Jurgen Klinsmann and the U.S. men’s soccer team will begin what they hope will be a much more successful 2016 than 2015 when taking on Iceland at the StubHub Center in Carson, California, on Sunday. The annual January camp, which falls outside of the FIFA window for international matches, has generally provided an opportunity for new players to stake their claim for a future with the national team. Yet this time around there will be extra pressure heaped on Klinsmann for both results and performances.
Last year, his team failed with its two major objectives -- to retain the Gold Cup and seal a place in the 2017 Confederations Cup. Defeats to Jamaica and Panama accounted for the worst Gold Cup performance in 15 years, while a reversal to Mexico at the Rose Bowl saw El Tri snatch a place in Russia.
With the U.S. competing in a rather weak group, progressing to the final round of World Cup qualifying should cause little stress. But the Copa America Centenario this summer will again provide a test of whether Klinsmann has truly got the team any closer to being able to challenge the world’s best.
Also crucial will be discovering some younger talent that can refresh an aging core group of players. The likes of Clint Dempsey, Jermaine Jones and Tim Howard will be into their mid-30s, at least, by the time of the next World Cup, but thus far there has been a lack of players showing that they are ready to step into their place.
The current camp, which will see the U.S. take on Iceland on Sunday and then Canada next Friday, will help to try and solve that issue, while also acting as preparation for a two-legged Olympic qualifier for the Under-23 side against its Colombian counterparts in March.
The squad includes 10 players who have yet to appear for the senior team, including Columbus Crew duo Ethan Finlay and Tony Tchani, who are also joined by once-capped teammate Will Trapp. Sure to be closely scrutinized is Jordan Morris, who made his debut for the U.S. last year while attending Stanford, but has just signed with the Seattle Sounders.
The camp is not made solely of inexperienced figures, however. Jones, Matt Besler and Jozy Altidore are among the familiar faces to have joined up during the Major League Soccer off-season. And the squad will be captained by veteran Michael Bradley, who is eager to start righting the disappointments of last year.
“On the inside of the group I think it’s always important to maintain a strong mentality, and to not let success take you too high and to not let disappointments bring you too low,” he told the U.S. Soccer website. “We’re certainly very aware that we let ourselves down in some big moments last year, but that’s sports. You play big games, you play in moments when everything is on the line. One team has to lose, that’s reality.
“We’ve looked back at things, we’ve thought about things. Again, the way we played in certain moments wasn’t good enough but you also in other moments have to give credit to the other team, because they were able to make a play in a big moment that tilted the bar in their favor. We don’t allow ourselves to get thrown into a tailspin. It’s the start of a new year, and there are a lot of things ahead of us with Qualifying and Copa America. We’re excited.”
Iceland is currently on a high after securing its first ever place in a major tournament with qualification for Euro 2016. However, the bulk of the players who contributed to that historic achievement will not feature on Sunday, having remained with their club teams in Europe. Instead, the match should provide an opportunity for some fringe players to impress and potentially book a seat on the place to France this summer.
Match time: 3:45 p.m. EST
TV channel: ESPN2, UniMás , Univision Deportes