When the roster for the annual January Camp is announced, most of the focus usually settles on the new faces whose domestic league success has earned them a shot with the National Team. This time around, however, it was a World Cup veteran who turned most heads with his inclusion – or more specifically, with the position listed next to his name on the sheet.
Veteran midfielder Graham Zusi, who has carved out a solid career as a winger for both Sporting KC and the MNT, has been added to the group of defenders called into the National Training Center for the camp and two friendlies against Serbia and Jamaica.
Zusi’s debut at right back actually came against then LA Galaxy manager Bruce Arena on May 1 at Sporting Park. The MNT winger gave an assured performance in that match, causing trouble up the wing when he provided the assist to Brad Davis’ 30th minute strike before locking down the right side in a 1-1 draw.
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Arena remarked post-game that decision to play Zusi there “was interesting” and it seemed to have left an impression.
“To be honest with you, I enjoyed playing right back quite a bit,” Zusi told ussoccer.com during the first week of camp. “It’s something that I’m embracing for sure.”
Vermes deployed Zusi there a second time in Sporting KC’s Aug. 20 match against Vancouver Whitecaps FC, saying the 30-year-old “was outstanding” in the 2-0 win.
Zusi’s certainly not the first outside midfielder that has moved to defense. Four-time World Cup veteran DaMarcus Beasley filled in at left back at different points in his international career before making the full-time switch there for the U.S. in 2013. The crafty winger went on to make the position his own the next two years, featuring there during all four matches at the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Recalling his own conversion, Beasley said the most challenging part is learning to work as an overall unit with the other defenders.
“Mostly it’s just being in sync with your line – syncing with your center back and the entire back four – that part takes time,” he told ussoccer.com. “Obviously, you have individual qualities you can bring to that position, but the most important part is making sure you’re in sync with your left or right center back. That’s the battle you have to overcome.”
MNT assistant coach Kenny Arena worked on exactly that with the team’s defenders during Sunday’s training session, with both Beasley and fellow left back Greg Garza providing Zusi tips on how to work in the setup.
“He’s learning,” Beasley said. “He’s smart and experienced enough that he’ll be fine. He’s good going forward, defending one-on-one and he’s quick as well, so he shouldn’t have a problem making the switch.”
For his part, Zusi also recognizes the shift could ensure he sees more playing time going forward.
“In the National Team there’s quite a bit of competition, especially in the midfield, so the more positions I can play, I think the better for me,” he said. “I do enjoy the position -- it brings some freedom to my game. Outside backs see a lot of the ball and going forward I think Bruce is expecting to get me into the attack, so that fits my game as well.”Read more
A year ago in January Camp, veteran forward Jozy Altidore got off to a great start in 2016, tallying goals in U.S. wins against Iceland and Canada.
The pair of strikes set him on course for a huge year leading the line for both the MNT and Toronto FC, with the 27-year-old combining for 21 goals and 11 assists for club and country. The output earned Altidore U.S. Soccer’s 2016 Male Player of the Year award and helped take TFC to its first M.L.S. Cup Final, where they lost on penalty kicks to Seattle Sounders FC.
Having put that disappointment to rest, Altidore arrived in January Camp this week ready to look ahead in 2017.
“It’s always exciting to start a new year, new coach and have a bunch of new faces,” he told ussoccer.com. “Everybody is raring to go and it’s just about getting ourselves going in the first couple weeks and then we have two good games at the end of the camp.”
One of eight players in camp who have previously played for Bruce Arena, Altidore actually gained his professional debut under the new MNT head coach when he became manager of New York Red Bulls following the 2006 FIFA World Cup. Altidore thrived in a season-and-a-half under Arena, racking up 12 goals and four assists in 29 matches before his 18th birthday, with the performance eventually leading to his MNT debut that November in a 1-0 friendly win against South Africa.
Eleven years after first working with Arena, Altidore (left) is happy to see him back steering the MNT ship.
“I think Bruce is a guy whose name speaks for itself in terms of what he’s done throughout U.S. Soccer, what he’s done in M.L.S.,” he said. “He’s a guy that’s going to be serious, he’s going to demand a lot out of you, but at the same time keep it light. Full of jokes, full of personality, but also has a great eye for the game and putting good teams together. I’m excited to work with him, I think everybody should be excited and I think he’s a good fit for us right now.”
While two crucial World Cup Qualifying matches loom for Altidore and the MNT at the end of March, the immediate focus for those gathered in Carson, Calif., will be towards gaining fitness, with the reward being two friendlies against Serbia (Jan. 29 in San Diego) and Jamaica (Feb. 3 in Chattanooga).
- TICKETS: See the U.S. MNT vs. Serbia Jan. 29 in San Diego
- TICKETS: U.S. MNT Takes on Jamaica Feb. 3 in Chattanooga
Should Altidore appear in either match, he’ll become the 17th player in MNT history to hit 100 caps and the second youngest to do so behind only Landon Donovan.
While that milestone is just around the corner, Altidore says his main aim is on helping the MNT get back on track in World Cup Qualifying and helping his club side replicate its form from 2017.
“I want to have another year where hopefully I do whatever I can to help this team, whatever I can to help Toronto FC and hopefully have another productive year. You always want to try to be better and better and improve all the time, so that’s my main goal.”
LOS ANGELES (Jan. 14, 2016) – U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Bruce Arena has called goalkeeper Brian Rowe into training camp at the National Training Center in Carson, Calif. The LA Galaxy ‘keeper replaces the injured Stefan Frei, who was diagnosed with a right ankle sprain on Friday.
Making 31 appearances in 2016, Rowe went 12-5-14 and kept nine clean sheets for the Galaxy last season.
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.
Updated Roster by Position
GOALKEEPERS (4): David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake), Luis Robles (New York Red Bulls), Brian Rowe (LA Galaxy)
DEFENDERS (10): DaMarcus Beasley (Unattached), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders FC), Greg Garza (Atlanta United FC), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Taylor Kemp (D.C. United), Chad Marshall (Seattle Sounders FC), Keegan Rosenberry (Philadelphia Union), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
MIDFIELDERS (12): Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City), Jermaine Jones (Unattached), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy), Kekuta Manneh (Vancouver Whitecaps FC), Dax McCarty (New York Red Bulls), 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
A new year and new coach have offered a fresh start for a number of players who arrived in Carson for January Camp this week. Chief among those getting another opportunity is midfielder Benny Feilhaber, who earned his first call-up since January Camp three years ago.
“It feels amazing. It’s very exciting and something I wasn’t sure would ever happen again,” Feilhaber told reporters this week. “It feels like a second chance, and because of that it’s very motivating. I’m very excited to be back and I want to make my stamp on this camp.”
A member of the USA’s 2010 FIFA World Cup team, Feilhaber’s MNT appearances have been limited ever since, with the midfielder’s last cap coming as a substitute in a 2-0 friendly win against Korea Republic on Feb. 1, 2014, in Carson.
“It didn’t feel like I would be back. I had kind of turned that page a little bit in my career and tried to focus on the things that I could, obviously putting together good MLS seasons.”
That focus served him well. Feilhaber had a resurgent campaign for Sporting Kansas City in 2015, amassing 10 goals and 15 assists as he finished as a finalist for the league’s MVP award. The 31-year-old followed up with similar numbers this past season, finishing with seven goals and 13 assists.
As someone that has watched Feilhaber channel his lack of National Team opportunities through the years towards his club form, Graham Zusi sees the recall of his Sporting KC teammate to the National Team as beneficial across the board.
“I’m very happy for Benny,” Zusi said Thursday. “I think it’s a much deserved call-in. I think he’s looked very sharp during the first couple days of camp. I think you can see a little bit of a pep in his step and excitement in his game right now. It’s going to be good for us with the National Team and it’s going to be very good for us with Sporting as well.”
With 41 international caps to his credit, Feilhaber is one of the most experienced players on the MNT’s January Camp roster. Even though a majority of his international experience occurred prior to 2010, U.S. head coach Bruce Arena agreed that he’s a better player now than he was back then.
"I think he’s a better player, he’s more experienced,” Arena said. “I still think he’s a player the deserves consideration here."
Feilhaber believes he is better equipped than ever to compete at the international level.
“I think when I did play on the National Team with Bob, I was still developing as a player,” he said. “I wasn’t at my best, and I feel like the last two or three seasons I’ve played at my best pretty consistently and it’s exciting to have an opportunity to play at the highest level with your National Team when you are playing at the highest level of your own career.”
Now with another chance, Feilhaber is enjoying his new opportunity and will use the next month to make his case for the World Cup Qualifiers in March.
“I always watched the National Team. It’s always something that I looked very fondly back on when I did have my opportunities with the National Team with Bob, but I kind of closed that book. To have it reopen again unexpectedly was an amazing feeling.”Read more