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Beginning the Cycle: Looking back to the 2004 January Camp at The Home Depot Center

CARSON, Calif. (January 7, 2008) - In January of 2004, the U.S. Men’s National Team held its first-ever training camp at The Home Depot Center, just recently opened the previous summer. Bruce Arena called in a squad of 27 to participate in a national team camp that would culminate with a friendly against Denmark at the end of the month. More significant than the game against the Danes, however, was the fact that the January camp represented the beginning of the 2006 World Cup cycle: a two-year journey that would eventually take the U.S. through CONCACAF qualifying and into the tournament finals in Germany.

Fast forward to 2008, where Bob Bradley has called in a squad of 26 players to start on a similar road, hopefully with an equivalent outcome: qualification for the World Cup. With the emphasis on the year to come, the January camp is all about looking forward. Here, however, we’ll be looking backwards. If we take a close look at the squad that convened at the HDC nearly four years ago to the day, is there something it can tell us about the upcoming World Cup cycle?

Like its 2008 counterpart, MLS players dominated Bruce Arena’s 2004 roster. Only Wade Barrett (AGF, Denmark), Cory Gibbs (FC St. Pauli, Germany) and Robbie Russell (Sogndal, Norway) played for clubs overseas. Though he was called in for camp, Carlos Bocanegra pulled out of Arena’s squad at the last minute. The reigning MLS Defender of the Year had just signed for Fulham, and he traveled to London to make his debut for the club later that month. Forward Brian McBride followed his compatriot to Fulham, leaving the January camp early to join up with his new team.

Four players in the 2004 training camp had prior World Cup experience. Frankie Hejduk, Eddie Pope, and McBride all featured in multiple games for the U.S. at France 1998. Together with Josh Wolff, the four were part of the 2002 team that made a run to the quarterfinals at the World Cup in Korea/Japan.

By contrast, the current 2008 camp features three World Cup veterans. Landon Donovan started all three games for the United States in Germany, while Jimmy Conrad and Eddie Johnson both made two appearances at the tournament. Out of these three, only Donovan possesses experience from multiple World Cups.

The 2008 roster also sports three overseas players. Newcomer Jeramiah White plays at AGF in Denmark, the club where Barrett was under contract four years ago, while Danny Califf is also playing in Denmark as the captain of Aalborg BK. Four years ago, he was a member of this same January camp having come off an excellent year with the Los Angeles Galaxy. The final overseas player, Ramiro Corrales, plays for SK Brann in Norway, and is making his first appearance in a national team camp since 2004.

While training rolls on in Carson this month, the U-23s will be convening in Bradenton, Fla. as they start preparations for Olympic qualifying in March. Head coach Peter Nowak will get a chance to look at a variety of players this month, and he’ll have to keep his eyes on a few who are training across the country. Bob Bradley’s MNT camp features four players who are age-eligible for the U-23s: Jozy Altidore, Maurice Edu, Sacha Kljestan, and Marvell Wynne all will look to figure into Nowak’s plans for the team attempting to qualify for Beijing.

A similar crossover between the U-23s and the senior team occurred in 2004, when both teams were training at The Home Depot Center in January. In that instance, however, there were no U-23 age-eligible players called into the senior team. Though Donovan, Bobby Convey, and DaMarcus Beasley later appeared in the game against Denmark at the end of camp, they spent the duration of January embedded with the U-23 team rather than the full MNT.

Out of the January 2004 camp, five players were later named in the 2006 World Cup team (Chris Albright, McBride, Ben Olsen, Eddie Pope, and Wolff). Two additional players, Gibbs and Hejduk, were originally called up to the team before being forced to withdraw. Furthermore, Kerry Zavagnin and Pat Noonan were named as alternates to the 2006 World Cup Squad. If you include Beasley, Convey, and Donovan in that group, since they took part in the game against Denmark, it makes for a sum of 12 players who progressed to the final pool of players for the World Cup two years removed from the original January Camp.

So, what does this tell us? Right now, it's tough to say. The past holds clues to the future, but whether this tells us a lot or a little, we probably won't know until 2010.

2004 Roster  |  2004 Game Report  |  2004 Stats      |      2008 Roster 

By the Numbers: 2004 2008
# of Players 27 26
Avg. Age 26.7 24.8
Avg. Caps 12.4 8.7
Fewest Caps Nine tied with 0 Six tied with 0
Most Caps 72 (Brian McBride) 96 (Landon Donovan)
Most Goals 23 (Brian McBride) 34 (Landon Donovan)
From MLS 24 23
World Cup Exp. 4 (Three tied with 2) 3 (One with 2)