The United States wraps up it's month-long training camp with a friendly against CONCACAF rivals Canada on Friday night (10:30 p.m. ET, FS1). The team is coming off a dramatic win over Iceland in their first match of 2016. It wasn't greatest of performances, but in the end the result fell the USA's way thanks to some dynamic substitutes and set piece magic.
As with any January camp, it's important to not read too much into results but rather focus on individual performances. Those players that do really well in these matches will help their cause tremendously for more playing time throughout this busy year. Here are a few fringe players to watch on Friday night:
No player has helped their cause more during this camp than Lee Nguyen. The creative midfielder showed very well against Iceland regardless of being positioned and moved all over the field for the 90 minutes. Jurgen Klinsmann has praised Nguyen as one of the best performers during camp.
It's no secret that the U.S. are extremely lacking in the creativity department. The New England Revolution man brings that asset in buckets. With Benny Feilhaber presumably out of the picture, Nguyen is the only true No. 10 in the player pool. Another good performance against Canada could earn him a roster spot for the upcoming World Cup Qualifiers and beyond.
While Nguyen shined on Sunday, Gyasi Zardes certainly did not. The LA Galaxy forward is finally getting a long run of games at his natural striker position and has yet again failed to impress. Another great scoring chance wasted against Iceland leaves us wondering if maybe he's more effective at the international level on the wing.
To be completely fair to him, he did play a part in the USA's first goal with a nice first touch layoff pass to Michael Bradley, but that just goes to further the point that maybe he's better in the midfield. In front of goal he cannot be relied upon. It's fine to miss chances in friendlies and low pressure Qualifiers, but come June those misses will not be tolerated. If he starts against Canada he could be playing for his spot in the starting lineup for March's qualifiers.
The USMNT's hero against Iceland was Steve Birnbaum. The 25-year-old central defender nodded in a Bradley free kick in the final minute of the match to capture victory for the Americans. With Michael Orozco leaving camp to head back to Club Tijuana, smart money is on Birnbaum being rewarded with a starting spot in Friday's lineup.
The D.C. United centerback struggled a bit last season and fell out of consideration for USMNT selection. If he does indeed start against Canada, it'll be a huge opportunity to prove to Klinsmann that he belongs on the depth chart. The current center back crop isn't exactly an impenetrable group. With a good performance, Birnbaum could easily see his stock skyrocket ahead of the March Qualifiers.
Here's the lineup we'd like to see against Canada: