After what seemed like forever, January has finally arrived and Bruce gets his first chance to build a USMNT roster after over a decade away. January Camp, sarcastically dubbed “Camp Cupcake,” is notoriously less than prestigious as far as national team duty is concerned. A hodge-podge group of players who have danced on the fringe of being considered for the national team player pool (or who are on their way out), called in to train together and play a couple B-list friendlies. However, this year the stakes are significantly higher.
After miserable showings in 2016, the USMNT has found themselves with little room for error if they intend to catch their flight for Russia. Sitting at the bottom of the Hexagonal isn’t an ideal scenario particularly for a newly appointed coach. This January Camp will be critical in establishing some depth and confidence going into March qualifiers.
Sifting through available talent (players competing with European clubs are unavailable), Bruce Arena has compiled a diverse group of 32 MLS players who hope to earn themselves a roster spot come March.
As soon as USSF released Jurgen Klinsmann USMNT fans wishfully wondered which Klinny black listed players might get released from their dungeons. Bruce did not come to disappoint. Dax McCarty, Chad Marshall, Chris Pontius, Darlington Nagbe, Matt Hedges and Benny Feilhaber; all known to be out of favor with Klinsmann, all getting another shot from Arena. Considering age for a couple of these players, a serious role on the first team is likely a fleeting reality, but their club performances at very least merit them an honest shot.
Kellyn Acosta has been called up as a midfielder. Can I get a frick-yeah for playing players in their natural positions! Acosta has been utilized on the USMNT as a left-back. Some games he has done alright, while other games he has sincerely struggled. Yet for his club team (FC Dallas) he is a defensive midfielder, and he shines. I know there are a select few players that have the versatility to succeed in more than one position, but performance speaks for itself.
One major concern about Bruce Arena reclaiming his position of USMNT head coach came from comments he made in 2013 concerning foreign-born players.
“Players on the national team should be–and this is my own feeling–they should be Americans. If they’re all born in other countries, I don’t think we can say we are making progress.”
He has since retracted this statement saying, “I will embrace all players who are eligible to play.” Luckily it seems Arena is sticking true to that word naming, among several other dual citizen players, Kekuta Menneh who just recently received his US citizenship in September 2016. Menneh a Gambian-American has been a standout with the Vancouver Whitecaps after being picked up as the 4th overall pick in the 2013 MLS Superdraft. At just 22 years old he has a lot to offer in terms of speed and creativity, and we are looking forward to see him meet this opportunity head on.
Let’s face it. Looking over the league, the MLS is seriously lacking American born strikers. With Clint Dempsey out indefinitely due to health concerns our hopes fall on a very limited player pool, or more a puddle. When we have to resort to continually calling in Chris Wondolowski, it is clear we are lacking options. In his defense Wondo has continued to perform well for his club, which at least gives some sort of explanation why USMNT coaches call upon him time after time. But when club success does not translate to the national team, after numerous failed attempts it is time to move on. Unfortunately there isn’t much else to choose from. Jozy Altidore had a sensational season with Toronto and will likely bare the weight of lead striker alongside Bobby Wood when he is available for qualifiers, and MLS Rookie of the Year Jordan Morris will more than likely fall next in line. Fingers crossed that all stay fit and maybe our severe lack of strike force won’t matter?
So I’m basically going to contradict something I said above, but stay with me here. Graham Zusi, not unfamiliar with the USMNT, has received another call up. No big shocker there. However, instead of playing in midfield where he has played for the USA in the past, he will be giving a go at right-back. Playing players out of position was one of the biggest complaints about Klinsmann’s coaching style in the past, since he tried to do so time and time again with little success. Arena changing Zusi’s role from midfielder to defender, however actually makes a fair amount of sense.
Firstly, Zusi has some experience as a right-back as he has filled the position on various occasions for Sporting KC. Arena got to see him play the position first hand while he was coaching LA Galaxy, and obviously Zusi impressed. We are also limited in options for our defense, and currently have a wealth of midfield options. Depending on who Arena favors to lead his midfield, Zusi will be fighting for a role. Though if Zusi puts on a solid performance in the back line, he could become an essential ingredient in the USMNT recipe for success moving forward.
All things considered, Arena's January Camp has a lot of potential. In an ideal world, calling in some younger talent to have thier go at the big stage is always nice, but the current reality is that we need results. The number one priority is qualifying for the 2018 World Cup through whatever means necessary. Luckily for Arena he has a 32-man roster loaded with players who are more than ready to prove themselves worthy of suiting up for their country.