With his program off to an adequate start World Cup qualifying but facing a difficult, do-or-die Olympic qualifier in March, U.S. national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann has named a roster featuring a mix of senior and U-23 players for a January camp that he says will be “more an identification camp. It will be more a developmental camp.”
Among the 23 players announced Wednesday (an addition or two is likely in the coming days), 11 are eligible to play for the U-23 team that will face Colombia in a home-and-home series during the March 21-29 international window and 10 are uncapped at the senior level. The average age of the squad is only 24.
The camp, which typically focuses on MLS players since European clubs are mid-season, will commence on Jan. 11 and conclude with friendlies against Iceland (Jan. 31) and Canada (Feb. 5) at StubHub Center, the home of the LA Galaxy.
SI.com reported this week that Klinsmann revised his original plan to start camp a week earlier and focus initially on fitness, which generated some concern among MLS veterans in the middle of their off-seasons. The date was moved, and several older players on Klinsmann's preliminary camp roster–among them Clint Dempsey, Kyle Beckerman, Brad Evans, Nick Rimando, Chris Wondolowski and Graham Zusi–didn't make the final cut.
Defender Omar Gonzalez also was on the preliminary list but has left for Mexico and his new club, Pachuca.
While there will be five members of the 2014 World Cup team at StubHub Center, including captain and 2015 U.S. Soccer Male Player of the Year Michael Bradley, Klinsmann said Wednesday that he’s now focusing a bit more on the long term.
“A January camp with the national team is a huge opportunity for the players,” he said. “It’s a huge chance to get a lot of good education in terms of what does it take to become an international player. It gives us coaches a chance to work with them on a daily basis to see their strengths and obviously to see their weaknesses, to explain to them what they need to improve and hopefully when they leave that camp after three or four weeks, they go into their club season with a lot more knowledge about themselves and also about the international game because it’s a completely different level.”
Here’s a closer look at the squad announced Wednesday (Players eligible for the Olympic team are marked with an asterisk).
Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Luis Robles (New York Red Bulls)
The two goalies named Wednesday boast only three caps combined but certainly have proven themselves capable at the club level. Hamid, 25, was MLS Goalkeeper of the Year in 2014 and Robles, 31, won the honor this past season. Robles's last cap came in 2009.
They were slated to be joined in California by FC Dallas’ Jesse Gonzalez, a North Carolina native who’s already represented his parents’ native Mexico at the youth level. The 20-year-old Gonzalez, however, reportedly had a change of heart after accepting a U.S. call and is unlikely to appear in camp after all.
Kellyn Acosta* (FC Dallas), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Matt Miazga* (New York Red Bulls), Eric Miller* (Montreal Impact), Tim Parker* (Vancouver Whitecaps), Marc Pelosi* (San Jose Earthquakes), Matt Polster* (Chicago Fire)
Besler, 28, is the sole veteran presence among a young defensive corps. It was the World Cup veteran’s clash with Klinsmann in 2015 that may have prompted the recent dialogue concerning MLS players’ offseason schedule and the revised timing of this year’s January camp. While the manager now may agree that U.S. players don’t need hit peak fitness in early January, he said Wednesday that the camp remains important for those facing an extended break.
“Their offseason with MLS is a little bit longer than the other nations usually grant their players,” Klinsmann said. “Internationally, if you are a national team player you might get 3-4 weeks off at the most per year and then you’re back in training and back playing with your club team. This gives us a chance to help them jump-start into 2016.”
Besler had a very good season for SKC, returned to the national team fold in September and started both World Cup qualifiers two months later.
Miazga, an imposing center back who made his senior international debut in the November win over St. Vincent and the Grenadines, likely will partner with Besler in the middle. He helped anchored the U-23 back line along with Tottenham Hotspur’s Cameron Carter-Vickers.
The U.S. will be thin on the flanks. Acosta, another of FCD’s homegrown products, is an MLS midfielder but has played fullback at the junior international level. Polster fits a similar profile. Miller, a right back, started 24 MLS games for Montreal over the past two seasons and Parker is a center back who had an outstanding rookie campaign in Vancouver.
Fatai Alashe* (San Jose Earthquakes), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Mix Diskerud (New York City FC), Jermaine Jones (unattached), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution), Tony Tchani (Columbus Crew SC), Wil Trapp* (Columbus Crew SC)
Bradley and Jones, the oldest player in camp at 34, will anchor an intriguing mix of veterans and newcomers in midfield. Nagbe, who was so impressive during Portland’s run to the MLS championship and who made his U.S. debut in November, should get a long look in a playmaking role—an area where the senior squad has struggled in recent months. Nguyen, who’s appeared only once for the U.S. since the conclusion of the 2015 January camp, will get another run as well.
Columbus’s season, which ended in an MLS Cup loss to Portland, clearly impressed Klinsmann. Ethan Finlay, a nimble winger, and Tchani, a composed defensive midfielder, will get their first taste of the U.S. national team. Finlay, who frequently supported Kei Kamara with the Crew and scored 13 goals last season, is listed as a forward on the camp roster. Tchani, 26, moved to the U.S. as a teenager and turned down a November call-up from his native Cameroon.
Trapp, pegged by many to be the senior squad’s future holding midfielder, captained the U-23s during last fall’s Olympic qualifiers.
Pelosi typically fills a central midfield role but is listed as a defender by Klinsmann. Alashe is a defensive midfielder and, like Polster, was a finalist for 2015 MLS Rookie of the Year.
Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Ethan Finlay (Columbus Crew SC), Jerome Kiesewetter* (VfB Stuttgart), Jordan Morris* (unattached), Khiry Shelton* (New York City FC), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)
Morris, Stanford’s College Cup hero, will be the man in the spotlight as he pursues his professional future while continuing his international ascension. He’s already been capped seven times by Klinsmann despite never having played a minute of pro soccer, and he scored three goals in the October Olympic qualifiers. Morris is expected to sign with either his hometown Seattle Sounders or Germany’s Werder Bremen. He'll join the camp on Jan. 20 once his training stint in Germany is over.
His U-23 strike partner, Kiesewetter, already is in Germany with Stuttgart but has been part of the U.S. youth setup since 2010. The Berlin native tallied four goals at the CONCACAF U-23 tournament.
They’ll vie for minutes against the veteran Altidore, NYCFC’s Shelton and Zardes, who was the big find from last year’s January camp. The Galaxy product made his senior debut against Chile in January and wound up earning 19 caps in 2015, tying Hall of Famer Claudio Reyna for the most appearances in a U.S. player’s first year with the team.