When U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann addressed the players for the first time at the start of this camp, the message was clear: we are here to get ready for the World Cup qualifier on Feb. 6 in Honduras, and every player in the room has a shot at making the roster.
Along with this huge carrot, the January camps have always been about opportunity: for veteran players to demonstrate their progress and for new faces to have a chance to shine following an extended look in front of the National Team coaching staff. It’s a three-week showcase that offers the prospect of a future role in international football.
“This is a very important year with World Cup qualifying, the Gold Cup and U.S. Soccer’s 100th anniversary, and to have a possibility to be a part of that is exciting,” said Houston Dynamo goalkeeper Tally Hall. “Every one of us has an opportunity to be on the roster and establish themselves in the team. It’s an honor to be here, and I’m looking forward to the competition.”
The history of the January camp tells many tales of players who snatched this opportunity and made a name for themselves. In 2002, Pablo Mastroeni entered the January camp having not appeared in a single World Cup qualifier in the campaign to reach Korea/Japan. Five months later, he started against Portugal in the opening game of the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
More recently, last year’s January camp saw the introduction of Sporting Kansas City midfielder Graham Zusi to the National Team fold, as well as the return of Geoff Cameron, who entered 2012 with only one cap to his credit. Both players earned starts in the consecutive 1-0 wins against Venezuela and Panama, with Zusi striking home the game-winner in Panama City. By year’s end, Cameron had collected 10 appearances and the second-most minutes of any field player on the team, while Zusi played in six games that included starts in the final three World Cup qualifiers in the semifinal round in which the United States posted a perfect 3-0-0 record.
For others like Kyle Beckerman, who is now participating in his sixth January camp, he not only continues to establish himself as part of Klinsmann’s core group, but also serves as a role model for the next generation.
“You expect the guys who have been here before, like Kyle, to pass on their experience as quickly as possible to the next group,” said Klinsmann. “They become your right hand, your communicators and your connectors.”Beckerman welcomes the responsibility, and sees these three weeks as a chance to hit the ground running.
“I look at the January camps as a chance to be the first players seen in the new year, so in that sense you have a head start,” says the hard-working center midfielder. “I’ve been in these camps at different stages of my career, and now as an older guy you take on more responsibility. You make sure that everybody is getting ready and doing the right things on and off the field. It doesn’t matter of it’s a friendly or a World Cup qualifier. It’s important to our fans, and the younger players need to understand that every national team game is big.”
The coach thinks as many as six to nine players from this group could make the flight to San Pedro Sula next month as part of the first World Cup Qualifying roster in 2013. Ultimately, the aspiring internationals hope to establish themselves as future contributors on a team building towards 2014 in Brazil.
“I think there will be another couple guys who emerge from this roster and hopefully make our National Team environment even stronger. We hope with the January camp that the players understand that if they really grow, become personalities and take their lives and careers in their own hands, they can make the jump like Graham or Geoff or others before. We hope that will be the case in this camp, as well.”