Ah, the January Camp. The beloved and renowned Camp Cupcake. Where MLS players get a chance to get fitness during the longer league break while giving coaches the opportunity to assess fringe talent. Bruce Arena just called up his first January Camp roster in over a decade. Let’s take a look at how strong it that roster is.
GOALKEEPERS (5): David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Stefan Frei (Seattle Sounders FC), Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake), Luis Robles (New York Red Bulls).
DEFENDERS (10): DaMarcus Beasley (Unattached), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders FC), Greg Garza (Atlanta United FC), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Taylor Kemp (D.C. United), Chad Marshall (Seattle Sounders FC), Keegan Rosenberry (Philadelphia Union), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City).
MIDFIELDERS (12): Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City), Jermaine Jones (Unattached), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy), Kekuta Manneh (Vancouver Whitecaps FC), Dax McCarty (New York Red Bulls), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Chris Pontius (Philadelphia Union), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC).
FORWARDS (5): Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)
The Goalkeepers seem to pretty much who we expected. Tim Howard is out recovering from an injury, so that makes Bingham and Hamid the clear choices for the back up role behind Guzan. Nick Rimando is a very good keeper but is starting to age out. Stefan Frei was a standout this season, arguably winning the MLS Cup for the Seattle Sounders off a brilliant performance in the final. Luis Robles has been very consistent for the Red Bulls and could be a dark horse. The only significant name missing is Sean Johnson who has fallen from expectations with unremarkable play with the Chicago Fire.
Defense appears to be where Arena is choosing to tinker the most. My expected full senior team backline includes Fabian Johnson, Geoff Cameron, John Brooks, and DeAndre Yedlin, all four of whom play in Europe and are unavailable. You also have the likes of Gonzalez, Ream, Castillo, Miazga, and Carter-Vickers similarly unavailable, so it looks like Arena’s been forced to innovate. Birnbaum, Hedges, and Evans were pretty expected. Greg Garza is also not surprising, though he was only made available thanks to a loan from Tijuana in Mexico to the expansion side, Atlanta United. Zimmerman and Rosenberry are relatively young players who just had great MLS seasons. Same for Taylor Kemp. Rosenberry, Kemp, and Garza represent the only natural fullbacks on the roster, with DaMarcus Beasley and Graham Zusi called in to round out numbers. Chad Marshall seems an odd pick for me. He had a good season, but he’s 32 and never really been in the national team spotlight. I’d rather have seen someone like Ken Tribbett and Richie Marquez, the center-back duo from the Philadelphia Union, both 24 years old. However, one veteran name for January Camp is fine.
In midfield, there’s a combination of the usual names from the Klinsmann era and other established MLS players. Bedoya, Bradley, and Kljestan are expected names who have been consistently in the lineup. Jones, while aging, should still have been expected in the roster, especially considering how well his season went. Nagbe, Acosta, Trapp, and Lletget are expected January Camp names. Thankfully, Acosta is finally being considered in midfield instead of at fullback. There’s the players long ignored by Klinsmann. Pontius, McCarty, and, of course, Feilhaber. These three players were probably helped the most by Arena’s appointment and they’ll get a chance to prove that they belong in the senior team. And, finally, there’s the exciting name. Kekuta Manneh. He’s a young standout with the Vancouver Whitecaps and it will be interesting to see what the winger has to offer at the international stage. There’s only two omissions that stand out to me. Ethan Finlay didn’t have the best season in Columbus, so he misses out. The other big name is Lee Nguyen who, while not quite as obviously impactful as in years past, remains the focal point with the New England Revolution. The omission of Nguyen is a disappointment to me, but there’s a lot of creative talent called up in Nagbe, Feilhaber, and Kljestan. The squad really should be able to generate chances, while keeping a solid defense.
Finally, there’s the forwards. There’s few surprises here; MLS is a little short on quality American strikers. Dempsey misses out with his heart condition, though Altidore should be able to step in for goals, considering his incredible form. Wondo continues to make it to the senior team, to the disappointment of many. However, he’s a better or equivalent pick to Lamar Neagle and CJ Sapong, so I’ll accept it.
The roster as a whole clearly has been built for experience. A full 13 players have at least 20 caps, with the average hitting 25.2. This is in spite of the fact that this is mostly second and third choice players. Similarly, the roster’s pretty old. The average age is over 27 years old, with only the forwards averaging lower than 27 (at “just” 26.2). It was expected that Arena would call in mostly familiar names in order to get ready for the remaining matches in the Hex, so this is not a surprise. However, it is a little disappointing that the fringe names for the roster were not a tad younger. There’s a lot of talent under the age of 26 in MLS and it would have been nice to see the likes of Shipp, Rowe, Roldan, and Vincent. But if Arena’s simply focused on getting the existing team through to Russia 2018, then, Ok. This roster’s fine.