallace

DE (4): Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Cam Thomas, Brian Arnfelt
NT (2): Steve McLendon, Hebron Fangupo
OLB (5): Jason Worlids, Jarvis Jones, Arthur Moats, Terrence Garvin, Jordan Zumwalt
ILB (5): Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shazier, Vince Williams. Sean Spence, Howard Jones
CB (5): Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen, William Gay, Sheldon Richardson, Brice McCain
SS (2): Troy Polamalu, Shamarko Thomas
FS (3): Mike Mitchell, Will Allen, Robert Golden

K (1): Shaun Suisham
P (1): Adam Podlesh
LS (1): Greg Warren

Just Missed:
Antwon Blake
Derek Moye
Justin Brown
Kion Wilson
Daniel McCullers
Chris Carter
Isaiah Green
Michael Palmer
Nick Williams
Chris Hubbard

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

What's Next for the USMNT?

After some early bad publicity to their World Cup (primarily because Landon Donovan was left off the roster), the United States put together an incredibly exciting run to the Round of 16 where they were an airball from Chris Wondolowski away from advancing to the quarterfinals. Unfortunately for fans of the international game, the World Cup only comes around once every four years. Personally, I love international competition but don't follow club soccer very closely. For others like me that still haven't picked a club team to support, there is plenty to look forward to over the next four years on the international level.

2015 U-20 World Cup
Qualification January 2015
Tournament June 2015

The Under-20 World Cup will be held in New Zealand in 2015. The United States has secured a spot in qualification. Four teams from CONCACAF (which covers North America, Central America and the Caribbean) will qualify. Given Jurgen Klinsmann's emphasis on youth in the 2014 World Cup squad, it is entirely possible that some of these players will find their way onto the American squad in the 2018 World Cup qualification cycle. Also, the U-20 World Cup is a good measure for which teams will be competitive in the 2016 Summer Olympics (which is primarily an under-23 tournament).

2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup
July 2015

The CONCACAF Championships will take place in July 2015. The United States has already qualified as the defending champions. If the United States wins the 2015 Gold Cup, they will receive an automatic berth into the 2017 Confederations Cup (which is a tournament between the champions of each regional federation). The US won the 2013 Gold Cup last year, so if the US does not win the 2015 Gold Cup, they will face the winner in a play-off to determine CONCACAF's representative in the Confederations Cup.

World Cup Qualifying Third Round

CONCACAF has not announced the structure for World Cup qualification for the 2018 World Cup yet, but if they follow a procedure similar to 2014 qualification, the top 6 teams in the federation (which the US will be one of) get a bye to the third round of qualification. This means the United States likely won't begin their campaign to qualify for the 2018 World Cup until 2016. The Third Round of qualification features 3 groups of 4 teams where the top 2 from each group advance to the Fourth Round Hexagonal.

Copa America Centenario
June 2016

The United States will host the 2016 Copa America Centario, a 16-team tournament between the 10 South American teams and 6 teams from CONCACAF. Should FIFA strip Qatar of their hosting duties for the 2022 World Cup, this could be seen as a dress rehearsal for US venues vying to be included as sites for the 2022 World Cup. The 10 South American teams (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela) along with the United States and Mexico have already qualified. The last four spots in the tournament will be decided by the 2014 Copa Centroamericana, 2014 Caribbean Cup and 2015 Gold Cup. This will be a highly publicized tournament and it will be going head-to-head with the UEFA European Championship.

Summer Olympics
August 2016

Back to Brazil? Soccer will be an event at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio. However, the Olympic tournament only permits 3 players per team to be over the age of 23. This basically makes the Olympics a glorified Under-23 tournament and therefore it is not counted as a "major" international competition in Men's Soccer. There is a qualifying tournament as well that will take place in 2016. The US failed to qualify for the soccer tournament in the 2012 games, but since DeAndre Yedlin (who saw time in all 4 World Cup games) and Julian Green (who scored against Belgium) will both be under 23 at the time of this tournament, the US will have a chance to qualify.

World Cup Qualifying Hexagonal

If the United States advances through the Third Round of CONCACAF's World Cup qualifying, they will enter the 6-team Hexagonal qualification stage. In the last cycle, the top 3 teams in The Hex advanced to the World Cup and the 4th place team was entered into a Intercontinental play-off against the champions from the OFC.

2017 Confederations Cup

The summer before each World Cup, the Confederations Cup is held in the host nation of the World Cup. The Confederations Cup is a short tournament often seen as a "World Cup Warm-Up" between the champions from each Confederation. The US can qualify automatically by winning the 2015 Gold Cup or by winning a playoff against the 2015 Gold Cup winner.

2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup

The Gold Cup is a biannual tournament, so there will be two competitions between now and the next World Cup. The 2017 and 2019 Gold Cup winners will determine CONCACAF's representative in the 2021 Confederations Cup, which could be held in the United States if the 2022 World Cup is taken away from Qatar and given to the US.

Also, don't forget about...

Women's World Cup
June 2015

The United States Women's National Team has had an incredible run of success and is one of the most accomplished teams on the planet. The CONCACAF Women's Championship will take place in October 2014 which will determine the 3 teams that automatically qualify for the 2015 Women's World Cup. The fourth place team will face third place team from CONMEBOL in an intercontinental playoff to a spot in the 2015 Women's World Cup, which will be held in Canada.

Summer Olympics -Women's Soccer
August 2016

Unlike the men's tournament, the women's tournament permits "senior" rosters to be used in the Summer Olympics. This basically means that the same teams from the previous summer's Women's World Cup face off again with Olympic Gold on the line.

These are just the international tournaments that will take place between now and the 2018 World Cup. The United States is always very aggressive in scheduling friendlies against some of the best competition in the world. Therefore, even if you are like me and don't have a club soccer team that you follow closely, there is certainly enough competition on the international front over the next three summers to maintain an interest in the National Team until the next World Cup.