The U.S. Men's National Team completed the first week of 2017 January Camp at the National Training Center. With the full 31-player roster gathered in Carson, Calif., players new and old are focusing on finding their rhythm with head coach Bruce Arena. The players will spend the next few weeks training ahead of a pair of friendly matches vs. Serbia on Jan. 29 at StubHub Center in Carson, Calif. [TICKETS] and Jamaica on Feb. 3 at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga, Tenn. [TICKETS].Read more
Photos from the U.S. Women's National Team training sessions on Sunday, Jan. 15 and Monday, Jan. 16 at the U.S. Soccer National Training Center in Carson, California. January Camp is in high gear for the WNT, with lots of new faces mixing in with familiar ones as player pool expansion continues to top the list of Jill Ellis' priorities in this new cycle.Read more
On January 12 in Los Angeles, the National Women’s Soccer League held its fifth NWSL College Draft, kick-starting the professional career of 40 players, all with big dreams that most likely include playing with the U.S. Women’s National Team.
As the USA begins its long road towards qualification for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France, head coach Jill Ellis continues to emphasize the importance of watching players and deepening the player pool. While the platforms her and her staff are using to scout this array of new talent ranges from Youth National Teams, to college to players overseas, the importance of the NWSL has taken center-stage.
A Chance to Be Seen
For many reasons, having a domestic professional women’s league in the United States is a tremendous asset for both coaches and players. It allows the U.S. WNT coaches to observe a large pool of players in a competitive environment on a consistent basis. It gives the players focus, the ability to continuously train and the opportunity to play full 90-minute matches while facing some of the best players in the world.
U.S. WNT newcomer Lynn Williams and co-captain & two-time FIFA Women's Player of the Year, Carli Lloyd
“We’ve always communicated with NWSL coaches about players and we watch as many games as we can,” Ellis said. “As we don’t have a world event in the middle of this NWSL season, it will allow us to be even more connected to the league and at this time in the cycle, getting to watch these games and these players is extremely important.”
For the more established players in the WNT, the NWSL is a valuable place to sharpen their skills and show Ellis they’re putting in the effort and producing the performances to keep earning spots on one of the most competitive teams in international soccer. For the newcomers and those just breaking into the league, the NWSL is a chance to be seen, to spark the interest of Ellis and her staff and show that they’re deserving of an invite to a WNT camp.
As Ellis has made deepening the WNT player pool a high priority, several NWSL players have recently been given a chance to test their mettle within the National Team environment. Last October, Ellis called 11 uncapped players to camp which included eight from the NWSL in Danielle Colaprico (Chicago Red Stars), Lynn Williams (NC Courage), Kealia Ohai (Houston Dash), Shea Groom (FC Kansas City), Casey Short (Chicago Red Stars), Arin Gilliland (Chicago Red Stars), Merritt Mathias (Seattle Reign) and Abby Dahlkemper (NC Courage). In that group was also two 2016 NWSL draftees in Jane Campbell (Houston Dash) and Ashley Hatch (NC Courage).
Houston Dash's Morgan Brian and Kealia Ohai; Chicago Red Stars' Arin Gilliland & Casey Short
As the league has continued to grow, it’s become even more of a platform. The lesson? Someone is always watching so every game is an audition. Prime examples are Williams and Short who would both tell you that if it wasn’t for the league, they probably wouldn’t be wearing the U.S. Soccer crest today. Both have now earned four caps and are part of this year’s January Camp.
As Ellis resumes the process of evaluating players during January Camp, a handful of new NWSL names have now begun to earn multiple call-ups. Among them are goalkeeper Adrianna Franch of the Portland Thorns, NC Courage defender Jaelene Hinkle, Short, Williams, Ohai, Dahlkemper and NC courage attacker Jessica McDonald and Orlando Pride’s Kristen Edmonds. The latter two earned their first call-ups last November. All these players, except for the injured Dahlkemper, are currently in California at the WNT’s January Camp, hoping to show once again why they belong and should remain on Ellis’ radar. Additionally, Ellis also added first-time call ups Sarah Killion of Sky Blue FC and NC Courage’s Taylor Smith for evaluation during the January training camp.
First time WNT call-up and NC Courage forward, Taylor Smith
This infusion of newer players has brought a different perspective and fresh energy. The new players have had to learn how to adapt and fit into a highly competitive environment while the veteran players have had to elevate their games in the battle for roster spots. It has also brought enthusiasm and healthy competition as everyone understands that nothing is guaranteed. For Ellis, making a roster – for a training camp or a game – won’t come down to a number of caps or World Cup experience, but to performance; to the players who have earned the right to take the field through consistently productive performances.
For these new players that cut their professional teeth in the NWSL, it’s quite literally, game on.
The first week of the 2017 January Camp for the U.S. Men’s National Team is in the books.
Check out all the storylines that came from a productive first seven days at the National Training Center, and be sure to follow along on Twitter and Instagram @ussoccer, as well as the official Facebook Page
Behind the Crest
Go behind the scenes with Bruce Arena as he welcomed players to January Camp and led his first training session back in charge of the MNT.
Knowing the Boss
Of all the players in camp, DaMarcus Beasley and Gyasi Zardes have featured the most for Arena. Both players give insight into how the MNT boss operates.
Eight Players Familiar with Bruce Arena
While most the January Camp roster is working with Arena for the first time, eight players have previously played for him either at the club or international level. Can you name them?
A New Chapter for Benny
After years on the outside looking into the National Team picture, Sporting KC midfielder Benny Feilhaber is grasping his second chance with the MNT during January Camp.
Dropping Some Wisdom
Veteran MNT midfielder Alejandro Bedoya discussed what to expect from January Camp with first-timer and Philadelphia Union teammate Keegan Rosenberry upon their arrival to Los Angeles.
Plenty to Say
Lots of media descended on the National Training Center for the MNT’s first training session on Jan. 11 and the players responded in kind. Check out their first day reactions.
Star Spangled Manneh
Gambian-born winger Kekuta Manneh is one step closer to representing the United States after it was confirmed he gained his U.S. citizenship last week.
Jozy Primed for 2017
Coming off one of the most productive seasons of his career, veteran forward Jozy Altidore is hoping to replicate his January Camp form from 2016 ahead of a big year for both the MNT and Toronto FC.
Agudelo - Never Forget the First
MNT forward Juan Agudelo was gracious in hosting a Facebook Live chat last week and fondly remembered scoring his first international goal as a 17-year-old in a 1-0 friendly win against South Africa in 2010.
Five Things to Know About MNT January Camp
Did you know the idea of January Camp was formalized by MNT head coach Bruce Arena during his first tenure in charge? Learn more about the history and the number of players that have jumpstarted their international careers during the annual MNT camp.
Five Great Moments at January Camp
From hat tricks, to a regional title and an all-time scoring record, plenty of history has been made during MNT January Camp. Learn more about who has made their mark throughout the years.
While Arena originally announced a 32-player roster, that number decreased when D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid was forced to withdraw from camp with a knee injury. Fellow goalkeeper Stefan Frei also departed camp with an ankle sprain, but was replaced by LA Galaxy backstop Brian Rowe.
On The Mend
While rostered players are going through the paces, injured defender Geoff Cameron has also been around the group the past week, rehabbing and getting treatment with MNT medical staff with hopes of returning soon for both Stoke City and the USA. Meanwhile, goalkeeper Tim Howard also popped into camp on Sunday and gave a status update on his injury recovery.
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.
- READ MORE: Tim Howard Gives Injury Update
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