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):
Dominic Cervi, Celtic (Scotland): Although the Scottish giants own his contract, Cervi is currently on loan to Dundee, where he has yet to make a first-team appearance.
Matt Pickens, Colorado Rapids: After a stint at Queens Park Rangers in England failed to work out, Pickens got back on the national team radar with a solid season for MLS champion Colorado.
Nick Rimando, Real Salt Lake: By far the oldest player in the January camp at age 31.
Sean Johnson, Chicago Fire: The 21-year-old is 6-4 and athletic. And a couple of big performances in high-profile contests seemed to demonstrate that he's mentally up for the job in MLS. He's certainly an interesting one to watch in this camp.
A.J. DeLaGarza, L.A. Galaxy: He may be the most versatile man in camp, DeLaGarza is most comfortable at right or left back or in the wide midfield spots. He was a center back in college but may be small at this level.
Sean Franklin, L.A. Galaxy: The Galaxy right back was among the best in MLS at his position in 2010. This is his opportunity to pull ahead of challengers like Eric Lichaj and Jonathan Spector, others hoping to nudge incumbent Steve Cherundolo from his stronghold on the U.S. right back spot.
Omar Gonzalez, L.A. Galaxy: Gonzalez has benefited tremendously from Gregg Berhalter's tutelage at the Home Depot Center. In the U.S. kit he'll have to communicate and pass at another level. If he can bump up his game accordingly, Europe could soon beckon.
Ugo Ihemelu, FC Dallas: The speedy defender has been on the fringe for some time, with two caps. The last was in January 2009.
Zach Loyd, FC Dallas: He's a bit of a Frankie Hejduk starter kit, fit and feisty and unbothered by circumstance. Loyd's passing and crossing needs work at the next level, but his timing in the air and in the tackle is a big asset.
Ryan Miller, Halmstads BK (Sweden): Originally a third-round selection by Columbus in the 2008 MLS draft he is now a regular in Sweden's top division.
Tim Ream, NY Red Bulls: Composed in possession and heady in ball winning, Ream was a rookie sensation at Red Bull Arena. He played every minute for the Red Bulls with only the occasional hiccup.
Anthony Wallace, Colorado Rapids: He was always a bright prospect going back to promising work with the U.S. under-17 and under-20 sides. Wallace struggled to find a place in three-plus years at FC Dallas but immediately earned a starting spot at left back with Colorado after a mid-season 2010 trade.
Marvell Wynne, Colorado Rapids: It will be interesting to see where Bradley uses Wynne and his considerable speed. He was formerly a right back, but prospered for the MLS Cup winners at center back.
Eric Alexander, FC Dallas: Able to play wide or centrally, he filled in nicely at Pizza Hut Park whenever called upon in 2010. His goal for 10-man Dallas against New York to preserve a draw was a huge confidence boost.
Alejandro Bedoya, Örebro (Sweden): With six U.S. appearances, the outside midfielder is the most capped man in camp. Comfortable crossing or cutting inside, Bedoya should exploit this opportunity.
Sam Cronin, San Jose Earthquakes: Overshadowed by bigger names around him, Cronin quietly had a nice season in San Jose's midfield, usually in a holding role.
Mikkel Diskerud, Stabaek (Norway): Never mind that he truly is more Norwegian than American, Diskerud had a nice, composed international debut as a two-way central midfielder off the bench against South Africa in November.
Jeff Larentowicz, Colorado Rapids: Arguably the best player in Colorado's MLS Cup final triumph, Larentowicz must now add a smidge of technical polish to all that hustle and bustle in order to thrive at the next level.
Dax McCarty, D.C. United: An ideal linking presence and skillful two-way midfielder. He was Dallas' top man in the MLS Cup final loss to Colorado last month, although he was left unprotected a few days later.
Brek Shea, FC Dallas: He will certainly want to put a nervous international debut behind him; Shea, the first player born in the 1990s to earn a U.S. cap, started, but failed to impress against Colombia in October.
Juan Agudelo, New York Red Bulls: The promising striker, only 18, became the youngest U.S. player to score in the modern era when he struck for the only goal in a 1-0 win over South Africa to close out a busy year for the national team in November.
Justin Braun, Chivas USA: He's a faster, bigger, more athletic version of target man Brian Ching. Braun struck nine times in 2010, not bad at all for offensively challenged Chivas USA.
Teal Bunbury, Sporting Kansas City: He hit for five goals and two assists in 26 appearances last year for Sporting Kansas City, where the rookie striker was worked in slowly. Half of his appearances were off the bench.
Chris Wondolowski, San Jose Earthquakes: His late, breathtaking (and successful) run for the MLS Golden Boot came out of nowhere and turned into one of the great MLS stories of 2010. Bradley could look at him as a striker or as a right midfielder, where he played most often at San Jose.