The annual U.S. Men’s National Team January camp has always served a specific purpose. The aim was to find a handful of new players ready to take the leap while keeping the team’s core in shape for the year to come. It’s certainly not the most important USMNT gathering of the year, but it sets the tone for what is to come.
This year’s camp is a bit different. With no real games to play for over a year, the January camp takes on a whole new meaning. Sure, the aim is still to prepare players for the MLS season that lies ahead, but the camp is also now all about integrating young faces and phasing in what should be an overhaul of the USMNT pool.
Expect youth to be served in this year’s gathering, which is set to culminate with a friendly against Bosnia & Herzegovina on Jan. 28. Caretaker coach Dave Sarachan is once again set to take the helm as he looks to build off a solid effort from a new-look group in November’s Portugal friendly.
Last season’s camp featured 32 players and, while many of the faces are expected to change, you can expect a similar number of players to kickstart the 2018 season with a USMNT chance.
Here’s a look at a group of players you could see in January:
Alex Bono, Jesse Gonzalez, Brad Guzan, Tim Melia, Zack Steffen
While youth will certainly be the theme of January camp, it makes sense to bring in at least one USMNT veteran per position to lead the way. In the goalkeeping scenario, Guzan is the obvious choice. Yes, he had his ups and downs last cycle but, if his form with Atlanta United is anything to go by, Guzan could be either the placeholder or veteran presence to start the next cycle. If needed, he could hold down the fort until a younger star emerges and, if not needed, he could play the Nick Rimando role. The main point: it doesn’t hurt to keep him around.
All eyes will no doubt be fixed on Steffen, though. Following his standout performances throughout the playoffs, Steffen seems the odds-on favorite to take over the starting job, at least for now. A strong January camp would be huge for the Columbus Crew goalkeeper and would ease some fears following a shaky appearance against Portugal from Ethan Horvath.
The wild card? Alex Bono. The goalkeeper quietly had a very good season with Toronto FC, but was overshadowed a bunch by the team’s big stars. At 23, Bono still has a lot of growing to do, but he’s one of several prospects in the mix for USMNT minute.
Missed the Cut: Stefan Frei, Sean Johnson, Tim Howard
Danilo Acosta, Matt Besler, Matt Hedges, Greg Garza, Justen Glad, Justin Morrow, Ike Opara, Tim Parker, Matt Polster, Brandon Vincent, Walker Zimmerman
There are a number of talented young fullbacks scattered throughout MLS, and January camp should offer a good opportunity for them to take a step up. Matt Polster and Brandon Vincent were a key part of the Chicago Fire’s resurgence this season, making both obvious candidates to join the squad. You can also add in Danny Acosta after his strong defensive season with Real Salt Lake, while players like Nick Lima and Jake Nerwinski could sneak onto the squad.
At centerback, Justen Glad headlines the young options with fellow up-and-comers like Cameron Carter-Vickers, Erik Palmer-Brown and Matt Miazga over in Europe. The camp also offers players like Tim Parker and Walker Zimmerman a chance to stake a claim in their returns to camp. Ike Opara, meanwhile, gets his long-awaited chance after asserting himself as the MLS Defender of the Year.
In addition there are several veterans involved. Greg Garza and Justin Morrow seem like obvious call-ups at the fullback position. The one question mark is Matt Besler, who probably won’t have much of a part to play in the upcoming cycle. For now, though, he can be a useful tool to set the tone for camp.
Missed the Cut: Nick Lima, Jake Nerwinski, Jonathan Spector, Graham Zusi,
Kellyn Acosta, Tyler Adams, Paul Arriola, Alejandro Bedoya, Russell Canouse, Marky Delgado, Darlington Nagbe, Cristian Roldan, Kelyn Rowe, Wil Trapp
The central midfield is stacked with young options. Tyler Adams remains one of the brightest prospects in the U.S. pool and, after making his debut against Portugal, he should be a fixture for years to come. Paul Arriola and Kellyn Acosta are already locked-in members of the national team while Darlington Nagbe may be a bit older, but is still a player with a part to play. As for the veteran presence, Alejandro Bedoya held down that role in that Portugal match, making him a logical call-up in this scenario.
Next up, though, are players looking to break through. Cristian Roldan and Kelyn Rowe got a taste during the Gold Cup. Wil Trapp has been in and out of the picture for some time. Marky Delgado is fresh off a strong season with TFC while Russell Canouse is coming into his own with D.C. United.
One potential wild card to watch? Sebastian Lletget. If his injury issues are settled by the start of January, you could certainly see the LA Galaxy midfielder involved. His USMNT start was as impressive as it could have been back at the beginning of 2017, and kickstarting 2018 with the USMNT could go a long way towards having him ready for the season.
Missed the Cut: Michael Bradley, Benny Feilhaber, Sacha Kljestan, Sebastian Lletget
Juan Agudelo, Dom Dwyer, Jordan Morris, Christian Ramirez, CJ Sapong, Josh Sargent.
Let’s start with Sargent, who is the attention-grabbing name on the list. His inclusion is dependent on Werder Bremen. Sargent is eligible to join the club officially on Feb. 20, but the Bundesliga side could certainly want him in early to get him acclimated to his surroundings. If not, though, Sargent could learn a lot from a full January camp before embarking on his European career.
Christian Ramirez is the other new face with the group, and its a long time coming. The Minnesota United forward has been a dominant goalscorer for several years, and his game translated seamlessly from the NASL to MLS. At 26, he should be hitting his prime for this upcoming cycle and, with the forward cupboard a little bit bare at the moment, he more than deserves his chance.
Jordan Morris has the chance to be the big winner, though. With Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey resting and Bobby Wood in Europe, Morris will look to stake his claim for a bigger role going forward. The 2018 World Cup cycle was Morris’ introductory phase. Now, he’ll need to take a leap if he wants to be a key part of 2022.
Missed the Cut: Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Gyasi Zardes.