January Camp has always been a time to lay a foundation for the future. The annual “Camp Cupcake” has always lacked star power and, in some ways, overarching meaning. It’s a yearly gathering of players pushing for a chance to maybe make their way into the USMNT pool one way or another.
This year’s camp is a bit different because of the disaster that came just a few months before it. With the 2018 World Cup off the table, the focus for the next few years will be on the future, and January Camp is a chance to identify a group of players that could be a part of that future.
U.S. Soccer announced a list of 30 players bound for this year’s camp on Monday with 15 of those players still in search for a first cap. Just four players on the roster have made more than five senior appearances, while the entire 30-man squad has produced a whopping 19 senior goals. Overall, it’s a roster full of new faces with 10 players set to join the senior squad for the first time as the interim staff looks to set some sort of foundation for the years to come.
“Obviously, this is a unique January Camp in that we’re solely preparing for the future and to give opportunity to players that have a future in the program,” said interim boss Dave Sarachan. “We didn’t bring in a lot of the veteran players for that reason.
“It’s all about the future and opportunity. Twenty-one of these players are 24 and younger so we’re excited about that, and we clearly feel that we want to have a look at these players that have the chance to be a part of the National Team for a number of years to come. We think the balance was good and obviously we’re trying to bring in players that are coming off good seasons, are at a good age for the future, and to give the opportunity to those that have earned that right to be a part of the program.”
Of the 30 players involved, 12 have earned their senior chance after previously featuring at a youth World Cup. Four of those players are fresh off a U-20 World Cup last summer. New York Red Bulls star Tyler Adams made his USMNT debut back in November and he’ll now be joined by former U-20 teammates and current Real Salt Lake foundation Danny Acosta, Justen Glad and Brooks Lennon.
Players like Zack Steffen, Rubio Rubin, Paul Arriola and Marky Delgado represented the U.S. at the 2015 U-20 World Cup while players like Will Trapp, Ike Opara, Cody Cropper, Marky Delgado and Juan Agudelo all came up through the U.S. youth program.
“The Youth National Team programs have been very successful this year, which is very promising,” Sarachan said. “This past year our U-17 and U-20 Men’s National Teams each reached the quarterfinals of a World Cup and we’re thrilled to have 12 players that have been part of Youth World Cups and four of which are coming off the U-20 World Cup with us this year in January Camp.
“Overall we’re excited by the fact that we have a lot of young players. Twenty-one of these players are 24 years old or younger and 19 have been part of our Development Academy program. We’re doing a lot of good things at the youth level. We feel we have a lot of talent coming through and we’ll have a look at many of them at this January Camp.”
Still, it’s not all positive. Monday’s announcement was certainly overshadowed a bit by the reported loss of Jonathan Gonzalez. The former U.S. youth standout is reportedly set to represent Mexico on the international level, striking a blow to the USMNT program.
It’s something the USMNT will need to navigate in the future. It’s one of many problems that will come forth during the agonizing five-year wait until the 2022 World Cup kicks off. It’s a long process but part of that process will continue with a 30-player gathering aimed at identifying a new group of players in it for the long haul.
“The January Camp is the start of a new cycle,” Sarachan said. “Players will come into this camp with a lot of energy and excitement to be a part of it. It’s a long journey forward, but this is the first step starting in 2018 for the program and for these players to now get experience at this level.
“The hope is that over the course of 18 days, we can introduce these players to what it’s like to be part of the National Team, the level at which they’re going to push one another and finishing up with a game against Bosnia. All of that will play into their experience as they move forward in their careers with the National Team, which we think many of them have great potential to be a part of for many years.”