You can talk all you like about the friendly where a good number of US regulars were thoroughly dominated by a Brazilian B-Team a month after the World Cup. You can talk about glass half-full results featuring new tactics against Poland and Colombia until you are blue in the face. I know at least one of our writers did, and oddly enough, he took time off from his general cynicism to (sort of) praise Bob Bradley for experimenting. You can even get as excited as the FIFA Rankings system did about what was essentially a US U-23 side defeating most of South Africa’s top team on the road a month ago. You can talk about those things, but in the scheme of the 2014 World Cup Cycle, they don’t mean very much.
All those matches really mean is that 2010 ends with the United States ranked 18th in the world, tied with France and still the class of CONCACAF, just as it started a year that would see it win a World Cup group for the first time in the modern era. Beyond that, they mean little except to a few soccer diehards who, should the United States decide to play a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 at the 2014 World Cup will look back and say “When we tried that against Poland in the second match of the 2010 cycle…” and most folks will look at you like you are an alien. Yes, the post-World Cup portion of 2010 has all been build up to this week, when the January camp is announced and the Brazil 2014 cycle truly begins. It’s an exciting time, I think, and we’re hopeful we can break down the camp and future a bit for you in this piece.
Here’s what we know about the January 2011 camp for sure. Kansas City Wizards forward and greatest name in the player pool title holder Teal Bunbury will be at the camp. Several reports have confirmed this and you can bet he’ll have a good amount of playing time in the January 22nd friendly against Chile at the Home Depot Center. MLS Rookie of the Year Andy Najar will not be there as he doesn’t have a US Passport yet and isn’t eligible to play for the States. Just because he turned down Honduras during the last friendly cycle doesn’t mean he’s bleeding red, white and blue yet.
The remainder of the camp invites are sent out on a list Thursday. The camp will culminate with the aforementioned match against Chile at the HDC on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. That we all know about the camp. Here are some additional things to keep in mind before the names are released.
First, while every four years this camp serves as the true beginning to a World Cup cycle—it isn’t a camp for the best players. Some of you knew this already and can skip to the next paragraph. Those who don’t should keep in mind this camp is affectionately called “Camp Cupcake” by the fans, and usually features an invite list of offseason MLS players and Scandinavian players on winter break. A rehabbing from injury player used to happen from time to time, but that is rare given the nature of club medical and training staffs these days and the obvious economic fact that a club would rather see its investment re-injure himself on their training ground than the national team training ground. Under Bob Bradley, these MLS and winter break players are typically joined by some folks who have never been capped for the USMNT before and are considered rising stars either domestically or abroad. That’s tradition and that’s likely what we will see at this version of “Camp Cupcake.” Finally on this point, a veteran or two is always present. Don’t read too much into that either, folks. Last year the talk was that Sacha Kljestan was at the “Last Chance Saloon” in that camp and his subsequent near-miss on the World Cup roster indicated otherwise, at least in my opinion. The main reason vets get a call is they are in transition at the transfer window or because the manager decides their leadership presence is necessary to keep the younger guys focused. Expect Clarence Goodson (waiting to get in the mix at Brondby this March) and your and my favorite dreaded footballer, Kyle Beckerman, to show up in Los Angeles to keep the young kids in line.
Second, this camp is even more critical during Gold Cup years, which 2011 of course happens to be. The reason for this is as simple as it should be obvious—young players typically play a good deal in the Gold Cup and you need Camp Cupcake to get them time to develop chemistry and knowledge about one another. In years where a Confederations Cup berth is on the line, the US “A” Team tends to handle the high-level matches for the United States in the Gold Cup, but depth is always a concern for the US, particularly at forward this time around, and the camp is essential to finding that depth. This means that Bradley won’t simply be calling in a few of the young studs to give them a taste of a national team camp—he’ll be calling them in to see if they can help the Yanks win a continental championship. Given that this is the first championship on the line during the new World Cup cycle—you can expect the attitude around the HDC to be serious this January and the player evaluations to be brutally honest.
Finally, the United States’ “A” Team will doubtlessly see the field together as a cohesive unit for the first time since the World Cup on February 9th in Cairo against Egypt, and the players that impress the manager the most at Camp Cupcake and January 22nd against Chile will be in the fold as reserves for that match. In fact, the February 9th roster for the USMNT will be as close a signpost to what the Gold Cup roster will look like as you’ll get until May. As such, what happens at the dawn of the New Year will matter, and the group announced Thursday surely understand this. Throw out the four post-World-Cup matches, folks—the 2014 Cycle truly begins in January.
PREDICTION TIME: 30 PLAYERS, 1 CAMP CUPCAKE:
GOALKEEPERS: Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake), Kevin Hartman (FC Dallas), Matt Pickens (Colorado Rapids).
WHY?? Johnson was terrific for the Generation Adidas kids during their tour of Europe, particularly when they lit up Atletico Madrid’s reserves 4-1. What made it more impressive was his play with only two true defenders on the roster. Brek Shea actually played defense one match, and that should give you a good idea of what Johnson was dealing with. The rest are pretty self-explanatory—Rimando and Hartman are the elite in MLS and Pickens is younger than the other options, although Will Hesmer wouldn’t be shocking.
DEFENDERS: Clarence Goodson (Brondby), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Tim Ream (New York Red Bulls), Nat Borchers (Real Salt Lake), Heath Pearce (FC Dallas), Sean Franklin (LA Galaxy), Gale Agbossoumounde (Djurgarden, Sweden), Kevin Alston (New England Revolution), Michael Parkhurst (Nordsjaelland, Denmark).
WHY?? Agbossoumounde is my only real “reach” here and that’s mainly because he’s only on trial at Djurgarden and there’s no guarantee he’ll attach there. He’s had bad luck with the clubs he has chosen and for once it really doesn’t appear to be the player’s fault. He scored for the U-20’s against Mexico in Kennesaw three weeks ago and was capped in South Africa. I think Bradley will give him a look if he needs the time to train, which is possible. If he isn’t selected, expect Marvell Wynne to be slotted into his place. If the Sweden trial starts immediately, which it might, add Chad Marshall to the list. San Jose sensation Ike Opara was with the Generation Adidas group but seems to still be battling the broken foot he suffered at the end of the year so he might be excluded, at least for the time being.
MIDFIELDERS: Benny Feilhaber (AGF Aarhus, Denmark, Division II), Mix Diskerud (Staebak, Norway), Alejandro Bedoya (Orebro, Sweden), Brek Shea (FC Dallas), Dax McCarty (FC Dallas), Robbie Rogers (Columbus Crew), Jeff Larentowicz (Colorado Rapids), Eddie Gaven (Columbus Crew), Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Geoff Cameron (Houston Dynamo), Bobby Convey (San Jose Earthquakes).
WHY?? Welcome back Bobby Convey!! It has been a long time. I hope you have finally found some inner peace with the injuries that took away a step and a bright career, at least temporarily. But seriously, if Nat Borchers gets another look after a fine campaign stateside you should too, sir. Dax McCarty is the one who I’m most excited about as I think he’s pure class and plays with guts. I think Bob will find a way to have him on the pitch on the 22nd. As for the starting center, my money is on The Maestro Benny Feilhaber paired with Dax McCarty, but our friends at the Shin Guardian might be right in suggesting that Larentowicz and Feilhaber get the call, as they are a couple of Southern California dudes.
Logan Pause is probably the toughest omission—but again I think McCarty is just too class to worry too long about a tough kid like Pause who offers little more than a watered-down version of Ricardo Clark on the pitch. Brian Carroll got a look in South Africa already—and I’m confident that look was enough. Last chance saloon time for Eddie Gaven is very possible as well.
And no, I didn’t forget that Landon Donovan plays in MLS and might be at home playing video games online with Freddy Adu. I just think that if Donovan wants to play video games with Freddy Adu, well…he’s earned the rest.
FORWARDS: Juan “American Maradona” Agudelo (New York Red Bulls), Teal Bunbury (Kansas City Wizards), Edson Buddle (LA Galaxy/Birmingham City??), Conor Casey (Colorado Rapids), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Justin Braun (Chivas USA).
WHY?? Braun has all the physical tools and was one of the only Chivas players to impact attack this season. He also got a look at Camp Cupcake last season—no reason to think he’s on the out. Buddle might be on trial with Birmingham City, or he might not—we don’t really know. We do know Bruce Arena isn’t interested in Donovan leaving again and might not be thrilled Buddle could do the same. Either way, a veteran’s presence among these strikers would help. Conor Casey could be that man in the absence of Buddle, and you know Mall Rats is dying to get back on the pitch for the States after the World Cup snub, which of course motivated him to play the best soccer of his life.
Neil W. Blackmon is co-founder and Associate Editor of The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow him on Twitter at @nwb_usmnt.