USMNT looks to finish camp with flourish vs. Canada

BY Kyle McCarthy • February 5, 2016

There is a rather transient quality to the annual January training camp. United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann assembles his players in southern California and uses the gathering as a means to an end. The proceedings matter in the grand scheme of things for players seeking to pry their way into the squad on a permanent basis, but they primarily serve as a conduit to something greater.

It is why the friendly with Canada on Friday night (live, 10:00p.m. ET, FS1, FOX Sports GO) carries some significance. It is the last chance for these players -- an assembly of familiar stalwarts, fringe players, potential additions and Olympic hopefuls -- to make their cases ahead of the pair of World Cup qualifiers against Guatemala next month and outline their credentials as a busy year commences.

"The main goal is to build a good foundation and get fit for 2016," U.S. midfielder Lee Nguyen said in a phone interview from U.S. training camp on Thursday. "Hopefully, you can make that statement and try to get your name in for World Cup qualifying and Copa América. I think that's everybody goal in this camp. At the same time, a lot of the younger guys are getting ready for the Olympics."

Nguyen emerged as one of the winners from the January camp over the past few weeks. His fitness work in the buildup to camp drew praise from U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann and paved the way for his first U.S. start in the 3-2 victory against Iceland on Sunday.

Klinsmann singled out New England Revolution midfielder Nguyen after his influential display against Iceland. Nguyen asserted himself in possession and exploited the space ceded in front of the Icelandic back four. He posed a constant, tidy threat in his initial position on the left and prompted Klinsmann to move him into a more central role after the interval.

Those measures offered Nguyen a reward for his work over the past few weeks and reinforced the potential utility of impressing in the buildup to these matches.

"It was great," Nguyen said. "They gave me the confidence to start. It was great to see that. Like they said, I had a good couple of weeks. I was just happy to get the nod and try to help the team get a victory and get a result. It was obviously rewarding to get that nod for all the work I had put in, but it was just great to see the confidence from the staff and from Jurgen to put me in the lineup."

MORE: What can USMNT expect against Canada?

Klinsmann is expected to offer others a chance to impress as camp winds to a close, but he must make at least two changes to the starting XI from the victory on Sunday. Seattle Sounders defender Brad Evans left the squad with a hamstring complaint, while Club Tijuana defender Michael Orozco returned to Mexico to continue his road back toward full fitness.

Their absences require wholesale changes on the right side of defense. Iceland hero Steven Birnbaum looks likely to receive a chance to impress from the start, while Klinsmann must figure out how to balance his fullback situation given the paucity of options available.

Solidity remains an important objective for the Americans as they prepare to cope with a Canadian side focused on organization first and foremost. Benito Floro's side thrives when matches are decided by the odd goal. There is a need to address some of the evident structural concerns from that affair in order to ensure a second consecutive victory and grab a first win over Canada in three attempts.

Most importantly, Klinsmann and his players hope to cap off this January camp with a flourish. The objectives -- identifying potential contributors for the rigorous demands ahead, molding the Olympic side and obtaining match fitness ahead of the new campaign -- are clear. It is now down to this group to underscore the progress made toward all of them on Friday night.

"We've been working hard this past month," Nguyen said. "We got a great result against Iceland. Hopefully, we can finish off camp with another great result. That's the goal. Hopefully, we can carry that through to World Cup qualifying and this summer."