In the modern era of the American soccer (post-MLS), the U.S. men’s national team has started gathering in January for a training camp. It has primarily served as an opportunity to look at domestic players outside of FIFA international windows and prior to the start of the MLS season.
Nicknamed “Camp Cupcake”, the training camp has often seen a match or two attached to it. This year, the team will face Serbia and Jamaica during its time together.
The camp has seen many USMNT debuts and many players notch their first goal scored:
1997: The first January camp after the launch of MLS coincided with the U.S. Cup tournament. Three straight losses and a goal differential of -6 set an ominous tone ahead of the final round of World Cup qualifying. Joe-Max Moore scored the only U.S. goal in the tournament. Immediately after the tournament, the USMNT traveled to China where it lost and drew matches with the Chinese national team.
1998: Ahead of a February CONCACAF Gold Cup, the U.S. defeated Sweden 1-0 in front of 12,773 at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando. Roy Wegerle scored the U.S. goal. That Gold Cup, which ended with a U.S. loss to Mexico in the final, is best remembered for Preki’s goal and Kasey Keller’s world-class performance that beat Brazil in the semis. It remains the only USMNT victory against Brazil in eighteen matches.
1999: Bruce Arena’s first winter camp was highlighted by a 3-0 win over Germany in Jacksonville. Jovan Kirovski, Tony Sanneh, and Claudio Reyna scored in the first thirty minutes to shock the favored Germans. That win was followed up by a 2-1 friendly win in Ft. Lauderdale over Chile to start Arena’s run on the right foot.
2000: A draw with Iran and a road win over Chile prepared the USMNT for a February edition of the CONCACAF Gold Cup. In its most disappointing performance in tournament history, the U.S. crashed out in the quarterfinals after losing to Colombia on penalties.
2001: Two friendlies were scheduled ahead of the first game of the Hex in late February against Mexico. A 2-1 win over China in Oakland was followed up by a 1-0 loss to Colombia in Miami.
2002: The CONCACAF Gold Cup started in mid-January during the World Cup year of 2002. Pablo Mastroeni established himself as part of the national team pool during the tournament, which saw the U.S. defeat Costa Rica in the final. Josh Wolff and Jeff Agoos scored in the 2-0 win. Mastroeni became critical after Chris Armas’ injury ahead of the World Cup that summer, and he benefited from the opportunity in the winter camp.
2003: Tim Howard and Nick Rimando became key parts of USMNT pool during this winter camp. A 1-0 loss to Argentina was sandwiched by wins over Canada and Jamaica. Carlos Bocanegra scored the first two goals of his USMNT career in the two wins.
2004: A 1-1 draw with Denmark in Carson, California was the first game of two in the winter camp. Goalkeeper Jonny Walker got the draw in his first-ever appearance for the USMNT. MetroStars legend John Wolyniec also made his first appearance for the national team in the match as a substitute. The draw was followed up by a 1-0 loss in the Netherlands.
2005: The final round of World Cup qualifying kicked off earlier than normal, with the U.S. slated for a trip to Trinidad and Tobago on February 9. A strike nearly forced Bruce Arena to take a team of players from the USL into qualifying, but it was resolved in time for the first team to get a short training camp ahead of the 2-1 win on the road. Clyde Simms benefited from the strike, he went from the Richmond Kickers to MLS due to his performance in the camp of USL players.
2006: With it being a World Cup year, the U.S. packed in quite a few friendlies at the beginning of the calendar year. A 0-0 draw with Canada was followed up by four wins through March 1. Taylor Twellman nearly played his way into the World Cup squad with his performances, his hat trick against Norway paced the team to a 5-0 win.
Future LA Galaxy president Chris Klein was named man of the match in the 4-0 win over Guatemala at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas.
2007: The U.S. defeated Denmark and Mexico in a successful winter camp. Jonathan Bornstein and Ricardo Clark played their way into the squad for the 2010 World Cup cycle here. These were Bob Bradley’s first games with the national team after taking over from Bruce Arena.
2008: A 2-0 win over Sweden was followed up by a hard-fought 2-2 draw with Mexico during the winter camp. Jozy Altidore scored the second goal in the draw, his first start with the national team. He and Maurice Edu became key parts of the program for the first time in this camp.
2009: The same opponents were on display in the winter of 2009, but with higher stakes. A friendly win over Sweden was followed up with a 2-0 win in the first match of the final round of World Cup qualifying over Mexico. Sacha Kljestan had a hat-trick in the 3-2 win over Sweden, his first goals in the national team jersey. 21-year-old Michael Bradley had a brace in the 2-0 win over Mexico in Columbus, Ohio.
2010: The World Cup year got off to an ominous start with a 3-1 loss to Honduras on January 23. A 2-1 win over El Salvador in late February was achieved due to a stoppage time goal from Kljestan, continuing his strong play in the winter camps. The winter run was concluded by a 2-1 loss in the Netherlands.
2011: Only one game made up the 2011 winter camp. Seven players earned their first USMNT cap in the 1-1 draw against Chile. Teal Bunbury scored his first goal for the national team. The game gave a peak at some of the players Bradley might have worked into the squad in his second cycle at the helm, if not for his eventual dismissal after the Gold Cup Final loss to Mexico.
2012: Three wins marked a successful inaugural winter camp for Jurgen Klinsmann. The January portion saw a 1-0 win in Carson against Venezuela and a 1-0 win on the road in Panama. On February 29, the USMNT earned a surprising 1-0 win away to Italy on a Clint Dempsey goal in the 55th minute.
2013: A bland 0-0 draw against Canada did not give the team much confidence heading into their first match of the final round of World Cup qualifying. On February 6, Honduras won at home 2-1 over the U.S. The loss ratcheted up the pressure on Klinsmann and even led to the infamous Brian Straus article hinting at trouble behind the scenes.
2014: The year began with a 2-0 win over South Korea. Chris Wondolowski scored twice in the win, foreshadowing his inclusion on the World Cup roster later in the year. The win was followed by a 2-0 loss in Cyprus to Ukraine.
2015: In a change from the typical format, the U.S. went on the road for their first game of the year. A 3-2 loss in Chile saw youngsters Steve Birnbaum, Will Trapp, and Gyasi Zardes feature. A 2-0 win at home over Panama closed out the winter schedule.
2016: Last year, the team started the year with two wins. A 3-2 win over Iceland was followed up by a 1-0 win over Canada.