Another Camp Cupcake is in the books for the United States men’s national team and, as usual, the team’s annual January camp has resulted in some movement on the U.S. depth chart.
Following a 3-2 loss to Chile, the U.S. rebounded with a 2-0 win over Panama and attention will now begin to focus on the upcoming March friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland.
But the most important near-term goal remains the 2015 Gold Cup, as a U.S. victory in the tournament will secure passage to the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia.
Here’s how the player pool looks to be shaping up for this summer.
With Tim Howard’s self-imposed exile keeping him out at least until this fall, the No. 1 and No. 2 spots in the net are clearly occupied by Brad Guzan and Nick Rimando. The big battle in the goalkeeper pool will be for the No. 3 spot.
Bill Hamid looked to be the No. 3 this fall, and won 2014 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year honors, but was also in the net for the U.S.’s 4-1 shellacking at the hands of Ireland in November. Hamid missed the January camp this year with a shoulder injury, allowing Sean Johnson to keep his name firmly in the discussion.
Against Panama, Johnson picked up a shutout as a second-half substitute, although to be fair, he wasn’t really tested. Johnson had an underappreciated season for the Chicago Fire in 2014, and also picked up two shutouts for the U.S. in his two other most recent national team appearances—in 2013.
On the outside looking in is Cody Cropper, who earned a few call-ups this fall and is probably next in line among a talented pool of young American netminders.
Steve Clark, Bobby Shuttleworth and Luis Robles were all thought to be in the hunt for a January camp call-up, but none were selected and now look to be firmly out of the picture for the time being.
Locks: Brad Guzan, Nick Rimando
On the roster: Sean Johnson
In the hunt: Bill Hamid, Cody Cropper
Right now, there is no other position in the U.S. player pool that has more depth than center-back. Jermaine Jones, Omar Gonzalez, Geoff Cameron, John Anthony Brooks and Matt Besler are all firmly in the mix, and that’s to say nothing of the versatile Michael Orozco, or a host of youngsters working their way into the national team picture.
The “Jones as a center-back” experiment continued in the February friendlies and continued to show a mixture of promise and problems. Jones was surprisingly vulnerable in the air to whipped-in crosses against Chile and seemed to need a tether to keep him from bombing forward at every opportunity. Still, Klinsmann loves the New England Revolution man and thinks he’s best in the back.
For his part, Besler still looks to be punch drunk from the beating he received this summer at the hands of Romelu Lukaku, but played better against Chile and Panama than he did in his post-World Cup haze last fall.
Gonzalez missed the January camp with a minor injury, but, despite plenty of doubters, showed himself well last summer in the World Cup. Cameron and Brooks have both enjoyed up-and-down club seasons, but Cameron’s versatility and Brooks’ potential are both still desperately needed on the U.S. squad.
Orozco will probably miss the final roster, but a number of youngsters look to be pushing their way into the discussion. D.C. United defender Steve Birnbaum has done the most to raise his stock as of late, putting in an impressive showing against Chile. FC Dallas’ Matt Hedges also received a late call-up into the January camp and should continue to put pressure on the more established players.
The dark-horse of the center-back pool is Ventura Alvarado, the 22-year-old dual national who has begun working his way into America’s lineup in Liga MX. Alvarado is also versatile enough to play in the wide positions when needed.
Locks: Jermaine Jones, Omar Gonzalez, Geoff Cameron, John Anthony Brooks
On the roster: Matt Besler
In the hunt: Orozco, Birnbaum, Hedges
Dark-horse favorite: Alvarado
Against Chile, the U.S. tried out a 3-5-2, a system that would seem to fit players like Fabian Johnson and DeAndre Yedlin perfectly. But head coach Jurgen Klinsmann scrapped the project after only 45 minutes and went back to a 4-4-2 for the second half of that match, and the next game against Panama.
Johnson is still the U.S.’s undisputed No. 1 at the position and has finally started to get more regular minutes (albeit in the midfield) in this year’s Bundesliga campaign. Johnson was the U.S.’s starter at right-back in the World Cup, but also has extensive experience on the left. With the emergence of Greg Garza, who showed well in the fall friendlies and has continued to develop with regular starts for Club Tijuana, Klinsmann can either continue to use Johnson on the right side, or even push him higher up the pitch.
That decision will rely heavily on DeAndre Yedlin, and his continued development in England. Tottenham have stated that they intend to bring Yedlin along slowly, and his performance against Panama clearly demonstrated that the youngster still has work to do.
Rounding out the roster in the back will likely be Timmy Chandler. He still isn’t a favorite among U.S. fans, but Klinsmann clearly likes him and he has been earning regular time this season in the Bundesliga.
One wild card could be Brek Shea. After a nightmare outing against Chile, Shea actually looked serviceable at left-back in the Panama game and the early indication out of Orlando is that he will continue to play as a defender for his new club. His flaws in possession are obvious and the quality of his flank service is wildly inconsistent, but it’s also no secret that Klinsmann is a fan of Shea. The mercurial wide player has also shown an ability to create game-changing goals for the U.S. under Klinsmann, as he has done twice against Mexico, in the 2013 Gold Cup and in scoring the opener against Panama earlier this month.
Not making the roster at this time are Brad Evans (yes, his January camp call-up indicates that he is still in the player pool), Tim Ream and Robbie Rogers.
Ream has played well for the last several years at Bolton, but is still obviously a fringe player in the U.S. pool. The situation with Rogers may resolve itself, but the odd back-and-forth between Rogers and Klinsmann during this year’s January camp seems to indicate that Rogers isn’t in the coach’s immediate plans.
Locks: Fabian Johnson, Greg Garza, DeAndre Yedlin
On the roster: Timmy Chandler
In the hunt: Brek Shea
In the center of the pitch, Klinsmann has plenty of options. Michael Bradley and Mix Diskerud are firmly in the picture, and the coach can always use Jones, Cameron, or Alejandro Bedoya as center midfielders, if need be.
After that, question marks abound. Klinsmann will want to bring at least one more dedicated center midfielder, but making that decision will be brutal because of the sheer number of choices.
Kyle Beckerman pulled himself out of the January camp, but his World Cup performance should have erased all doubts about his ability to contribute on the international level. He’s not a long-term option at 32 years old, but he can help the team win the Gold Cup this summer—and that is the goal.
Joe Corona was becoming a regular for Klinsmann in the fall, but suffered a foot injury that he is just starting to recover from. Lee Nguyen is also in the picture, but despite a standout 2014 season for the New England Revolution, he hasn’t received much playing time when called into U.S. camps.
One wildcard will be Gedion Zelalem. The Arsenal starlet recently received U.S. citizenship, but due to a snag in his FIFA paperwork, he isn’t eligible quite yet. He also hasn’t made his senior team league debut in England, but that didn’t stop Klinsmann from putting Julian Green on the World Cup roster last summer. With Zelalem, Klinsmann will undoubtedly be eager to bring the youngster into the fold as soon as possible.
On the fringe, there are a plethora of names, including Wil Trapp, Alfredo Morales, Danny Williams, Luis Gil and Emerson Hyndman. All of them have made their case in one way or another, but it’s hard to see any of them cracking this very deep, and talented, roster.
Locks: Bradley, Diskerud
On the roster: Beckerman
In the hunt: Corona, Nguyen, Trapp, Morales, Williams, Gil, Hyndman
Dark-horse favorite: Zelalem
On the wings, Klinsmann will have a number of difficult choices. Alejandro Bedoya is a lock, but after that, no one has a clear stamp on a roster spot. Of course, Johnson and Yedlin can be used in the wide midfield roles and LA Galaxy forward Gyasi Zardes made quite an impression on the wing against Panama in the U.S.’s most recent match.
There’s also Green, who has found playing time hard to come by at Hamburg and recently found himself in fight with club management over whether he should be playing games with the squad’s U-23 team.
Forward Miguel Ibarra is also in the picture and recently earned his first national team start, playing on the wing, against Panama.
Graham Zusi missed the January camp due to an injury, but will certainly be in the hunt. However, the Sporting Kansas City midfielder will have to prove he can compete with the younger, and speedier, options that Klinsmann has at his disposal—especially after Zusi’s less-than-impressive World Cup performances.
Joe Gyau, the Dortmund winger who showed tremendous promise in the fall friendlies, has suffered a setback in his recovery from a knee injury and, for now, looks to be out of contention for a roster spot this summer.
On the roster: Zardes, Green
In the hunt: Ibarra, Zusi
Up top, Klinsmann will continue to look towards veterans Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey to lead the line for the U.S. Altidore should be in solid form with Toronto FC by the time the summer rolls around and finally, after two long years, back to his best.
Aron Johannsson is slowly working his way back to form with AZ Alkmaar after an injury and fellow Eredivisie product Rubio Rubin looked very promising in the U.S.’s fall friendlies.
The remainder of the forward pool includes Chris Wondolowski (sigh), Bobby Wood, Terrence Boyd, Jordan Morris and Tesho Akindele (who is still eligible to represent Canada) with Andrew Wooten still looking for his first call-up
Wondo and Wood are both Klinsmann favorites and Wood recently picked up a brace in only his second appearance for his new club, Bundesliga 2-side Aue.
While Wood hasn’t showed well for the U.S. in several national team appearances, Klinsmann clearly has an affinity for the youngster.
Boyd is recovering from another knee injury and likely won’t be available this summer, while Wooten can’t seem to get Klinsmann’s attention despite a decent run of form this season in Germany.