There isn't much to like about January camp, but the Hex gives us a few things worth watching.
The end of January camp is here, which is a relief to pretty much everyone. The only problem is that the camp has to end with a match, one that fans will convince themselves they really care about because it has been so long since the United Stats last played. But then the opening whistle will blow and their enthusiasm will be tempered by the match, which will be sloppy and exactly what one should expect from largely second choice players.
January camp is lovely, isn't it?
There are a few things worth actually keeping an eye on, notably Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler. The two centerbacks have been the talk of January camp because they are two of the few players who might have an immediate and important future with the first team, slotting into a center of defense in desperate need of help.
For Gonzalez, this match will be able showing he can lead a defense and, as importantly, play in a high line. His pace isn't as much of an issue as his ability to turn his hips and make his first step, something that will be tested if Jurgen Klinsmann plays his customary high line. Besler will have to show that he is up for the physicality of the international game and that the smooth passing he uses so well for Sporting Kansas City can translate to a quicker game as well.
Gonzalez and Besler have an even greater opportunity to break into the first team than we, or they, could have even imagined too because besides the Americans' regular problems at defensive back, they are also in the midst of an injury crisis.
Geoff Cameron is battling a small strain and if he can't get back for Stoke's match this weekend, the club may keep him from going to next week's World Cup qualifier against Honduras. Carlos Bocanegra is also out with an injury right now, leaving the U.S. possibly without their two starting centerbacks. Oguchi Onyewu is still playing sparingly, and poorly, for Malaga, while Clarence Goodson's Brondby is out of season and hasn't played since December.
With so many options out, and even more potentially unavailable, Gonzalez and Besler have the chance to win not just a place in the first team, but maybe even a starting place next week in San Pedro Sula, where the U.S. will open the Hex and their road to Brazil 2014 in earnest.
But those aren't the only two players with something on the line. Mix Diskerud is trying to make a case for his inclusion with the first team after striking out in his past senior team opportunities. He's yet to dominate a match, a disappointing fact for a player who has gotten several opportunities against teams who were at less than full strength. Against a team like Canada, Diskerud needs to be excellent, keep the tempo and pace up, and show that he is a viable late-match substitute who can bring creativity and playmaking to the first team.
A player few expected to have a place to play for, but suddenly does is Tony Beltran. Steve Cherundolo's injury problems have the U.S. in need of depth at right back, which Beltran can help solve. If not him, Alfredo Morales can do the same.
Maybe nobody on the roster has as good of a chance of making a case for first team call-ins quite like Alejandro Bedoya and Josh Gatt, though. The U.S. has players like Graham Zusi and Eddie Johnson, both of whom will play versus Canada, who will play out side and give the U.S. some width, but they aren't true wingers. They won't fly down the sideline and cause havoc with their pace out side. They are like everyone else in the U.S. player pool -- not wingers. But Bedoya and Gatt are, offering the Americans something new, different and valuable. They have a wide open door to walk through.
The key in all this will be to not read too much into this match, though. The three weeks of training were far more important than these 90 minutes against Canada. There is a reason Klinsmann considered not playing this match and why it has been described in the past as a "reward" for weeks of training. The training was the real chance to make an impression. This is just a chance to make sure that impression lasts.