After a 2015 he will be desperate to forget as soon as possible, it is no surprise that United States men’s national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann has begun the new year with an eye turned firmly toward the future. The January camp has traditionally been a vehicle for emerging players to receive a chance to stake a claim for a role when the competitive action gets underway later in the calendar. This time last year it was LA Galaxy forward Gyasi Zardes who grabbed his opportunity and finished 2015 with 19 international caps and three goals.
Klinsmann has never been shy of experimenting, and this time around there is particular reason to do just that. More than just the defeat to Mexico in the Confederations Cup playoff in October, the other concern for the U.S. was the high average age of the team, with many set to be well past the age of 30 when the next World Cup kicks off in Russia in 2018.
Fresh blood needs to be found. And it is particularly necessary in the January camp, with matches against Iceland and Canada also acting as preparation for the Under-23 team’s efforts to qualify for the Olympics this summer. Having failed to secure its place through Concacaf qualifying after a defeat to Honduras last October, the U.S. must now negotiate a two-legged series against Colombia in March.
“A huge focus really is we need to help the Under-23 players get a head start because they still need to qualify for Rio de Janeiro,” Klinsmann said when announcing his squad. “Pretty much half of the squad for the January camp are the youngsters, the Olympic team players.”
Of the 23 players announced, 11 will be eligible to play for the Under-23s, including some who have already tasted action at senior level, like Jordan Morris, Matt Miazga and Wil Trapp.
There are also some notable absentees from the roster. Foremost among those is former long-time captain Clint Dempsey, as well as veteran midfielder Kyle Beckerman. It is unclear, however, to what extent those decisions were Klinsmann’s alone. Taking place in the heart of Major League Soccer’s off-season, the January camp, which encompasses a month of training and two exhibition games, has often been problematic for both players and coach. Last year, Klinsmann publicly decried the lack of fitness of his squad.
Still, some experienced faces remain. Led by captain Michael Bradley, they also include Jozy Altidore, Jermaine Jones, Matt Besler and Mix Diskerud. Also heading to the camp in Carson, California, are a selection of players who don’t lack experience at club level but have yet to make their mark on the international stage. Tony Tchani and Ethan Finlay, both of whom, along with Trapp, played a part in the Columbus Crew’s run to the MLS Cup final, will aim to win first caps, while New York Red Bulls’ Luis Robles, voted MLS Goalkeeper of the Year last season, could win his second cap, six years after his first.
“The January camp has always been the camp of opportunities for players that badly, badly want to knock at the door of the senior national team and want to become players of international status,” Klinsmann explained. “Giving that opportunity to already mature players like Tchani, Finaly, Robles, those are players that already have experience, you want these players to come in and make a point take a chance, and come back into that group by the end of March when we play World Cup qualifying. Having these experience players is very important.”
Goalkeepers: Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Luis Robles (New York Red Bulls)
Defenders: 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)
Midfielders: Fatai Alashe (San Jose Earthquakes), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Mix Diskerud (New York City), Jermaine Jones (Unattached), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution), Tony Tchani (Columbus Crew), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew)
Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Ethan Finlay (Columbus Crew), Jerome Kiesewetter (VFB Stuttgart, Germany), Jordan Morris (Unattached), Khiry Shelton (New York City FC), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)
Schedule (both matches at StubHub Center, Carson, California)
Jan. 31: vs. Iceland (3:45 p.m. EST)
Feb. 5: vs. Canada (10:15 p.m. EST)