Earlier this month 23 players from around the globe (okay, mostly the United States) gathered in Carson, Cal. for the annual tradition that is the January camp for the United State men’s national team. However, unlike other camps this one has an eye on the future of the game.
It should, as both the U-23 qualifying playoff for the Rio Olympics and World Cup qualifying for 2018 come in earnest in the months following the camp. Just that fact alone, hasn’t meant an eye to the future in previous January camps though.
With Klinsmann and other coaches looking to solve last-minute questions before getting a main squad together for qualification, this is the perfect time to kill two birds with one stone. In this case, that means a young squad with a lot to experiment with.
“This camp will be a little bit different because we’re going to mix it almost half-and-half with senior players that are already National Team players or some that are older and maybe get the chance to play their first cap, and a lot of the Under-23 players that hopefully qualify us for Rio de Janeiro,” said Klinsmann.
“This will be more of an identification camp and a development camp. We want to give those players a head start into their very busy year 2016, but we also want to make it clear to them that it’s a huge opportunity that you have to understand what it takes to step it up and to become an international-level player.”
Klinsmann took this chance to help mold the team for the future, and with an average age of 24 and just five regular members of the USMNT senior national team in this camp that message rings loud and clear.
Those regular players all happen to be in Major League Soccer — Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Matt Besler (Sporting KC), Mix Diskerud (New York City FC) and Jermaine Jones (New England Revolution).
Mixed in are a lot of players looking to solidify roles as qualification for various tournaments begin this year and one important qualification tournament drags on beyond 2016.
No group exemplifies that mixture better than in the back, as the seven defenders called in to camp read like a who’s who of potential-laden stars of the future. Mixed in with Besler are up and coming names like Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Matt Miazga (New York Red Bulls), Eric Miller (Montreal Impact), Tim Parker (Vancouver Whitecaps FC), Marc Pelosi (San Jose Earthquakes) and Matt Polster (Chicago Fire).
For defenders like Miazga, Pelosi and Polster, this camp is a chance to shine at a bigger level after helping the U-23 team to a 3rd place finish in Olympic in the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament. Those are but three of the seven total members of the U-23 team from last year in this particular camp.
In fact, this camp and the games against Iceland and Canada are likely the only chances the USMNT’s U-23 version are going to get before a crucial playoff with Colombia in March. So, look for a lot of mixing and matching between the foursomes played in the back over the next two matches.
There’s plenty of depth on display in the midfield, something which Andre Herzog, the U-23 coach, will get ample time to sift through for potential players come March and/or Rio in the future.
Up front fans will get to see the work put in by the hottest name of the MLS offseason — Jordan Morris — and fellow MLSer Gyasi Zardes. With Altidore being the only real stalwart in that group, there is plenty to lear n about the rest of this group in the next two friendlies.
While the roster is stet up to be youthful and experimental, none of it will matter if results don’t come. Wins may not matter, but positive play and not looking out of place will matter. Playing Iceland and Canada will be the perfect combination too, as neither soccer nation is spectacular but can provide enough of a challenge to learn plenty about this young team.
Can anyone emerge from the background to force either the U-23 squad or the full USMNT to take notice heading in to the next few months? That will be the real test for these 23 players.