U.S. January camp could be launching pad for rising players
When U.S. men's national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann revealed his 25-player January camp squad Sunday, there was a bit more excitement than usual for the annual camp that includes players on their breaks from MLS, German and Scandinavian leagues. For starters, the U.S.' first final-round World Cup qualifier takes place on Feb. 6 at Honduras, and six to eight of these players will be on the plane to San Pedro Sula.
What's more, as we saw last year with Geoff Cameron and Graham Zusi, it's possible to use the January camp and friendly (Jan. 29 vs. Canada in Houston) as a springboard to a starting spot on the A-squad for the games that matter most. You never know who might make an important contribution in a big World Cup qualifier down the road: MLSers Eddie Johnson, Alan Gordon and Kyle Beckerman also played roles for the U.S. in CONCACAF'S semifinal round in 2012.
If there's one player who could make the biggest move on this U.S. squad, it's center back Omar González, the 6-foot-5, 24-year-old from the Los Angeles Galaxy who was the MLS Cup final MVP. González has only two U.S. appearances, but he now appears fully recovered from a severe knee injury suffered 12 months ago. There's also an opportunity to be had in the central defense, where captain Carlos Bocanegra is injured and may be on his way out of the first-choice lineup. It wouldn't be surprising if González and Cameron were the eventual starting pair for big games.
Klinsmann didn't call up any regulars who are currently busy with their clubs in Europe or Mexico, though Jermaine Jones (suspended in Germany) and Maurice Edu (lack of playing time at Stoke City) might be summoned for the Canada friendly.
As for González's Galaxy teammate Landon Donovan, the U.S.' all-time leading scorer was not invited to camp while he continues to deliberate on his playing future, Klinsmann told Fox Soccer on Sunday. Donovan's omission wasn't a surprise to anyone who's been paying attention: Word slipped out in December that he wasn't expected to be on the January roster. The question then was whether Klinsmann might still call up Donovan for the February qualifier -- a fit Donovan has been able to hit the ground running twice in the Premier League on loans to Everton -- but he now appears to be an unlikely addition for Honduras.
Injuries are keeping a few players out of this camp including Chris Pontius, Nick Rimando, Brek Shea and Gordon. Who got snubbed? You could certainly make cases for Jay DeMerit, Dax McCarty, Dan Kennedy, CJ Sapong, Heath Pearce, Chance Myers and Amobi Okugo. Also, Freddy Adu's omission should be additional confirmation that the player who started in the 2011 Gold Cup final isn't doing enough at the club level in Philadelphia to impress Klinsmann.
Yet there are several prospects in this squad, too. Josh Gatt, Mix Diskerud and Juan Agudelo got playing time in the U.S.' 2-2 friendly tie against Russia in November. Here's one man's predicted 4-1-4-1 lineup (omitting Jones and Edu):
Sean Johnson; Steve Beitashour, Omar González, Matt Besler, Justin Morrow; Kyle Beckerman; Josh Gatt, Graham Zusi, Mix Diskerud, Eddie Johnson; Chris Wondolowski.
Keep in mind, though, that several other players will push for a starting role against Canada, including Tally Hall, Bill Hamid, A.J. DeLaGarza, Alejandro Bedoya, Brad Davis and Benny Feilhaber. So buckle up: It's going to be a fun start to 2013.