Nobody can accuse U.S. coach Bob Bradley of not examining a wide sweep of players as the next World Cup cycle commences in earnest.
The roster for his upcoming January camp always promised to be young. But the average age for the list released Tuesday for this annual camp, frequently an introduction for new talent into the national program, is especially impressionable at just north of 23.
The 24 international hopefuls and fringe types report Jan. 4 to Carson, Calif., for three weeks of training and intensive assessment from watchful coaches. A Jan. 22 friendly at the Home Depot Center against Chile punctuates the camp -- and will surely mark the international debut of a few lucky athletes.
January gatherings past have sometimes been arranged with an eye toward upcoming World Cup qualifiers. That meant Bradley could afford to look at some youngsters, but he also needed to whip a few known names into game shape. With no urgency to prep for a big event this time, half the names summoned have never appeared internationally. Among the other half, no one has more than six caps.
"We have some younger players that we think, with time, can grow into important roles with our national team," Bradley said on a U.S. Soccer podcast released Tuesday along with the roster. "The January camp has always been an opportunity to look a little closer at players who had very good seasons in MLS and also at some players who are playing regularly with club teams in Scandinavia."
A few names are surprises, even if they are promising up-and-comers. Two FC Dallas players, for instance, aren't even starters. Midfielder Eric Alexander and versatile defender Zach Loyd were backups who filled in ably when called upon at Pizza Hut Park. San Jose midfielder Sam Cronin and Colorado fullback Anthony Wallace might fall into the surprise category as well.
The "who is that?" name of the day surely belongs to Ryan Miller, a former Notre Dame defender who took his career to Sweden in 2009 when he failed to catch on over two MLS seasons Columbus and D.C. United.
As for any surprises going the other way, talented types not named? Ike Opara, who was having a banner year at San Jose before being cut down by injury, picked up another small injury on a recent trip to Spain alongside other young MLS talent. He probably would have landed on the roster otherwise. So, too, may have FC Dallas center back George John, who recently underwent ankle surgery.
San Jose's Brandon McDonald isn't in the camp, and that's a bit disappointing. MLS coaches would do him a favor by deciding once and for all whether he's a center back or holding midfielder. McDonald performed well in both roles at Buck Shaw Stadium in 2010. Neither was Houston's Geoff Cameron named; he may also be a victim of wandering usage, having appeared at center back and across the midfield for Houston over the last two years.
Here's a very quick snapshot of each player included (listed in alphabetical order by position):