Ahhh the January camp. What a strange, strange time. Always full of up and comers, MLSers who only sniff the fringes of the national team, at least one or two guys from Scandinavia and Landon Donovan — when he’s not making friends at Everton or enemies in Munich, that is. The first month of 2014 featured much of the same, but with a World Cup waiting just over the horizon, the stakes were high. Well, as high as something culminating with a listless friendly against South Korea can be.
With Jürgen Klinsmann begging his players for answers to the many questions he has to answer before touching down in Brazil, this month was never about the result. It was about building a sense of comfort. Comfort with the training facility in São Paulo. Comfort with the roles players would have to undertake. Comfort with the national team style and, for those players new to the ranks who might yet have something to say against Germany and Ghana, comfort with the expectations now standing before them.
All in all, the German coach ran the rule over 26 players for the past couple of weeks. If 10 end up making the trip to Brazil in June, that would be a banner haul. But they all had something to play for, whether their seat for the World Cup was already pre-ordered in business class or reserved on their couch.
Where each player finds themselves in a few months time can fluctuate wildly, and all that really matters at this point is the opinion of Klinsmann, but this list isn’t who is the best player at this camp or who is most likely to go to Brazil — you can listen to our podcast for that sort of analysis. This is about all of that. Who’s important to the fortunes of this team, where they might just stand in Klinsmann’s eyes, who deserves more chances, and plenty of other random factors — not the least of which is my personal biases, forged by fire and frustration (looking at you Wondo) — all in one semi-tidy list. Enjoy.
FLOTSAM & JETSAM
These were the group of players left off Klinsmann’s ship destined for Carson, California for a date with South Korea. It doesn’t mean they aren’t special (well, to someone at least) and it doesn’t mean they don’t have a future with the national team. Just not right now.
Sorry Tally, it’s nothing personal. I actually kind of like the Houston Dynamo backstop, but he is, on his greatest days, the fifth best goalkeeper in the pool right now. Bill Hamid is right alongside him, but has oodles of talent and potential that Hall doesn’t. Welcome to the world of Jon Busch and Troy Perkins, Mr. Hall.
When it comes to his fullbacks, Klinsmann is like a college freshman: He’ll try anything once. What does tell you about the national team futures of MLSers Sinovic and Myers, who couldn’t even get a single run out?
It looks like the time was just not right for the two young Colorado defenders. Klute’s dismissal was more surprising, as left back remains a serious problem area for the Yanks. O’Neill is still raw, but looks like he might have something to say in the future.
TAMPA BAY MUTINY DIVISION
Despite all the strides the MLS has made, there is still a serious divide between what makes a solid to good player in the league and a passable option at the national team level. These players are straddling that canyon.
22. Eric Alexander
21. Michael Harrington
I’ll be honest, as far as my MLS knowledge has come in the past 18 months or so, I had no idea who these guys were before Klinsmann called them in. Now, I know the Harrington plays left back, which immediately made him the higher-ranked option. Alexander? Well, good luck breaking into this midfield, kid.
20. Bill Hamid
19. Sean Johnson
There is a lot to be said when it comes to the Hamid-Johnson debate. We can say it in 2022, when that battle might be for more than the role of Brad Guzan’s future backup.
DUCT TAPE & WD40 DIVISION
There is doing things the right way, and then there is saying “screw it, I’ll just fix it later.” When these players wear the stars and stripes, it’s the latter.
18. Dax McCarty
We thought he had a chance… then Eric Alexander saw the field instead.
17. Chris Wondolowski
For a few brief moments at least, once again there is now some hope for the Wondo show to take its place on the USMNT stage. There was also a brief moment when America thought making the Kardashians famous was a good idea. With both, the longer I’m forced to see them, the angrier I get. Here’s one guy hoping Wondo doesn’t Robbie Findley his way to Brazil.
16. Brad Evans
I have a rule. It says, “no matter how many games a player starts, if the biggest compliment you can offer them is ‘surprisingly competent,’ they probably shouldn’t be starting any more.”
15. Brad Davis
Sure, the midfield is crowded. Like, really crowded. And the plane to Brazil is already filling up with talented players in those positions. That said, both of these players stand a real chance of fighting for a spot to the bitter end. Do I think they should? No, no matter how filthy Davis’ left foot is. But do I think they deserve a chance to shine. You better believe it.
14. Clarence Goodson
I like Clarence Goodson more than the next guy and the next guy after that first guy and probably the next guy after that. Screw it. I really like Goodson as a player. His ability to win aerial battles is a fantastic asset. But something scares me. Something tells me he is not a truly viable option against the Germany’s of the world (I know, I didn’t have to tell you that). But when it comes to holding things together against all odds, he’s not someone you want to count out.
HENRY ROWENGARTNER DIVISION
13. Luis Gil
There is only one Luis Gil. Despite starting his MLS career at a remarkably young age, he never had near to the hype of players like Freddy Adu. Not even close. Free from the mainstream spotlight — but never safe from prying fans like me or those of you probably reading this blog — he has blossomed. A force in the short-lived U20 World Cup campaign last year and a key cog for Real Salt Lake, the 20-year-old midfielder could be the attacking engine in the team for the next decade. To expect him to step right in and make an impact right now is probably a major long shot, but you can’t say anyone is rooting against it.
BRIAN CHING DIVISION
12. Mike Magee
11. Eddie Johnson
10. Benny Feilhaber
MLS stalwarts with a seemingly important part to play on the USMNT but could easily end up at home come June? Yup, sounds like Brian Ching. If he stayed away from the raw bar at Old Country Buffet, Magee might be higher and Feilhaber is given a boost by his status as a personal favorite, but the real story is with Eddie Johnson. A few months ago it might have seemed improbable that EJ wouldn’t at least make the squad. Now, his spot is far from guaranteed.
ALLEN IVERSON DIVISION
9. DeAndre Yedlin
When it comes to the ever-present fullback problem for the United States it would appear that one young man with a fantastic head of hair has been positioned as “The Answer.” That’s a lot of pressure on someone who won’t be able to legally join the Sounders’ faithful in a round of locally-brewed craft beers until this July. This was Yedlin’s first chance to prove to everyone he belongs and his energy, if nothing else, left me wanting to see more. Sure, he defends about as well as Yi Jianlian’s chair at times, but damned if I don’t want him to step right in and succeed. He looks be the answer in the future, but I think he might be the answer today.
DELTA SKY CLUB DIVISION
These guys? Yeah, it’s probably time to book those tickets. Use those miles, son!
8. Kyle Beckerman
7. Michael Parkhurst
I know what you’re thinking. “These dudes? On the World Cup roster? Fo’ reals??????” Yes. Really. Over the final stages of this cycle, there have hardly been two more solid players. They are remarkable only in the fact that they are terribly unremarkable, but you know what you were getting every time one of them took the field. Hard tackling and smart passing from Beckerman. Solid defending and enough forward press to stretch the flank without exposing space in behind from Parkhurst. On a squad with so many questions still to be answered, isn’t it nice to have some answers once in a while?
6. Mix Diskerud
5. Graham Zusi
Two players who provide flair an offense — traits that will see them not just on the plane, but almost certainly on the field in Brazil — but might not find a true home in the starting lineup. Zusi is a legitimate player and his crosses are a lock pick for some of the trickiest defenses the USMNT might face. The only question remains if the likes of Landon Donovan and maybe even Fabian Johnson can keep him on the bench. I may be higher on Mix than most, but whether as backup to Bradley or Dempsey or an injection of pure energy, he’ll have a home near the front of Klinsmann’s bench.
4. Matt Besler
3. Omar Gonzalez
As the likely starting pair of centerbacks in a few months time, it’s hard to rank these two anywhere else. Unless Clarence Goodson or Geoff Cameron or — dare I say — Oguchi Onyewu make a late push, it’s time to start at least prepping the pen for the lineup sheet.
2. Nick Rimando
Nick Rimando?? No. 2?? It seems strange, but hear me out. It might not be likely, but can’t you see a world where a healthy Omar Gonzalez or Matt Besler get left home? It would cause a stir for sure, but it wouldn’t be the strangest thing that’s ever happened with a World Cup roster. Klinsmann willingly leaving Rimando for a date with his couch? Not. Gonna. Happen.
1. Landon Donovan
Landon. Donovan. Enough said.