Jurgen Klinsmann invited 25 players to the United States January training camp, but the biggest news was who wasn’t invited, Landon Donovan. With Donovan still undecided about his future, his exclusion makes it highly unlikely that the Americans all-time leading scorer will be available for the Yanks against Honduras on February 6.
The Honduras match is the first game of the final round of World Cup qualifying (the Hex) for the United States. Donovan’s absence is no real surprise, given his stated desire for a prolonged break. With the majority of his likely first choice squad busy with their European clubs, Klinsmann’s camp squad includes 21 players who ply their trade in Major League Soccer.
Klinsmann announced the list on Fox, saying that six to eight of the “campers” have a chance to end up on the panel for the Honduras game. So who will make the cut? Let’s take a look by position.
Nick Rimando has been the experienced third stringer in the net, but the RSL keeper wasn’t available this time out. Bill Hamid and Sean Johnson have been considered the future of U.S. goalkeeping for some time now, but Johnson has been gaffe prone, and both still carry the potential tag. Tally Hall has a bit more experience and has earned a look from Klinsmann. Hamid and Johnson have the edge, but the steady Hall now has a chance to state his case.
Nine defenders are out in Carson, California for what is often derisively referred to as “Camp Cupcake,” and all eyes will be on Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler. At 6’5” Gonzalez has long been the “next big thing,” in U.S. soccer, but a serious knee injury last January kept this year’s MLS Cup MVP out of Klinsmann’s plans until now. Gonzalez showed something in coming back so quickly and so well from that injury, and his return stabilized what had been a shaky Galaxy defense.
Klinsmann laid out what he expects from Gonzalez to Fox. “He needs to show us that he is ready, that he is ready for a big step into international football.” The coach added, “he needs to show us that he wants to break in.” “He needs to show us,” Klinsmann emphasized, “that he is ready to guide a back line, and that he is ready to communicate a lot.”
With center back a worry for the U.S. Klinsmann is also liable to give a long look to Sporting KC man Matt Besler. Besler took the prize as 2012 MLS Defender of the Year, and his passing ability suits Klinsmann’s preferred center back style. One or both of these players could make the trip to Honduras, but the pressure of qualifiers will likely see Klinsmann turn to the more experienced pairing of Carlos Bocanegra and Geoff Cameron versus Honduras.
The only sure thing in this midfield group is that Graham Zusi will be on the charter to San Pedro Sula in early February. The SKC playmaker earned his stripes in the semi final qualifying rounds, and the expected absence of Donovan in Honduras gives Zusi a chance at a spot in the starting 11.
The rest of the group has some interesting players who could force their way into Klinsmann’s plans. Kyle Beckerman featured early on for Klinsmann, but his role has diminished as the games have grown more meaningful. Two young players, Mix Diskerud and Josh Gatt will get a serious look. Diskerud has been getting good reviews for his play at Rosenberg in Norway and he chipped in a goal for the U.S. in Russia. Gatt also showed promise in Russia, and although he is raw, the winger can fly, and the Yanks are lacking traditional wingers.
For me Benny Feilhaber is the wild card. Feilhaber never fit in with the New England Revolution, but the United States team improved every time he stepped on the field in the 2010 World Cup. That’s two and a half years ago now, but Feilhaber’s vision and passing ability are not skills that the U.S. midfield is overloaded with.
Up top, Klinsmann reclamation project Eddie Johnson is the only striker certain of a roster spot in Honduras. The feel good story of 2012, Johnson took his chance and ran with it, more than justifying his place. Juan Agudelo recently turned 20 and his performance in the Russa match gave a tantalizing glimpse of his talent. Agudelo picked up an assist, and his performance off the bench was a reminder of just why everyone was so excited about Agudelo in the first place.
Chris Wondolowski just tied the MLS record for goals in a season, but he hasn’t been able to crack the U.S. lineup. Maybe Klinsmann just doesn’t rate him. Klinsmann likely brought Houston’s Will Bruin in for a closer look with an eye toward the future. As for Edson Buddle, the coach probably invited Colorado’s new front man in to see if there’s anything left in the tank, in case he needs a veteran back up at some point during the Hex.
These camps earned that Camp Cupcake tag, because the camp was thought to be a bit of a waste. Klinsmann considered cancelling it altogether, but ultimately went ahead. The big names, Dempsey Bradley, Howard etc. can’t attend, but the camp does have value. Players like Graham Zusi and Geoff Cameron have used the camp to establish themselves as viable national team options. This year, Klinsmann is obviously eager to get a closer look at Gonzalez. The opportunity is there. Can any of these players grab it.
U.S. ROSTER BY POSITION
GOALKEEPERS (3): Tally Hall (Houston Dynamo), Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire)
DEFENDERS (9): Steven Beitashour (San Jose Earthquakes), Tony Beltran (Real Salt Lake), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), A.J. DeLaGarza (LA Galaxy), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Connor Lade (New York Red Bulls), Alfredo Morales (Hertha Berlin), Justin Morrow (San Jose Earthquakes), Jeff Parke (Philadelphia Union)
MIDFIELDERS (8): Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (out of contract), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders), Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City), Joshua Gatt (Molde), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
FORWARDS (5): Juan Agudelo (Chivas USA), Will Bruin (Houston Dynamo), Edson Buddle (Colorado Rapids), Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)