The holiday season is upon us, which means January camp for the U.S. Men’s National Team is right around the corner. Now a long, annual tradition on the U.S. calendar, the MNT will convene at StubHub Center beginning Jan. 4 with the immediate goal of preparing for friendly matches against Euro 2016 qualifiers Iceland (Jan. 31) and CONCACAF foes Canada (Feb. 5).
The camp will serve as a kick off to a year of World Cup Qualifying matches, the pivotal Olympic qualifying playoff with Colombia, and the historic Copa America Centenario set to be played in the United States this summer.
With many competitive matches ahead, the month-long camp once again provides a platform for MLS players on the cusp of the National Team to prove their point. History shows that newcomers or those just on the periphery of the MNT have used January camp to catapult themselves into bigger roles with the side.
With just one cap to his name entering January camp in 2002, Pablo Mastroeni shined throughout the CONCACAF Gold Cup, earning his way on to that year’s World Cup roster. The camp also provided a proving ground for 19 year olds Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley, who made big contributions in South Korea that summer.
In 2003, goalkeeper Tim Howard earned his third and fourth caps during the camp, helping him to the starting goalkeeping job at the 2003 FIFA Confederations Cup and shortly after, his historic move to English Premier League giants Manchester United.
Four years later, Jonathan Bornstein scored his first goal in his U.S. debut, a 3-1 win against Denmark, while midfielder Ricardo Clark earned just his second cap in the match. Both went on to help the U.S. to the Gold Cup title that summer and appear at the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
The following year, Maurice Edu and Jozy Altidore made just their third and second appearances respectively for the U.S. in the team’s 2-0 victory against Sweden, while defender Clarence Goodson made his MNT debut in the match. Edu and Altidore went on to represent the United States at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, while the trio also joined Bornstein and Clark on the U.S. roster in South Africa two years later.
January camp in 2012 saw Graham Zusi make his way onto the U.S. scene while it provided Geoff Cameron, who had only one previous international appearance, an opportunity to further integrate into the side. In 2013, Matt Besler earned his first cap against Canada. His next start came against Mexico in the 0-0 draw at Estadio Azteca in World Cup qualifying. The next year saw the debut of 20-year-old Seattle Sounders FC product DeAndre Yedlin, who made a strong impression during his time in SoCal, earning his first U.S. cap in a 2-0 win on Feb. 1, 2014 against South Korea. Four months later he was named to the U.S. squad for the World Cup four months later. Besler and Zusi featured in all four of the team’s matches in Brazil, while Cameron and Yedlin took part in three.
The most recent and brightest shining example of what success in January camp can do for one’s MNT career comes from Gyasi Zardes. The LA Galaxy attacker earned his first two caps last January in a 3-2 loss at Chile and 2-0 win on his home StubHub Center Field against Panama. Zardes even bagged an assist on Clint Dempsey’s 37th minute goal in that match, and would go on to appear in 19 of the team’s 20 games in 2015, tying Claudio Reyna’s record for most caps by a U.S. player in his debut year with the National Team.