A new year is upon us. A clean slate presents itself to Jurgen Klinsmann and the United States men's national team. After a truly poor showing last year, 2016 offers plenty of opportunity for redemption. It all begins on Sunday afternoon (3:45 p.m. ET, ESPN2) with a friendly against Iceland in the comfy confines of Carson, CA.
The annual January camp brings us its usual fresh faces. There are plenty of hungry fringe players and young up-and-coming talent in this camp, ready to prove to the coaching staff that they're worthy of wearing the USA badge in 2016 and beyond.
With four World Cup qualifiers, the U-23's home-and-away playoff against Colombia in March, and the 2016 Copa America Centenario all on the docket this year, it's going to be a hectic next 11 months for U.S. Soccer. Andi Herzog and Klinsmann both have a lot of work to do in finding the right combination of players for their respective teams to improve on an embarrassing 2015. It all begins in this camp and with the first friendly of this new year. Here's what to watch for when the Yanks take the field against Iceland:
Youth of the Nation
It's a massive year for both the USMNT senior and U-23 sides. The aforementioned competitions await Klinsmann's bunch starting in March. Also during that same month, Herzog's boys take on Colombia in a home-and-away playoff for a ticket to the Olympics in Rio. The idea behind this dual camp was to let some of the best U-23 domestic players get called in and experience a full training camp.
Nine different U-23 players were invited to this camp, but with Matt Miazga departing for transfer purposes, eight remain. Jordan Morris and Wil Trapp are the obvious headliners of the group. Both are not long for the youth ranks, as soon their U-23 duties are finished it's easy to envision both becoming favorites of Klinsmann for the full national team.
Three under-the-radar players to keep an eye on are Kellyn Acosta, Tim Parker, and Brandon Vincent. Acosta captained the U.S. at the U-20 World Cup in 2015. He's a versatile and very intelligent midfielder with a great first touch. Parker had an impressive rookie season with the Vancouver Whitecaps, starting 14 games and keeping five clean sheets. Vincent is a left back who was a teammate with Morris at Stanford. He was drafted fourth overall in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft by the Chicago Fire.
Jozy's make or break year
Jozy Altidore is at a career crossroads when it comes to the national team. For the past few years he's been able to skate by simply because he's been far and away the best option at striker. Consistently being one of the first names on Klinsmann's teamsheet no matter what his form was. Those days are dwindling down. Jordan Morris waits in the wings after finally turning pro. The kid's talent is undeniable and will soon turn Jozy's comfortable seat atop the USMNT's striker depth chart into an intolerable inferno.
This year has to be the year Jozy finally finds the consistency his form has always lacked. When he's at the top of his game he can put the USMNT on his back and carry them. We need to see that Jozy Altidore more and more this year or there's a good chance we'll start to see less of him as the year goes on.
Obligatory Midfield Section
There's a very good chance Darlington Nagbe's first ever USMNT start will come against Iceland and that should get fans of the team very excited. In his two previous caps in November, he changed the match each time he came on as a sub. His relationship with Michael Bradley in the middle of the field was already starting to develop. It became obvious as soon as those two combined together for the first time that they were in sync with each other.
Neither of them are true No. 10's. It could be argued that neither really have defined roles within the midfield. The two combined could finally provide an attacking presence through the middle of the USMNT's formation that they've been severely lacking. On the other hand, it's completely possible that the two players are too similar and cancel each other out. It's something we'll find out once they get some more minutes under their belt.
Hey, we have actual wingers on this roster!
Wingers! He have them! For anyone who only watches the USMNT, you may want to Google what a winger does in soccer because we haven't seen many true wingers with the team in a long time. Ethan Finlay finally gets his much deserved call-up after a fantastic season with the Columbus Crew. His pace is an exciting addition to the team. There's no questioning that he adds that dynamic factor to an attack. The questionable part of his game lies with his technical quality. Can he adapt to the international game and clean up his touches?
Jerome Kiesewetter and Khiry Shelton are both U-23 call-ups who also can play winger with varying degrees of success. Kiesewetter played the position very well in Olympic qualifying and has some promise as a dynamic winger for the USMNT in the future. Shelton is a very pacy player, but also very raw. His inclusion on the roster is sketchy at best. He has a lot of improving to do before he's considered anywhere near ready for the international level.
What's Iceland got?
Who knows? They brought a bunch of players not many people outside of Iceland have heard of. None of the important players that helped them earn their spot in EURO 2016 made the trip. One familiar face in Eidur Gudjohnsen is on their roster. The 37-year-old striker, who has played for famous clubs such as Barcelona, Chelsea, and Shijiazhuang Ever Bright, is the most recognizable name in their squad.
Here's the lineup we'd like to see against Iceland: