Breaking down the USMNT January camp roster
January camp is back in session. The annual rite of passage from one year to another kicked off in southern California on Monday. United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann called 25 players into this month-long camp ahead of the friendlies against Iceland (Jan. 31) and Canada (Feb. 5) at StubHub Center.
The group once again represents a mix of senior players and Olympic hopefuls. The blending of familiar faces with promising prospects offers Klinsmann and U.S. under-23 coach Andreas Herzog with a chance to assess the state of the program and survey where their teams stand ahead of a busy year.
"It will be more an identification camp. It will be more a developmental camp," Klinsmann told ussoccer.com. "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."
The squad reflects those objectives. There are a few familiar faces to lend stability, but there are a host of players with points to prove as the New Year opens.
Expect all three goalkeepers to use this camp as an attempt to unsettle the goalkeeping depth chart. Klinsmann outlined his plans at the end of last year: Brad Guzan and Tim Howard are splitting time for now, while Nick Rimando remains the third goalkeeper.
Hamid and Robles are best positioned to disrupt the status quo, while Bingham is a late call-up after Jesse Gonzalez opted to join Mexico's under-23 side instead.
Hamid receives more camp time -- he started in the miserable friendly defeat in Ireland in November 2014 -- than any other goalkeeper outside the top three. This is his chance to show his form with D.C. United is enough to push Rimando out of the way.
Robles is now in the back in the mix for the first time since Klinsmann took charge after winning Goalkeeper of the Year with the Red Bulls. His deportment fits well with Klinsmann's expectations for a third goalkeeper.
The big question here: Will Klinsmann entrust the Iceland and Canada matches to this trio of goalkeepers or will he turn to Rimando once the games start?
Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Steven Birnbaum (D.C. United), Matt Miazga (New York Red Bulls), Eric Miller (MontrÃ©al Impact), Tim Parker (Vancouver Whitecaps), Matt Polster (Chicago Fire), Brandon Vincent (unattached)
Most of the focus here falls on constructing a viable defense for the Olympic playoff against Colombia in March. Besler and Birnbaum (a late inclusion on the roster) are the only players in this group who are ineligible for the two-legged tie.
The options reveal the difficult task ahead for Andreas Herzog as he attempts to assemble a viable defense. Acosta and Polster both feature more frequently in midfield for their clubs. Miller is a natural right back, but he only featured a handful of times for MontrÃ©al last season. Parker is included after a sterling rookie campaign with the Whitecaps, but he is untested at the under-23 level. Vincent -- a capable two-way fullback who left the MLS Player Combine to join the camp -- is named to present an alternative to the gaping hole on the left side.
Those realities place considerable emphasis on cultivating potential options this month. Besler, Birnbaum and Miazga serve as the bedrock. Perry Kitchen looms as another potential defensive option in case of emergency (he played in defense during January camp last year). The other players must meet those standards in order to advance their causes for the upcoming playoff.
Klinsmann is expected to supplement this group substantially prior to the friendlies. Besler and Miazga might feature as a tandem if they show well together in camp. Other players -- particularly at fullback -- are likely to join the group to increase the available options.
Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Mix Diskerud (New York City FC), Jermaine Jones (unattached), Perry Kitchen (unattached), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution), Tony Tchani (Columbus Crew SC), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC)
The balance in this group reflects Klinsmann's desire to rifle through his midfield options and underscores the relatively deep pool at Herzog's disposal for the Olympic playoff (Trapp is the only Olympic candidate in this mix). There are personnel (particularly in that holding role with Jones likely to miss the Guatemala qualifiers as he serves a six-match suspension) and tactical (particularly with Nagbe in the mix) questions to weigh over the next few weeks.
Look for Klinsmann to mix and match to find the right accompaniment for Bradley in the center of the park. Jones is the first choice there, but his looming absence increases the need for alternatives in the short-term. Kitchen, Trapp and Tchani (included in camp for the first time after performing well with Columbus over the past two seasons) offer traditional holding options, while Diskerud, Nagbe and Nguyen are more focused on obtaining and wielding possession in advanced areas. Diskerud and Nguyen both need to reinforce their own cases for playing time with Nagbe now in the squad.
This group allows Klinsmann to tinker with a midfield triangle if he so chooses. Bradley's inclusion allows Klinsmann to evaluate the potential viability of that setup as he rotates through his options. Nagbe, in particular, stands to benefit if the Americans veer away from 4-4-2 at some stage.
Klinsmann is under no pressure to reinforce this group before the pair of friendlies. There are enough pieces already in place to proceed with the two friendlies, though Kyle Beckerman and Graham Zusi present two possible additions.
Olympic and senior team concerns dovetail in this particular group. Altidore -- the constant choice up front -- is the foundation. The other five players run the gamut from frequent selections (Zardes) to potential Olympic contributors (Kiesewetter, Morris and Shelton) to untested domestic standouts (Finlay).
Morris warrants the most attention given his prominence with the Olympic and the senior teams. The MAC Hermann Trophy winner is expected to travel to southern California after a training spell with Werder Bremen in Turkey this week. His presence is important because he needs more reps with Altidore for senior team purposes and serves as the focal point in those Olympic efforts.
The deployment of players like Kiesewetter, Finlay, Shelton and Zardes also warrants attention. Finlay and Zardes both project as midfield options if Klinsmann retains his usual 4-4-2, but they present intriguing possibilities out wide if those plans shift. Kiesewetter and Shelton both hope to state their claims to support Morris in the playoff against Colombia.
The important question here as the camp winds to a close: Is Clint Dempsey on board? Dempsey missed out on the opening World Cup qualifiers against St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago. The dates for those matches fell squarely in the middle of the MLS postseason. This set of friendlies supplies a chance to bring him back into the fold ahead of the pair of matches against Guatemala in March.