After an emphatic and much-needed victory over Panama 2-0 this past weekend, the US Men’s National Team concluded their first session of 2015. While the USMNT January Camp often takes on the nickname Cupcake Camp and isn’t much to ride home about, there are plenty of talking points this year: The 3-5-2 against Chile, a mixed camp of Olympic and first team players, and Fitnessgate.
The collective whole of US Soccer fans, media, and the Twitterverse must now chew on these issues for a while. While each of them is important and relevant, January Camp is primarily about Jurgen Klinsmann giving young players a shot, older fringe players a second chance, and trying out something new. Let’s see how they all did.
Steve Birnbaum: The D.C. United sophomore went the full 90 in Chile and did not stand out. Because he was doing a good job. While partially responsible for one of the Chilean goals due to his poor marking and a back pass to Nick Rimando that could have been an own goal, Birnbaum played a solid 70 minutes at least in his first cap. He handled a tough environment and role in a brand new formation very well. He was thrown the biggest monkey wrench of all the young players in this camp, and handled it wonderfully. Have to think he’ll be involved in at least one camp prior to the Gold Cup.
Miguel Ibarra: The only NASL player in this camp got 79 minutes last weekend. The one-time Timbers Supplemental Draft pick had good positioning and provided several good runs. He completed almost 90% of his passes (most of them in the attacking third) and had an impressive work rate. There’s no doubt he deserved this call up despite playing for a second division team. Klinsmann should keep him in mind for the future. How has MLS not signed this kid again?
Nick Rimando: The Great Wall of the Wasatch played all but garbage time against Panama. He made multiple huge saves in both games, several at point-blank range and/or 1-v-1 with an attacker. No big deal by Rimando standards. While there are suspicions that Klinsmann is just keeping Rimando around as motivation to push Brad Guzan, the 5′ 10” RSL man continues to make his case. Rimando continues to show he deserves consideration to start in goal.
Deandre Yedlin: Yedlin played the entire game against Chile and was subbed out in the 72nd minute against Panama due to an injury. The former Seattle Sounders star spent the Chile match in the midfield, playing well both ways, and did well on several outlet passes to release pressure or start the attack. He also did well in the Panama friendly before leaving due to an injury. Yedlin continues to show he can make plays when given the chance. The Chile match showed he could be a viable wide player in the midfield. He’s still an unfinished product. Awareness tracking back, his crosses, and 1-v-1 defending have lacked at times. If the move to Spurs can help sharpen those skills, he’ll be a stud come 2018.
Gyasi Zardes: The LA Galaxy Academy product subbed in for 22 minutes in Chile and went the full 90 against Panama. He had several good runs and positioned himself well at El Teniente. The Hawthorn, CA native impressed in his home stadium with dangerous wide play, capped off by an excellent assist on Clint Dempsey’s goal. As Michael Bradley indicated, he’ll certainly be part of the team in the future. Able to play out wide or as a striker, Zardes could have the highest potential out of all the first timers in January Camp.
Jermaine Jones at Center Back: Jones played the full 180 minutes, mostly at center back. It looks like Klinsmann is going to stick with this position change for the time being. To be fair, Jones did do better in the second game and was much more comfortable with a four man back line than he was in the 3-5-2. It’s unclear how much a sports hernia limited his performance. While Jones still deserves to be a part of the team going forward, he’s more valuable elsewhere. One could argue “he won’t be with the US in 2018 or even in two years probably, so why does it matter?” It matters because those are minutes at CB a player who will be with the team in 2018 and 2022 could be getting. Jones at CB is wasting an opportunity.
Chris Wondolowski: Wondo was a sub in both matches, logging a full hour of play. He was left scoreless, recording a headed shot in Chile that forced a save. While respected and appreciated in MLS circles, Wondo’s fabled poacher skills have not translated to the international level. Eight of his nine international goals have come against inferior competition and the common theme (as seen in extra time against Belgium) has been inability to convert chances. With all Klinsmann’s talk about getting fresh blood, it’s unclear what Wondo’s place is with the USMNT going forward.
Bobby Wood: Wood played the first half in Chile and was released from camp to settle his tumultuous club situation. He was barely noticeable in his time on the field and has not impressed in any of his recent call ups. While many would say to cut ties because the kid isn’t ready, he’s gone through an ugly situation with his club recently. He should be given some slack. There’s a very real possibility his struggles on the field could be due to his toxic situation with 1860 Munich. Fortunately, he just recently signed with second division Erzgebirge Aue. Give him some time with his new club, let him get his head straight, the call him in. I think this rules out calling him up until after the Gold Cup however.
Mix Diskerud at Holding Midfielder: Diskerud started both games next to Michael Bradley and was subbed out in the second half. Still not sold on this position change, but Diskerud seemed to settle in nicely as Bradley’s partner by the second half of the Panama game. He was able to get forward at times and did assist on Altidore’s goal in Chile. Some of the kinks need to be worked out, but he’s improved since his first time at a deep-lying role. This one is a wait and see, both to see if he can use his skill set in this role and how well he does for NYCFC in whatever role Jason Kreis puts him in.
Brek Shea: Shea played every minute, the majority at left back. He had an excellent start to the Chile match with a run and first touch to open the scoring. He spent the rest of the Chile match chasing shadows until a second half switch to a four-man back line. Shea spent all of the Panama match at LB. While not his natural position, he handled it well and has much to learn. Regardless, this camp was about getting a look at Shea, who didn’t play much in his time in England. Once he gets into the season with Orlando, we’ll have a better sense of where he’s at. No conclusions yet.
Lee Nguyen, Matt Hedges, Luis Gil, Wil Trapp, Matt Hedges, Perry Kitchen: I lump all of these players together because they didn’t play enough minutes to really draw a conclusion one way or another. Nguyen is certainly going to be involved in the future. He’s all but a lock for the Gold Cup roster. The young players on this list will probably be involved in the future at some point, but the fact others played more in the two games has to make us think a hierarchy was established based on performance in training. Either way, Klinsmann communicates with his players about what they need to do to improve. They’ve been given their marching orders. Go forth lads.
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