United States men’s national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann hasn’t been shy when it comes to sharing his opinion of Major League Soccer, but one bonus MLS’s spring-to-fall calendar gives USMNT fans is the team’s annual January camp.
Traditionally known as “Camp Cupcake”, the January camp gives lesser-known MLS players a chance to break into the USMNT player pool. In recent years, the camp has led to the “discovery” of players like Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron—who used the off-season camp to eventually break into the USMNT’s regular lineup.
When the January camp convenes this winter, Klinsmann will be on the lookout for players that can help the team both in the immediate future, with an eye on the 2015 Gold Cup, and younger players who might be of use later in the 2018 World Cup cycle.
Here’s a look at who might be on the roster.
When Klinsmann sits down to sort out his selections at goalkeeper, his choices will be pretty clear cut. While Aston Villa’s Brad Guzan will be unavailable due to his club commitments, the pool of goalkeepers will still include frequent call-ups Nick Rimando, Bill Hamid and Sean Johnson.
Rimando seems to be the de facto No. 2 for the U.S. at the moment, but Klinsmann did use the November friendly against Ireland to give Hamid some much-needed international experience. However, Hamid, and the U.S. defense, didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory against the Irish, losing 4-1.
Klinsmann might call it quits after calling in Rimando, Hamid and Johnson, as no other MLS keepers seem to have a realistic shot at breaking into the U.S.’s goalkeeper pool any time soon. But the coach may decide to use the off-season camp to take a look at outsiders Steve Clark, Luis Robles, or perhaps even Bobby Shuttleworth—all of whom have enjoyed strong seasons in MLS in 2014.
Locks: Rimando, Hamid, Johnson
In the discussion: Clark, Robles
Long shot: Shuttleworth
With Jermaine Jones and Omar Gonzalez available, Klinsmann has at least one solid center-back pairing to call on. The big question will be whether the coach calls in Matt Besler, who has been a shadow of his former self since the World Cup. Perhaps having two months off between the end of the MLS season and the January camp will be enough for Besler to recover his form and fitness, or perhaps Klinsmann will just give him the winter off completely.
The other obvious choices are Matt Hedges and Chris Schuler. Schuler looked on track to receive a call-up last January, but required surgery at the end of 2013 MLS season and ultimately wasn’t available.
Maurice Edu could also see a call-up as a defender. He played center-back for the Union quite a bit this season and has been used by Klinsmann at the position before.
Outside contenders include 2014 Defender of the Year Chad Marshall and the Colorado Rapids’ Shane O’Neill. Marshall is 30 years old and likely won’t be a serious choice come 2018, but deserves consideration simply for his 2014 MLS campaign. As far as O’Neill, no one on the Rapids seems deserving of a call-up considering the second half of their 2014 MLS campaign, but O’Neill is obviously still on Klinsmann’s radar considering comments made by the coach during the November camp (who said the 21-year-old dual international with choose the U.S. over Ireland).
One last option could be D.C. United rookie Steve Birnbaum, who finished third in MLS’s Rookie of the Year voting.
Locks: Jones, Gonzalez
In the discussion: Besler, Hedges, Schuler, Edu
Long shots: Marshall, O’Neill, Birnbaum
When it comes to left and right-backs, the U.S. is going to be a little thin come January as most of the U.S.’s best options at the positions play abroad.
DaMarcus Beasley is the U.S.’s best option out of MLS at left-back. After that, the list gets pretty short. Robbie Rogers could be up for a recall to the team—he hasn’t earned a cap since 2011—after flourishing at left-back for the LA Galaxy since Bruce Arena pushed him into the back line earlier this year. Seth Sinovic and Chris Klute, who were both called in for the 2014 January camp, could also make their way back into the squad.
On the right, it seems likely that DeAndre Yedlin won’t be available—assuming his move to Tottenham goes through. That will leave Klinsmann with no experienced options, other than a possible call-up for Yedlin’s club teammate Brad Evans. One other recall could be A.J. DeLaGarza, who, despite normally playing at center-back for the Galaxy, can certainly handle the duties on the right and has done so on several occasions for the Galaxy this season. In the Galaxy’s recent playoff victory over Real Salt Lake, DeLaGarza showed his ability to contribute to the attack when deployed wide with this fantastic run forward to assist on Landon Donovan’s opening goal.
The remaining options are highly-touted, although internationally unproven, prospects Andrew Farrell and Sheanon Williams.
In the discussion: Yedlin, Rogers, Evans, DeLaGarza, Farrell
Long shots: Klute, Sinovic, Williams
Assuming Michael Bradley is fully recovered from his recent foot surgery, he’s a lock, as is Kyle Beckerman. Many might consider Beckerman too old for the new cycle, but Klinsmann proved in the November friendlies that he still considers the RSL man a key player in the U.S.’s player pool.
Lee Nguyen used his first call-up in five years with a bright 10-minute cameo against Colombia and should also be back in the mix. Many fans are excited to see him get an extended run out in the No. 10 role.
A surprise inclusion could also be Mix Diskerud, who is currently out of contract and might be in camp if he hasn’t signed with a club by then (or signs with an MLS club).
After that, Klinsmann will likely use the January camp to bring in a few youngsters, including Luis Gil and Wil Trapp (if you haven’t seen these comments by French legend Thierry Henry about Trapp, do yourself a favor and watch it now).
Long shots at center mid include Dillon Powers, Amobi Okugo, Dax McCarty, Benny Feilhaber and Perry Kitchen.
Locks: Bradley, Beckerman, Nguyen
In the discussion: Diskerud, Gil, Trapp
Long shots: Powers, Okugo, McCarty, Feilhaber, Kitchen
Like outside back, many of the U.S.’s best options at outside mid play overseas. World Cup veteran Graham Zusi should be back with the team, but after him, it’s anyone’s guess.
It seems likely that MLS youngsters Harry Shipp, Kelyn Rowe and/or Luis Silva could all be in for their first call-ups. All have had impressive MLS campaigns in 2014, but Rowe seems the most likely option at this point.
Most fans would consider a recall of Brad Davis to be a waste of a roster spot, but Klinsmann has already proven in the U.S.’s post-World Cup friendlies that he is willing to keep the veterans around for the time being. The coach could also reward Lamar Neagle for his strong season with the Sounders.
Youngster Dillon Serna might be a contender for a roster spot, although it seems unlikely.
One other unlikely call-up could be Brek Shea. Considering that Shea has fallen out of favor with numerous clubs in Europe, he could be on track for a January move back to MLS and, in the past, he has proved to be one of Klinsmann’s favorites with the USMNT.
In the discussion: Shipp, Rowe, Silva, Davis, Neagle
Long shots: Serna, Shea
Assuming Klinsmann doesn’t think Clint Dempsey needs a break, he should be in camp. He’ll likely be joined—to the chagrin of most fans—by Chris Wondolowski, who the coach still sees worthy of not only call-ups, but playing time.
Newbies Miguel Ibarra and Jordan Morris should also be in and be given an opportunity to stake their claim to more playing time heading into 2015.
One participant could also be Jozy Altidore, but that would only happen if he makes a January move back to MLS. On that note, Juan Agudelo, who is still out of contract, could be a possibility.
Gyasi Zardes seems in line for a call-up after a strong MLS season in 2014. After that, there will be several retreads in competition for spots, including Charlie Davies, Teal Bunbury, Will Bruin and Jack McInerney. Bruin and McInerney didn’t really have the kind of seasons to merit a call-up, but Davies and Bunbury have been key to the New England Revolution’s attack and strong end-of-year form.
MLS Rookie of the Year and dual national Tesho Akindele could be in camp as well, especially after it was widely reported that he was going to be called in for the November friendlies and snub Canada for the U.S.
Locks: Dempsey, Wondolowski
In the discussion: Ibarra, Morris, Zardes, Davies, Bunbury, Akindele
Long shots: Altidore, Agudelo, Bruin, McInerney