The U.S. men’s national team starts its month-long winter camp on Monday in the Los Angeles area. On the plus side, the annual camp—which involves mostly players from MLS and leagues that are on break in January—has almost always produced at least one emerging player (like Gyasi Zardes, Graham Zusi, Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, DeAndre Yedlin and Geoff Cameron) who has gone on to have a significant impact on the national team.
On the minus side, the winter camp is, shall we say, not high on the list of U.S. veteran players’ favorite national-team gatherings. An already-short MLS off-season is cut even shorter. Aside from a negligible per diem, the camp (which was originally announced as a 33-day siege) pays players only for the two friendlies that are staged at the end, per the CBA, and only then for those who make the gameday roster.
What’s more, last year’s camp provided plenty of tension, as coach Jurgen Klinsmann was openly critical of his players’ fitness after they arrived in January, a full two months before the start of the MLS season.
So perhaps it’s not surprising that there has been some behind-the-scenes maneuvering in advance of this year’s camp. After making several calls, I was able to piece together a lot of what has been happening ahead of the roster announcement later this week.
For starters, the original plans for the camp have been altered, according to multiple sources. When the players first learned of Klinsmann’s plan, which involved camp starting on Jan. 4 and spending the first week focused entirely on fitness, veteran players expressed their concerns to U.S. Soccer.
The federation and Klinsmann listened. The start date of camp was moved a week later, but seven veteran players who were on Klinsmann’s preliminary 36-player list are now not expected to be involved in the camp at all: Clint Dempsey, Nick Rimando, Graham Zusi, Kyle Beckerman, Brad Evans, Chris Wondolowski and Gonzalez.
A U.S. Soccer spokesperson said Klinsmann noted that Jan. 31 friendly opponent Iceland is already training together and that some U.S. players who had missed the MLS playoffs haven't been training with their teams since late October. Klinsmann has also spoken individually to the seven veterans not in camp, placing them on standby if he reconsiders calling them in later in the month.
Michael Bradley, the team captain, will be on the roster that is expected to comprise 25 players, around 12 of whom who are on the Under-23 team. (The U-23s will meet Colombia in a home-and-home playoff in March for an Olympics berth.)
Other players on the roster include Jesse Gonzalez, the 20-year-old FC Dallas goalkeeper who’s eligible for the U.S. and Mexico; Luis Robles, the reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, whose one cap came in 2009; and Ethan Finlay, the 25-year-old Columbus Crew winger who’s making his first national team camp. (Gonzalez’s inclusion was first reported by Ives Galarcep of Goal.com. Finlay’s inclusion was first reported by Andrew King of MLSsoccer.com.)
Sporting Kansas City midfielder Benny Feilhaber, who made the MLS Best XI last season and was an MVP finalist, is not on the U.S. roster.
After the U.S. faces Iceland, it will play CONCACAF foe Canada on Feb. 5. Both games will be in Carson, California, at the StubHub Center.