Steve Birnbaum is growing up. He’s done so quite literally each of the past three years at January Camp.
Having celebrated his 26th birthday on Monday, the Newport, Calif., product is now accustomed to spending the first month of the year with the U.S. Men’s National Team, which in turn has allowed him to be close to friends and family on his anniversary of life.
“It’s nice. I’m back in California, I got to see my family,” Birnbaum said Monday. “Last night we went to a nice dinner and it’s been great. I love California and getting to have my birthday out here and seeing my friends all the time.”
Birnbaum made his international debut nearly two years ago in a 3-2 defeat against Chile, but made his first real mark for the MNT during 2016 January Camp when his 90th minute header handed the U.S. a late 3-2 victory against Iceland. The following week, he played the full 90 minutes in a 1-0 victory against Canada.Read more
CHICAGO (Jan. 23, 2017) – FC Dallas midfielder Kellyn Acosta and defender Matt Hedges, along with Vancouver Whitecaps FC midfielder Kekuta Manneh, have departed the U.S. Men’s National Team’s January Camp. The roster currently stands at 28 players ahead of the upcoming friendlies against Serbia and Jamaica. [TICKETS]
Acosta has been diagnosed with a mild left ankle sprain, while Hedges has a mild right knee sprain. Meantime, Manneh will join Vancouver Whitecaps FC on their preseason tour in Wales.
The U.S. will begin the 2017 campaign with a friendly against Serbia on Jan. 29 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, Calif. Kickoff for Arena’s first match back in charge of the U.S. MNT is set for 1 p.m. PT, and will be broadcast live on ESPN2 and UniMas.
Five days later, the MNT will make its first visit to Chattanooga, Tenn., on Feb. 3 when they host regional rival Jamaica. Kickoff in front of an expected capacity crowd of 20,000 at Finley Stadium is set for 7 p.m. ET, and the match will be broadcast live on FS1 and UniMas (simulcast on UDN). Follow both matches on U.S. Soccer’s official Facebook, Twitter (@ussoccer) and Instagram (@ussoccer) accounts.
The MNT’s 28-player roster can be found below:
GOALKEEPERS (4): David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake), Luis Robles (New York Red Bulls), Brian Rowe (LA Galaxy)
DEFENDERS (9): DaMarcus Beasley (Unattached), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders FC), Greg Garza (Atlanta United FC), Taylor Kemp (D.C. United), Chad Marshall (Seattle Sounders FC), Keegan Rosenberry (Philadelphia Union), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
MIDFIELDERS (10): Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City), Jermaine Jones (LA Galaxy), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Chris Pontius (Philadelphia Union), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC)
FORWARDS (5): Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)Read more
Back in U.S. Men’s National Team camp for the first time in 18 months and having penned a loan deal with M.L.S. expansion side Atlanta United FC, 2017 is all about new beginnings for left back Greg Garza.
The Grapevine, Texas product was last a part of MNT camp in Sept. 2015, but continued problems with his hips kept him from playing a part in friendlies against Peru and Brazil. It was during that camp where the defender, along with the MNT’s coaching and medical staff, made the decision for him to address the ongoing problem.
“It was at a point where every training session I was going through a lot of pain,” he told ussoccer.com. “I just wasn’t moving right anymore and just little things off the field – I was having difficulty playing with my little kid – just doing father-like things that my hips and hernia weren’t allowing me to do anymore.”
Diagnosed with hip impingement, Garza underwent surgery to have golf ball-size bone spurs removed from both hips. Doctors then did a procedure to reconstruct the bone on both sides and also removed a number of hernias from his groin area and abdomen.
“It was excruciating pain for a while,” Garza said. “I was glad to get the surgery over with.”
While the procedure was done, the road to recovery had only begun.
“I knew from the beginning it was a 10 to 12-month process to actually play again. I was in a wheel chair for a couple months, on crutches for a couple months and then had to learn to walk again in a pool – just doing basic exercises to get me to walk again and start striding out.
“It was a big game of patience, not just for myself but for my family, with my wife bathing me every day and my kid not understanding that dad couldn’t play with him for a while.”
Recovered for the start of the Liga MX Apertura last July, Garza made a couple of appearances for Club Tijuana before a concussion suffered on July 24 at Puebla forced him back out of the lineup. When he returned, the 25-year-old found it hard to get back into a Xolos side that finished top of the table, but he said he’s still very thankful for the club’s support throughout his rehabilitation.
“I do have Xolos to thank to actually get me back fit 120 percent of what I wanted to be,” he said. “The past six months were also difficult, not getting that opportunity after coming off a pretty big surgery. There were no complaints - the team was just doing really well and I never really had the opportunity to come in and make the impact to what I was used to. It’s understandable, and it’s been a great journey in Mexico. Now I’m ready to take on the next step and come back here to M.L.S. and strive here as well.”
Just before Christmas, Garza was acquired by incoming expansion side Atlanta United FC on a one-year loan. While the team will be coached by former Argentina manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino, Garza said he was most encouraged by the conversation he had with Atlanta Technical Director and long-time U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra, who like himself often lined up at left back for the MNT.
“Knowing there were M.L.S. teams very interested was delightful for myself knowing that I’d come off such a long injury and getting back fit again. Carlos made it clear when we did speak over the phone that he wanted their left back to be the National Team left back, and I really hope I can live up to his word over the next couple years and hopefully give them the option to buy this next year.
- READ MORE: Graham Zusi Embracing Right Back Switch
“Once you do come off a long time off the field, you really have to gain that confidence and I really think they’ve shown me how they want to play. Carlos put me on the board, and you couldn’t really ask for a better opportunity than working under Tata Martino.”
First things first though. Garza’s call-up to January Camp means he still hasn’t set foot in Atlanta. With head coach Bruce Arena saying he wanted to see more in terms of depth at both full back spots, Garza’s sole focus is towards picking up where he left off with the National Team in 2015.
“I’m motivated. It was very surprising for me to get the call after being out so long and not really getting so much playing time these past five months in Tijuana. I’m very grateful and thankful that they’ve called me back in. It just gives me that extra motivation and confidence to boost myself back up there. Left back was a position I had straddled down a bit two years back, and hopefully I can do that once again. The opportunity is there and it’s up to me to make the most of it.”Read more
There are many perks to being a professional athlete. Celebrity, travel and the simple fact that one gets paid to play a game are the most obvious.
While the list of positives is a long one, a lengthy season also provides limited time to squeeze in major life events, and even less when you get called to U.S. Men’s National Team January Camp.
Such was the case for Taylor Kemp, Dax McCarty, Wil Trapp and Walker Zimmerman, all of whom had to fit in another important moment before heading to camp – saying ‘I do.’
“The offseason is wedding season for M.L.S. guys,” Kemp, who got married on Dec. 17 (below), told ussoccer.com. “Everyone is fighting for the same weekend, so we had to get ours in early and get the word out so none of my friends would schedule on the same day.”
To illustrate the wedding date pile-up, miles away from Kemp’s ceremony in Arlington, Va., fellow MNT teammate Wil Trapp was also tying the knot with his wife Beth in Gahanna, Ohio.
“It’s funny, you talk to the guys here and they ask what day you got married,” the Columbus Crew SC midfielder (pictured below) said. “A lot of us here probably share the same days because there’s only about a month-long window where you can conceivably have a sure bet that there won’t be anything else going on that weekend.”
With M.L.S. players reporting to their preseason camps during the third week of January and the M.L.S. Cup Final coming in the second week of December, the wedding window is incredibly small.
Thankfully for the players, it seems soccer brides-to-be are starting to plan things out years in advance. At least that was the case for Zimmerman’s new wife Sally (pictured below).
“I didn’t know this at the time, but when we started dating, her and her sister were looking at the calendar and saw three or four years down the road that New Year’s Eve was on a Saturday,” he said. “They picked out a date a year into our relationship. We dated for five years, so that’s pretty crazy.”
Try as they might to fit all the regular festivities in, things don’t always go according to plan. For the Kemps, Taylor’s first call to MNT camp meant he and his wife Brittany had to cut short their honeymoon in Hawaii.
“I was super excited about the call-up and then realized it would conflict some with our plans,” he said.
Understanding the opportunity, the new Mrs. Kemp was supportive of the change.
“We shuffled some things around, changed some flights, cancelled some hotels and managed some tears, but it all worked out for the best. We still had our wedding, honeymoon and got to camp on time.”
Having not played in a match for the MNT since January 2011, McCarty and his then fiancé Jen (pictured below) settled on their Jan. 14 wedding date a year ago. Thinking he’d go straight from his nuptials into preseason, instead McCarty earned his first camp call-up since January 2014. He reached out to new U.S. head coach Bruce Arena, who allowed him to join the group following his wedding last Saturday.
And again, Mrs. McCarty was understanding.
“She’s my biggest fan and has been nothing but fantastic throughout the whole process,” he said. “I couldn’t have married a better one, I know that.”
While Dax received special dispensation, the date meant that fellow January Camp participants and McCarty wedding invitees Sacha Kljestan, Luis Robles, Juan Agudelo and Chris Pontius were all unable to attend.
“Obviously I told them that duty calls.” McCarty said. “I wanted them to be here and for them to be able to impress Bruce and his staff from the beginning.”
Whether having to cut short a honeymoon or not have one at all, each of the four players know that being away again so quickly after getting married means they’ll have to make things up to their new brides. And they’re okay with that.
“Once January Camp and preseason with D.C. United is over, I’ll probably owe her a couple things,” Kemp joked.Read more
Perspective is a powerful thing.
A year ago, forward Jordan Morris was coming off an NCAA College Cup title with Stanford and found himself in January Camp weighing his professional future.
Having already earned seven caps and scoring a goal for the U.S. Men’s National Team, the highest touted collegiate prospect in some time had the option of signing with his hometown club Seattle Sounders FC or making the jump to Europe with German side Werder Bremen.
Taking both under serious consideration, Morris actually left MNT training camp to check out the Bundesliga club. Eventually he made the decision to start his career at home in Seattle.
- READ MORE: Jermaine Jones Continues to be a Leader on Arena's MNT
- READ MORE: Dax McCarty Joins MNT Camp Amid Whirlwind Couple of Days
A Rookie of the Year award and M.L.S. Cup trophy followed, and as he finds himself back in MNT camp one year later, Morris thinks he took the right path.
“I’m 100 percent happy with the choice I made,” he told ussoccer.com. “I have no regrets -- it was an awesome season playing in Seattle. Obviously it went well for us, but it’s just so good being around family and being able to play in my hometown. It’s been awesome.”
Morris was a clutch performer for Sounders FC, helping the club rebound from being Western Conference cellar dwellers last July to earning a spot in the M.L.S. Cup Playoffs. Once there, Morris put the club on his back, scoring in both legs of the Western Conference Final against Colorado Rapids before Seattle defeated Toronto FC on penalty kicks in the M.L.S. Cup Final.
In total, Morris tallied 18 goals and five assists through 40 matches for the Sounders last year and credited his early National Team experience with preparing him for his rookie campaign.
“It helps getting your first games, and then towards the end of the season when the stakes are high it definitely helps to have that experience. I was very fortunate and lucky to have played in some of those games before entering my professional career.”
With 12 total caps to his name, the 22-year-old striker has more international experience than 17 players on the January Camp roster, including club teammate Chad Marshall. Currently taking part in his first MNT camp since 2010, Marshall has collected 11 caps. Morris thinks it’s an opportunity well deserved.
- TICKETS: See the MNT vs. Serbia Jan. 29 in San Diego
- TICKETS: See the MNT vs. Jamaica Feb. 3 in Chattanooga
“That can be a little funny,” Morris said of his 32-year-old teammate. “I think Chad is such a great player and I think he deserved to be in the pool. Obviously he was before, but he’s been out for a little bit. He’s such a great player and 100 percent deserves to be here.”
Though injuries and time spent with the U-23 MNT limited him to just five senior caps last year, Morris has his sights set one firming up his role with the full team in 2017.
“The goal is to keep working and continue to have that confidence. Being in camps before definitely helps me come in and feel more comfortable. It’s just having that confidence to go out and prove that I can play and hopefully get more minutes on the field.”Read more