The calendar has officially turned to January 2018, and we’re in the new year. That means that the time will soon come for the United States Men’s National Team to gather for their annual January Camp. January Camp is generally a time where players who have little or no international experience get an opportunity to impress the coaches and show that they have what it takes to become a regular on the national team. If they show and prove, they could earn future call-ups.
DeAndre Yedlin, Matt Besler, Geoff Cameron, Graham Zusi, Gyasi Zardes, Chris Wondolowski, and Jorge Villafana are just a few of the players who became mainstays on the USMNT because they got an opportunity during a January Camp and excelled. This year, it’s even more important for the players because of the fact that the USMNT is entering a period of transition. Several players will soon be saying goodbye to the international game, and that means that there is room for newer, younger talent to seize the opportunity to become a player that forms the new core of the team.
So, who could we see in California for this year’s January Camp? Last year, then-head coach Bruce Arena brought in 32 players, giving him the ability to evaluate a lot of players and then send those he didn’t plan on using back to their clubs for preseason. I think this time around, the United States will bring in 30 players for similar reasons. This will consists almost entirely of MLS-based players. Because most of Europe will be in season and this is not FIFA international fixture window, you won’t see players like Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, John Brooks or other players based in Europe. There may be the occasional player from Liga MX, but for the most part, this January Camp will consist of players plying their trade in MLS.
This team will also have some players that are a bit older and with more experience. Most fans are hoping to see a camp full of youngsters that could form the core of a USMNT as we begin to build towards the 2022 World Cup. I’d love to see a camp of players all under 25 fighting for the chance to prove they can be a part of the core of this team over the next five years. However, there will be some experience on this team as the coaches look to mix the inexperienced with a couple of the fringe regulars. Some are entering their prime or are in their prime, and they will have the experience the coaching staff is looking for to not only perform well, but get the result against Bosnia and Herzegovina on January 28th. Still, just because of the younger talent doesn’t make this roster doesn’t mean they’re not being looked at. Chances are that those guys will need to do more to get regular first-team experience with their clubs to build on their resume.
Now, to the predictions:
Zack Steffen is the one that is poised to lead this group of goalkeepers, coming off an impressive performance during the MLS Playoffs. Alex Bono led Toronto all the way to lifting the MLS Cup, so he’s probably also going to get some serious looks from the coaching staff. Jesse Gonzalez will also get a shot to show he can be the man. Tim Melia, the Sporting Kansas City starter and 2017 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, probably has earned a call-up, but at 31 years old, expect him to be left off the roster as the USMNT looks to evaluate the younger talent to see who can be a part of the goalkeeping core moving forward.
DEFENDERS (10): Danilo Acosta (Real Salt Lake), Greg Garza (Atlanta United), Justen Glad (Real Salt Lake), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Nick Lima (San Jose Earthquakes), Ike Opara (Sporting Kansas City), Matt Polster (Chicago Fire), Jorge Villafana (Santos Laguna), Brandon Vincent (Chicago Fire), Walker Zimmerman (Los Angeles FC)
We will see a nice mix of young, up-and-coming talent join some established veterans to form the defensive selections. Ike Opara was the 2017 MLS Defender of the Year and, at age 28, is in his prime. This will probably get him into camp. Jorge Villafana was the main starter at left back throughout 2017, earning his chance through last year’s January Camp. He and Omar Gonzalez will be looked on to provide some experience in a group that includes RSL youngsters Justen Glad and Danilo Acosta.
MIDFIELDERS (10): Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Tyler Adams (New York Red Bulls), Paul Arriola (D.C. United), Russell Canouse (D.C. United), Jonathan Gonzalez (Monterrey), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy), Darlington Nagbe (Atlanta United), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders), Kelyn Rowe (New England Revolution), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC)
Finally, we will get to see Jonathan Gonzalez in a USMNT camp. The 18-year-old Monterrey midfielder was named to the Liga MX Best XI for the Apertura season, and will be one of the guys that fans most anticipate seeing in a U.S. jersey. Russell Canouse will also get a look as a holding midfielder and has the tools to work his way into the mix. Sebastian Lletget is the question mark here. If he is fully healthy from the foot fracture he suffered during the USMNT’s World Cup qualifier against Honduras back in March, he’s going to feature in this camp. If he’s not ready to go, look for Gyasi Zardes to get the call, much to the disappointment of many fans.
The first thing you’re probably wondering is: no Josh Sargent? The 17-year-old hero of the U-17 and U-20 World Cups signed a professional contract with Werder Bremen, but will be eligible to officially join them in February when he turns 18. Still, the best bet is that Werder Bremen will want to have the youngster training with them to prepare for the rigors of the Bundesliga and will not make him available for the January Camp. So, in his place, Minnesota United’s Christian Ramirez and RSL’s Brooks Lennon will get the chance to see if they can make an impression on the coaching staff and on the scoreboard. If Sargent is given the clearance by Werder Bremen to join camp, he absolutely should get the nod, likely at Lennon’s expense.
There you have it, the projected 30-man roster. Who else would you like to see called into camp? Who from this list do you think will not make the cut? Hit the comments and let us know.