The U.S. Men’s National Team’s January camp has long been a proving ground. Due to the absence of European players, the January camp is often dismissed, as several of the team’s top stars continue to ply their trade at the club level overseas. However, players like Geoff Cameron, Jozy Altidore and, most recently, Steve Birnbaum have made their big impressions during the winter friendlies, earning more regular spots with the national team.
Knowing that, the January camp is an annual chance for MLS players to step up and stake their claim. Under a new manager, that chance is even greater.
Bruce Arena takes charge of the first camp of his second go around as USMNT boss as he brings a group together for several weeks ahead of a pair of friendlies. The U.S. is set to open camp on Jan. 10 before taking on Serbia and Jamaica on Jan. 29 and Feb. 3, respectively. Ahead of those dates, Arena stated that he plans to call in roughly 30 players for the annual camp, giving each a chance to impress the new coach with World Cup qualifiers and the Gold Cup looming.
Here’s a look at a group of players that could make up the annual January camp:
David Bingham, Brad Guzan, Bill Hamid, Luis Robles
Outlook: The goalkeeping position is as open as it has been in years and, with Tim Howard injured, the January camp gives several others a chance to restate their cases under a new head coach.
If Brad Guzan’s long-reported move to Atlanta United goes through in time, the goalkeeper should join the U.S. at some point, but it remains to be seen exactly how the timing will work following a weekend appearance from Middlesbrough. However, the U.S. is still several weeks away from the first friendly date, giving the goalkeeper plenty of time to join if the situation arises. Even if Guzan doesn’t join up, the U.S. has several capable goalkeepers in camp, including Bill Hamid, a player many believe could be one of the biggest benefactors of coaching switch. Hamid has long been on the outside of the USMNT picture, and a hot January camp could be just the start needed to see him join the upper echelon of Guzan and Howard.
The same could be said for David Bingham, who has been involved but never truly competitive for the No. 1 spot. Luis Robles, meanwhile, should join camp once again, as the New York Red Bulls goalkeeper has become a regular veteran fixture at the annual gathering.
Among the potential surprises could be Stefan Frei who is fresh off an MLS Cup-winning effort. The Seattle Sounders goalkeeper stated his desire to represent the U.S. internationally, but it remains to be seen just how plausible it is to see him in the near future.
Missed the Cut – Nick Rimando, Sean Johnson, Stefan Frei
DaMarcus Beasley, Matt Besler, Steve Birnbaum, Greg Garza, Matt Hedges, Eric Miller, Justin Morrow, Keegan Rosenberry, Walker Zimmerman
Outlook: A mix of strong veterans and up-and-comers headline the potential roster as Arena is given the chance to introduce several new faces to the fold.
DaMarcus Beasley, Matt Hedges, Keegan Rosenberry and Walker Zimmerman have been confirmed as atendees, giving the latter trio a chance to step up under the new regime. The call-up has long been deserved for the FC Dallas duo, who have repeatedly stepped up in the center of defense on the club level, while Rosenberry’s spectacular rookie campaign earns him a nod. The Philadelphia Union fullback could be a player that earns more frequent looks at a relative position of weakness, so it’ll be interesting to see how he fares during the two friendlies.
Among the more familiar faces, Steve Birnbaum and Matt Besler figure to feature, giving Arena two top centerbacks. At fullback, Greg Garza rejoins the pool following extended injury issues and a move to Atlanta United. Look for Arena to try some new faces due to the absences of DeAndre Yedlin and Fabian Johnson, opening the door for players like Justin Morrow and Eric Miller to earn looks.
Missed the Cut: Brad Evans, Justen Glad, Chad Marshall, Drew Moor, Ike Opara, Robbie Rogers
Kellyn Acosta, Michael Bradley, Alejandro Bedoya, Benny Feilhaber, Jermaine Jones, Sacha Kljestan, Sebastian Lletget, Dax McCarty, Darlington Nagbe, Chris Pontius, Cristian Roldan, Will Trapp
Outlook: Several of the usual suspects should be available, but they will face new challenges at this camp. Michael Bradley is still pretty much untouchable, but it’s up to him to now convince Bruce Arena that he is locked in to a No. 6 role. Jermaine Jones faces a test, too, as the midfielder looks to prove himself worthy enough of continued call ups despite his advancing years.
The marquee name on the list, though, is Benny Feilhaber, who finally rejoins the USMNT picture after several years away. Feilhaber was long the excluded but unforgotten man during the Klinsmann era, and his playmaking ability could certainly be a major help to the U.S. as the cycle continues.
Then there are the newcomers, like Sebastian Lletget and Christian Roldan. Lletget is an all too logical inclusion given his history with Bruce Arena, and provides depth both out wide and centrally if need be. Roldan, meanwhile, is a player that has flourished in a holding role for the Sounders, proving himself as a capable two-way midfielder through MLS play. He has obviously yet to prove he can stand up to the international level, but his recent MLS efforts certainly show him worthy of that chance.
Missed the Cut: Kyle Beckerman, Ethan Finlay, Tommy McNamara, Lee Nguyen, Kelyn Rowe, Graham Zusi
Juan Agudelo, Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Kekuta Manneh, Jordan Morris, Gyasi Zardes
The forward pool is all but confirmed. Arena mentioned the likes of Juan Agudelo, Clint Dempsey, Kekuta Manneh, Jordan Morris and Gyasi Zardes by name in his brief look into the roster, confirming, at worst, a large chunk of the forward roster. After shining en route to an MLS Cup berth, Jozy Altidore is also an obvious inclusion.
There’s still plenty of intrigue, though. Is Dempsey past his heart condition and, if he is, what type of role can he expect to return to with Altidore and Bobby Wood thriving? What can Manneh bring to the table before officially joining the USMNT? Can Jordan Morris take the leap and begin to push Altidore and Wood harder for starters minutes? How does Arena see Zardes lining up for the national team after coaching him for so long with the Galaxy?
The January camp will answer several questions for a growing USMNT pool.
Missed the Cut: Patrick Mullins, Chris Wondowlowski