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.
When Jill Ellis released her 24-man roster ahead of October's USWNT friendlies, many were surprised to see some big names left off the list. Julie Johnston, Megan Rapinoe, and Alex Morgan were among those exclude from training camp, and in their place, 11 uncapped athletes looking to prove themselves on the big stage.
The USWNT will soon begin the long journey of WWC qualifying. What better time then now to scope the young talent who could be the future world champions.
Jane Campbell: Real name Carolyn Jane Campbell. Currently plays for the Standford Cardinals where she stands undefeated in goal. In 2013, at just 17 years old, Campbell became the youngest goalkeeper to be called up to national team camp with the senior squad. When she isn’t in goal, saving shots, and shutting out her opponents we hear Jane can teach you how to Dougie (though this has not been confirmed).
Hometown: Kennesaw, Georgia
Experience: U-17, U-20, U-23, Standford
Abby Dahlkemper: Western New York Flash love Dahlkemper so much they never take her off the field. Literally. She played every single minute, of every single game, all season long this year with her club. How could you blame them, she is basically a brick wall (in a good way). Though this is her first senior national team call-up, the former U-17 captain is ready to prove herself on the 1st team.
Hometown: Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Experience: U-17, U-20, U-23, UCLA Bruins, Western New York Flash, Adelaide United (loan)
Lynn Williams: Luckily for us Lynn Williams is humble, so you won’t have to hear her brag about being the NWSL’s 2016 MVP (that’s Most Valuable Player for those who are bad with acronyms). 11 regular season goals for the Western New York Flash is going to be difficult to beat next year wearing the Golden Boot she was awarded.
Hometown: Fresno, California
Experience: U-23, Pepperdine Waves, Western New York Flash
Shea Groom: FC Kansas City’s 2015 Rookie of the Year, ain’t no one to mess with. After all you can’t become FCKC’s 2016 leading scorer without being a total badass. The skill she brings to her team’s offense has not gone unnoticed, and that hard work has been rewarded with her 1st senior national team call-up.
Hometown: Liberty, Missouri
Experience: U-23, Texas A&M Aggies, FC Kansas City
Danielle Colaprico: This USWNT training camp will not be the first rodeo for this Chicago Red Stars starter. Following the U.S.'s 2015 WWC victory, Colaprico was called to train with the senior squad for their Victory Tour though she has yet to make her debut on the pitch. Danielle looks great in hats, especially red, white and blue caps… *wink-wink*
Hometown: Freehold, New Jersey
Experience: U-23, Virginia Cavaliers, Chicago Red Stars
Casey Short: Despite being picked early (5th pick overall) during the NWSL 2013 College Draft, Short’s professional career was sidelined by two separate season-ending injuries before her seasons ever began. Fast forward a few years to the 2016 NWSL season, where Short played a major role in the soccer equivalent of Albatross, a locked-down defense that conceded only 20 goals for the entire season.
Hometown: Naperville, Illinois
Experience: U-20, U-23, Florida State Seminoles, Avaldsnes Idrettslag, Chicago Red Stars
Arin Gilliland: The other half that makes Chicago Red Stars’ defense whole, Gilliland helped make the club almost impossible to score against (20 goals allowed all season). Called up to senior team duty with the yin to her yang, colleague Casey Short, the duo could prove to be the future leaders in the USWNT Department of Defense.
Hometown: Lexington, Kentucky
Experience: U-20, U-23, Kentucky Wildcats, Chicago Red Stars
Kealia Ohai: Besides having the most delightfully punable name, Ohai has made quite the name for herself while representing the USA in youth programs. Most noticeably that one time she scored the game-winning goal during the 2012 FIFA Women’s World Cup... NBD. There’s a reason why Houston Dash picked her up as their first ever draft pick during the 2014 NWSL College Draft (2nd pick overall). She’s fast, smart, and extremely focused. She is also legally blind in her right eye, we’re assuming it’s only because with perfect vision she might truly be unstoppable and take over the world.
Hometown: Draper, Utah
Position: Forward/Attacking Midfielder
Experience: U-17, U-20, U-23, North Carolina, Houston Dash
Andi Sullivan: Nickname= Sunny. Don’t let her age fool you, Sullivan is a USA youth national team veteran with two Women’s World Cups under her belt (U-17 2012 & U-20 2014). Currently a junior at Stanford, there will surely be many years of Sunshine in the USWNT’s future.
Hometown: Lorton, Virginia
Position: Forward/Attacking Midfielder
Experience: U-17, U-20, Bethesda SC, Stanford Cardinals
Merritt Mathias: It’s been awhile since we’ve had a sweet home (grown) Alabama player called into WNT duty, and we couldn’t be more excited that that void will be filled by Mathias. A forceful presence in the defense for Seattle Reign, Mathias helped her club hold out 531 consecutive minutes of play without allowing a goal.
Hometown: Birmingham, Alabama
Experience: U-17, U-23, Texas A&M Aggies, FC Kansas City, Seattle Reign FC
Ashley Hatch: Not only is Hatch the top scorer for BYU, she is the top collegiate scorer in the nation (15 goals so far this season). Basically she is a goal machine, programmed to dismantle defenses, & fire rockets into the net. “I’m pretty sure she’s a robot,” said a former teammate probably.
Hometown: Gilbert, Arizona
Experience: Legends FC, BYU Cougars
FULL USWNT OCTOBER TRAINING CAMP ROSTER
Goalkeepers: Jane Campbell (Stanford), Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)
Defenders: Abby Dahlkemper (Western New York Flash), Arin Gilliland (Chicago Red Stars), Merritt Mathias (Seattle Reign), Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City), Casey Short (Chicago Red Stars), Emily Sonnett (Portland Thorns FC)
Midfielders: Morgan Brian (Houston Dash), Danielle Colaprico (Chicago Red Stars), Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC), Carli Lloyd (Houston Dash), Allie Long (Portland Thorns FC), Samantha Mewis (Western New York Flash), Andi Sullivan (Stanford)
Forward: Crystal Dunn (Washington Spirit), Shea Groom (FC Kansas City), Ashley Hatch (BYU), Kealia Ohai (Houston Dash), Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), Lynn Williams (Western New York Flash)
Today one of soccer's greats hangs up her boots. US Women's National Team's super star, Abby Wambach, retires after 184 goals, 254 caps, and 15 years of service. Though tonight will be her last night stepping onto the pitch, she has forever left her mark on the footballing world and its perception of the women who play this beautiful game. Thank you Abby.
Being a soccer fan in the United States automatically comes with a heaping dose of criticism. Not only does the rest of the sporting world scrutinize the U.S. bandwagon for adopting “their” sport, “Americanizing,” and spoiling it. But our neighbors are just as quick to berate the game, quickly dismissing soccer as an over complicated, boring sport, played by sissies before even understanding rules or reason. In all, defending your love for soccer can be truly tasking.
“No, Steve making the goals larger wouldn’t make the game more exciting… Yes, I understand the score would be higher, there’s a lot more to it than just a score… Yes the point is to have more goals than the other team… Having scoring goals be more difficult is half the fun…You can’t just change the rules cause you think it would be better... Of course I want my team to have more points, Steve I think you’re missing the point…”
The thing is, as with everything, there will always be naysayers ready to rain on the parade. Luckily a couple showers have never stopped soccer supporters before. Whether people like it or not, no amount push back will be able to stop the momentum that soccer has gained in the United States. Now more than ever, there is no better time to be a soccer supporter in the U.S.
"But the U.S. has never even won a World Cup."
Um, excuse me what? Hell yeah we have! Our U.S. Women's National Team has won three, and continues to dominate as the most successful women's soccer team of all time. Don't think women's sports matter? Tell that to the 22.8 million people who watched as U.S. completely trounced Japan in the FIFA Women's World Cup Final, the most viewed televised soccer event in the nations history (played by men or women).
"Okay, but the men's team is losing."
Losing compared to what? Because compared to decades past, we've been winning a whole mess more than we normally do. We got put into the "Group of Death" for the first round of the World Cup and came out of it! No one expected that. This past spring we even won friendlies against the reigning World Cup Champs Germany and 3rd place Netherlands on their home soil. It is insane when looking at the U.S.'s performance in the past.
But yes, it's true the men's team has lost some crucial matches as of late. Over the summer the USMNT was knocked out of the Gold Cup in a heartbreaking loss to Jamaica, and just last week were crushed 4-1 in a friendly against Brazil. Some have pointed fingers at coaching staff. Others have been talking about the over extroversion of players, bouncing between their regular home teams schedule and tournaments resulting in injury and disappointing performance. Still others have been discussing the lack of youth training infrastructure to develop quality American players.
Wait. What's this? People are talking about soccer! In America? The fact that any of these discussions are taking place at all should be proof enough that soccer is finally making a permanent place for itself in U.S. sports. You don't talk about, and certainly don't have opinions on things you don't have vested interest in. We may be losing, but we've always been losing. The difference now is that people actually care that we are, and that is half the battle towards fixing things, which means we will only continue to improve.
"Soccer is not an American sport, this bandwagon will never last."
Soccer is as American as pizza... and all the other countless things we have adopted over the centuries. We didn't invent the sport, and never claimed we did but that doesn't make our support thereof any less true. So maybe we're a little late to the party that 3 billion other people in 200 different countries were already a part of. Who cares? We are here now and gaining steam by the day. Soccer has the fastest growing fan base of any sport in the U.S. Call it a bandwagon if you must, but I'd suggest jumping on.
For those worried that there isn’t going to be much soccer this summer, fear not! The 2015 Women’s World Cup is soon to be here! And given the American Ladies’ tendency to contend for every major tournament, the anticipation may be well worth it. The USA Women’s Soccer team is one of the big favorites for the World Cup, and I fully believe that they’ll be able to win it this time. Here are 5 reasons why: