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january camp

Fresh Faces for the United States in January

The American camp in the winter traditionally features plenty of new players. Josh Deaver takes a look at the talents he expects Jurgen Klinsmann will call upon to join the USMNT in Los Angeles.

BY Josh Deaver Posted
December 07, 2012
7:19 AM
After what was a largely successful 2012, the long winter for the U.S. National Team has arrived.

For Jurgen Klinsmann and his staff, the next two months will be a hibernation of careful analysis and preparation ahead of the final round of World Cup qualifying which begins on February 6th. Although the tendency for fans may be to shift focus towards the trip to Honduras and the Yanks’ opening fixture, that would be premature. There is still one important piece of business left.

The annual January training camp has become an exercise in evaluating primarily domestic and Scandinavian-based fringe prospects. With vital games approaching, it offers an invaluable chance to scour the depths of the U.S. talent pool while simultaneously addressing the vintage sports idiom of “next man up." It seems like ages ago that players like Geoff Cameron, Graham Zusi, and Michael Parkhurst were stating their cases during the 2012 iteration. Now all four are firmly in consideration for inclusion into a full strength side. With 2013 shaping up to be the most grueling and high stakes campaign of the Klinsmann era, there is, without a doubt, a heightened sense of urgency to repeat the success of last year and find players who could possibly assist in the qualification process and beyond.

This year’s camp also denotes a narrative reset for U.S. Soccer, marking what could be characterized as the beginning of ‘phase two’ of the Klinsmann era. The time for reflection is over. The core roster has been more or less established. Minus the lingering questions about Landon Donovan, the storylines of the previous year have mostly played themselves out with little residual angst. Instead, the focus now is solely on navigating a path to Brazil and going against the best that CONCACAF has to offer. The 18 months of struggle and experimentation to cultivate the nebulous concept of “American identity” is over; the true test begins now.

However, there are still issues that must be addressed when the squad meets in Los Angeles on January 14th. Recent problems with centerback depth and the lack of quality wing play will be top priorities for a U.S. staff hoping to use this 17-day camp as the last best chance to add to the depth chart before the pressures of qualifying dictate a more cautious approach.

Jurgen Klinsmann admitted he will use the camp as a testing ground, although little may come of it. “Even if they think their chance is small for the qualifying roster, it gives them a sense where they are,” he told the Washington Post. “It gives them the drive for the future.”

There are several players that have distinguished themselves over the past year and will look to take advantage of their opportunity to impress the U.S. coaching staff. Let’s take a look at who we could be seeing in a U.S. kit come January.

The Regulars

Upon announcing the camp, Klinsmann indicated that the chosen squad will consist of a healthy mixture of youth and experience. While younger players will be given an opportunity to break into team, it seems likely that several 2012 national team regulars will be making an appearance in the hopes of reinforcing their current position on the depth chart. Among these, I would include: Nick Rimando, Michael Parkhurst, Clarence Goodson, Graham Zusi, Kyle Beckerman, Eddie Johnson, and Chris Wondolowski.

The New Guys

Matt Besler, CB, Sporting KC (ASN No. 39)
Although he did not make the game day roster in August for the historic U.S. victory against Mexico, it is clear that the 2012 MLS Defender of the Year is rated highly by the U.S. coaching staff. With the current woes at centerback for the U.S., Besler—along with LA Galaxy’s Omar Gonzalez—seems primed to gain a roster spot on what has been a flimsy backline.

Steven Beitashour, RB, San Jose Earthquakes (ASN No. 67)
Although prospects for the full National Team might be out of reach, the Iranian-American tops the shortlist of outside backs from the MLS who could work their way into the U.S. depth chart. With the possible return of Timmy Chandler and the continually solid play of Steve Cherundolo and Michael Parkhurst, Beitashour has an uphill climb ahead of him. However, if he impresses, he could earn time during the summer’s Gold Cup tournament.

Conor O’Brien, MF, Sonderjyske (ASN No. 76)
Having never played for the U.S. at any level, it is a bit difficult to establish a reference point for the underrated New Yorker. The 24-year old O’Brien is equipped to play nearly any midfield role, a versatility which fits right in line with Klinsmann’s tendency towards utilitarian roster selections. O’Brien is currently catching the eye of larger European clubs and if he moves from Denmark during the January window, he might not be available if called upon.

Alejandro Bedoya, MF/F, Helsingborg (ASN No. 47)
Despite not featuring for the United States since early 2011, there is no way that his performances in both the Swedish Allsvenskan and the Europa League have gone unnoticed by U.S. Soccer. Bedoya began the season as a right sided winger but eventually moved into the forward position, playing an important role for Helsingborg. For a U.S. squad that spent much of 2012 lacking width and speed on the wings, Bedoya is another on a growing list of prospects to fill that essential role.

Chris Pontius, MF/F, D.C. United (ASN No. 22)
Now is finally the time for the MLS All-Star to see his first minutes for the U.S. National Team. After being on the fringes of the senior team for so long, as well as missing opportunities due to injury, the D.C. United standout will be eager to impress. Pontius has a nose for goal, scoring 12 times this season, and can provide width on the both sides of the pitch. If he can put in a solid training camp he could be a valuable utility player for Klinsmann during the 2013 campaign.

Juan Agudelo, F, Chivas USA (ASN No. 43)
Coming off an impressive performance in November against Russia and recently back from a training stint at Celtic FC, Agudelo’s stock is rising. Klinsmann has always valued the young striker and will almost certainly use this opportunity to bring him into the fold once again.

Who would you like to see in the January camp? Did we leave anybody out? Include somebody who doesn't belong? We want to hear from you, so leave your thoughts in the Comments section below.

Josh Deaver is a former academic turned soccer obsessive. Follow him @USFootballGuy for daily updates and musings.

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