As the annual January camp beckons for the U.S. Men’s National Team next week in Carson, Calif., the roster has a decidedly younger feel. With a chance to expose the next generation of players to the international level and the critical Olympic qualifying play-in games ahead in March, Klinsmann is ready to put youth on center stage.
“We start out our year with a January camp where we give the opportunity to the next wave of players to come in and make an impression and see if they are ready to step it up into international level, if they are ready to understand what it takes to become a National Team player,” said Klinsmann.
With March’s two-leg Olympic Qualifying playoff with Colombia looming, 11 of the 23 players convening at StubHub Center ahead of friendlies against Iceland (Jan. 31) and Canada (Feb. 5) are age-eligible for the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“It will be more an identification camp. It will be more a developmental camp,” Klinsmann continued. “We want to give those players a head start into their very busy year 2016, but we also want to make it clear to them that it’s a huge opportunity that you have here to understand what it takes to step it up and to become an international-level player.
One of those challenges is developing the physical and mental stamina required of someone who regularly plays for club and country, and with many of the players having been off for a couple months, the camp provides a head start on the long campaign.
“January camp obviously helps us shorten the offseason for a lot of players because their offseason with MLS is a little bit longer than the other nations usually grant their players. Internationally, if you are a National Team player you might get 3-4 weeks off at the most per year and then you’re back in training and back playing with your club team. This gives us a chance to help them jump-start into 2016, but also to explain to them that there is a lot more to their job that maybe they sometimes think.”
The approach of making this edition of the annual event an ID camp is why some veteran, domestic National Team regulars haven’t been called to Carson, though its purpose isn’t just about young players. Klinsmann has also given calls to MLS-based veterans who have knocked on the door of the National Team, allowing them an extended opportunity to make their case on the international scene.
“Here we are giving that opportunity now to kind of already mature players like a Tony Tchani, like Ethan Finlay, or Luis Robles. You want these players really to come in and make a point and take that opportunity to try to come back into that group by the end of March and maybe play World Cup Qualifying.”
“It gives us coaches a chance to work with them on a daily basis to see their strengths and obviously to see their weaknesses, to explain to them what they need to improve and hopefully when they leave that camp after three or four weeks, they go into their club season with a lot more knowledge about themselves and also about the international game because it’s a completely different level.”
The chance to experience the international level also means the opportunity to test yourself against some of the USA’s best. There’s also the matter of facing two quality opponents at the end of the month, which is part of the reason why there remains a contingent of MNT veterans, led by team captain Michael Bradley. Two-time World Cup veteran Jozy Altidore and midfield stalwart Jermaine Jones join the group, and also one player who knows full well the opportunity that January camp presents.
As one of the most of the most seasoned international players on this 23-man roster, Sporting KC defender Matt Besler performed admirably during his first-call-up in 2013 and two months later went on to man the backline that earned a historic 0-0 draw with Mexico in CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying. A little more than a year after that, Besler was starting for the MNT at the World Cup in Brazil.
More recently, after two MLS seasons Gyasi Zardes made his MNT debut at January camp in 2015. The LA Galaxy attacker went on to tie Claudio Reyna’s record of 19 appearances during his first year with the MNT, bagging three goals in the process.
“Having experienced players is very important obviously,” he said. “The camp will be led by Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, and the established guys that badly want to use this camp to get a head start into their very busy season.”