For the U.S. Men’s National Team, 2013 changed everything, as they made monumental strides under Jurgen Klinsmann. However, the calendar has changed to 2014 and it’s now time to prepare for the 2014 World Cup, starting with a month-long January camp that gets underway on Monday.
As usual, the January camp is comprised primarily of MLS players, as most of the European-based players are mid-season at the moment. But the roster offers a unique mix of veterans who are all but assured a spot on the World Cup roster and young players hoping to make an impression and earn a trip to Brazil next summer.
Of course, the entire camp will move to Brazil for two weeks later this month to give the players and coaches a dry run of the World Cup experience before the camp wraps up back on home soil with a match against South Korea February 1. The trip to Brazil will be important, but more importantly, this camp will be the basis for formulating a roster for Klinsmann to take to Brazil this summer.
There are four goalies coming to camp, although the list does not include Tim Howard and Brad Guzan, who are locked into the top two spots on the depth chart. The only intrigue at the goalkeeper position in this camp will be whether Nick Rimando will be able to hold off Sean Johnson and Bill Hamid for the third-string goalie spot.
There are 10 defensive players coming to the camp, including Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez, who are penciled in as the starting center backs heading into the World Cup. Also in camp is Brad Evans, who is the starting right back for now, but Klinsmann will do his best to give Evans as much competition as possible. Clarence Goodson, who figures to be an important reserve this summer, is also on the roster, but the rest are all young MLS players with no international experience. Of the young players, MLS all-star DeAndre Yedlin could be the player to watch, as is anybody that can push Evans at right back or DeMarcus Beasley at left back.
In the midfield, Graham Zusi is the only regular starter who will be in camp, although Kyle Beckerman and Mix Diskerud will also be in camp and have become regular contributors, and both are likely to make the World Cup roster. Two interesting names to watch during camp are Dax McCarty and Benny Feilhaber, who haven’t seen much national team action since Klinsmann took over, but both now have an opportunity to make an impression, especially Feilhaber, who was key to the U.S. during the 2010 World Cup.
The group of four forwards coming to the January camp is incredibly intriguing: Landon Donovan, Eddie Johnson, Chris Wondolowski, and Mike MaGee. After his infamous hiatus, Donovan became a key part of the national team during the 2013 Gold Cup, but he struggled to be a factor towards the end of World Cup qualifying, and he’s choosing to come to camp rather than seek a transfer to a European club.
Wondolowski boosted his status with the national team during the Gold Cup, but he’s had trouble scoring against quality international competition and is now on the outside looking in for a spot on the World Cup roster. Johnson is likely to make the World Cup roster, although like Donovan, he may have been better off seeking a European transfer. Finally, there is MaGee, the MVP of the 2013 MLS season. Coming off a great season he deserves this opportunity, and at age 29 it will likely be his last chance to play with the national team at a major tournament, and he’ll be someone to watch closely during camp.
All in all, it’s an intriguing group of players that should make for an interesting camp. It may not seem like it with so many players with little international experience, but this camp is critical to Klinsmann and the team preparing for the 2014 World Cup, where we know they’ll have their work cut out for them.
Bryan Zarpentine is a New York Mets writer at RantSports.com. He also writes frequently about the NFL, College Football, College Basketball, and International Soccer. Like him on Facebook, follow him on twitter @BZarp and add him on Google.