The United States men’s national team’s annual January camp has come and gone. Per usual, several fringe players have made their case to the manager for more playing time. It seems like every year at least one or two players use “Camp Cupcake” to propel themselves up the depth chart to become vital players for the full strength national team going forward.
While the USMNT’s results against two lesser opponents weren’t the greatest, there were some impressive individual showings and in the end, that’s what this particular camp is all about. We picked out five players who we think impressed during the camp and could go on to play a more important role with the team than they previously had before this camp occurred. Note: This is all opinion-based. You will likely disagree on something, so please leave a comment below on who impressed you and why.
1. Darlington Nagbe
After a falling out with Jurgen Klinsmann, it appeared Nagbe’s USMNT dreams would crash and burn before they ever really got off the ground. The change in manager has benefited him greatly as Bruce Arena has said nothing but glowing words about him since camp began. He earned the start against Serbia in the 0-0 draw and was the best player on the field for a large portion of the match. His flank play on the left wing was very encouraging as most of the chances the team created came from his good work. With a little bit better shooting accuracy, he could’ve had a brace.
Going forward, Nagbe seems like a very good option either on the wing or central for Arena. His ability to work in tight spaces is matched by few in the player pool. Couple that with his dynamic runs from the midfield and it’s hard to see him being kept out of the full strength lineup for much longer. Is 2017 finally the year he earns his national team spot and becomes an impact player a lot of people think he can be? If January camp is any indication, it’s looking optimistic for that to happen.
2. Walker Zimmerman
On the surface, Walker Zimmerman emerging as a center back option for the USMNT shouldn’t be a surprise. He was a highly touted youth player with massive amounts of potential. But, it’s the route that he’s taken to get here that’s surprising. After struggling mightily with injuries in his younger years he’s finally found fitness and form with FC Dallas and has used this January camp to become a legitimate center back option for Arena going forward.
While his 90 minute shift in the 1-0 win over Jamaica wasn’t highlight reel material, he was certainly impressive with how confident he was in the back. Both physically and technically he looked like he belongs with this team for the long haul. He may not be a contender to start in March, but he surely did enough to get more opportunities very soon. The Gold Cup could be his chance to make his case for a sporting spot.
3. Jordan Morris
One thing to remember about January camp is that it is still preseason for the majority of the players. No one showed their preseason rust more than Jordan Morris who struggled with his first touch on several occasions. But, it was his one moment in front of goal that earns him a spot on this list. He got a few opportunities to score against Jamaica and finally put one in the back of the net after combining beautifully with Benny Feilhaber.
This wasn’t the best Jordan Morris we’ve ever seen, but he still made an impact and that’s what counts. Jozy Altidore was invisible in his start against Serbia. Don’t be surprised to see Morris push Jozy for that starting spot as 2017 rolls on.
4. Benny Feilhaber
Benny is finally back and is likely here to stay for a little while. When he finally got his chance to play he looked like someone with a lot to prove to a lot of people. Against Jamaica he proved that he can be the creative attacking force that the national team has severely lacked for a long time. While it wasn’t the most difficult opponent, Benny got into the danger areas around the penalty area and looked like a true No. 10 should look.
His utterly brilliant first touch flick on Morris’ goal almost brought a tear to our eye with how nice it was. It’s those small moments of brilliance that separate him from the other attacking midfielders in the pool. The ability to create something out of very little. You can bet we’ll be seeing more of him after his January camp performance.
5. Sebastian Lletget
Another midfielder who helped his cause quite a bit, Lletget wasn’t nearly as flashy as Feilhaber, but his impact was just as meaningful. Whether it was through the middle of the field or on the flanks, Lletget usually put his best foot forward and created something positive. With a little luck, he could’ve notched an assist or two with his great service into the box.
His versatility should help him out tremendously going forward and having a good relationship with the manager doesn’t hurt at all either. Overall, Lletget is another quality player that can play at any position you want him to and he’ll help the team. Similar to Nagbe in that regard, the overall quality of midfielders available for Arena to choose from is very encouraging.