The 2015 January camp had a much different feel than previous editions of the annual winter get together of MLS-based players, and for good reason. The main priorities for the Men’s National Teams this year – winning the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup and qualifying for the 2016 Olympic Games – took center stage, and U.S. MNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann and his staff built a roster tailored to kick-start the process of gearing up for these two critical events. In addition, the prospect of discovering future candidates for regular action with the MNT remained one of the carrots of the first gathering of the season.
“Overall we saw a lot of good things on this camp,” Klinsmann said. “We combined it as an Olympic team and Senior Team camp. We wanted to see a lot of individual players, as many as we could, and then we always have to hope that one, two, three will emerge from that group and give you more cards to put on the table going forward. It was a very positive camp. It gave us a lot of insight on a couple guys and hopefully they take this jumpstart into preseason for their MLS clubs.”
All told, five players earned their first cap (upping the total number of new players brought into the MNT since the World Cup to 10); four got their first starts; three different formations were tested; there were four different goal scorers; two ‘keepers shared in a shutout; and a total of 20 players saw action.
With the last chapter written from Carson following the USA’s 2-0 win against Panama on Feb. 8, here’s a look back at what was accomplished:
GOING TOWARDS GOLD CUP
Michael Bradley came off a six-week recovery from a procedure on his toe looking as fit as ever, turning in two solid performances against Chile and Panama, highlighted by a nifty game-winner straight from a corner kick. Jozy Altidore and Brek Shea got back on the scoresheet with fantastic finishes against Panama, a boost of confidence for both players who are looking at new chapters in their club careers following a return from England. Clint Dempsey showed the trademark flair that makes him unique among U.S. talents, while Jermaine Jones got two more runs at centerback under his belt, and Mix Diskerud made it seven straight starts since the World Cup.
“We have another goal on the horizon now: winning the Gold Cup; qualifying for the Confederations Cup in Russia in 2017, this is huge,” Klinsmann said of what is next in 2015 and beyond. “With every new kind of cycle you start a couple of new players to get introduced so that means there’s more competition because they want to show what they have. Then the fact we’re going to host Copa America in 2016, you can give them more things to look at and bigger goals to have, which obviously drives the players; they want to have their goals in mind constantly. We have a full agenda looking into the near future and it will help getting everyone up to speed.”
“Now, the exciting side of things is that going into the March fixture dates in Europe with a game in Denmark and a game in Switzerland, it’s that you can pull your best team. We can pull the European-based players, the Mexican-based players and combined them with the MLS-based players and have your best team together. That’s what all the other nations in the world always do. When the national team meets, it’s only the best of the best that come in. That’s really the positive side now, looking forward and having the best guys come in into Denmark and Switzerland.”
With nine World Cup veterans available from the MLS mix, there were fewer spots for young domestic-based players to have a crack at an audition. Those that did get a sniff, however, made the most of their opportunity. D.C. United defender Steve Birnbaum looked solid and composed in his run-out during the debut of the 3-5-2 formation, looking fit and prepared from the get-go.
Miguel Ibarra grew in stature as he displayed increasing confidence and comfort in training sessions and on the day of the match. Along with Gyasi Zardes, he earned his first start in the 2-0 win against Panama. For his part, Zardes turned in an outstanding performance in front of his hometown of Los Angeles and in front of Galaxy fans at StubHub Center, displaying speed, skill and touch. “He's shown that without a doubt, he's a guy that has to be in this group going forward,” Bradley said.
“Definitely Steven Birnbaum was one of the winners,” Klinsmann said of the result of January camp. “I think Gyasi Zardes with both games, his introduction into the senior group; we see a lot of talent.”
GROOMING THE U-23s
During the camp, U.S. Soccer announced that MNT assistant coach Andi Herzog would lead the U-23 group as they look forward to the qualifying tournament this fall and the ultimate prize of competing in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. With more than a dozen Olympic-age players in Carson, Herzog got an up-close look at a pool of the candidates, who in turn got an important introduction into the culture of the program. Columbus Crew midfielder Wil Trapp made his debut for the Senior Team, showing poise and the soccer IQ which got him 28 starts in his second season. DeAndre Yedlin – who is still only 21 years old – returned from his new gig at Tottenham Hotspur FC to make two starts and continue his development on the right side of the U.S. flank.
“All players benefitted a lot from the camp, especially the players coming through the ranks,” Klinsmann said. “Players that are trying to make their name for the Olympic Team, which is under the supervision of Andi Herzog; so he saw a lot of the youngsters already. They all deserve a compliment at the end of the camp. They all understood how intense the Senior Team environment is, and that there is a lot of work behind it. I think they will all benefit for hopefully our entire 2015 year with a lot of success. Personally, they showed a great attitude in the way we were working throughout camp, which is always expected.”