For some, the match pitting the US Men's National Team against Canada may be a "mere" friendly. But for the MLS talent featured in January's camp, it's a potential stepping stone for 2014.
Twenty-one of the 25 players selected for January's camp call MLS their home. As many as eight may be selected to join the USMNT in Honduras on Feb. 6. By now, Klinsmann and the American faithful recognize the team's glaring holes and need for added depth. That presents each player at California's camp with the opportunity to leave their mark ahead of the final round of qualifying.
Which MLS Player Are You Looking Forward to See Against Canada?
As Klinsmann told ussoccer.com in a recent sit down, "This isn't a preseason camp, it's a preparation camp."
That first step toward preparation and precision will take place on Jan. 29 against our neighbors from the North. The formation and starting XI that will take the field at BBVA Compass Stadium is not yet known.
But one thing is certain: The majority of the starting XI is sure to be comprised of MLS players.
There is ample opportunity for MLS stars to put their skills on display. There is no telling what a solid performance in Houston could produce.
With the match just one week away, here are the five MLS players that will have an impact for the USMNT on Jan. 29 and beyond.
Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez
By now, the USMNT's ineptitude at central defense has been well documented. It is the No. 1 cause for concern heading into the final round of qualifying.
Carlos Bocanegra's age and attrition was glaringly put on display during a World Cup qualifier against Guatemala last October.
Miscommunication or not, that's too much space to give a 33-year-old Carlos Ruiz, let alone a Chicharito or Álvaro Saborío.
Clarence Goodson's catastrophic performance in a friendly against Russia last November sounded the alarms. His poor marking of Russian forward Artem Dzyuba was bad enough:
But the subsequent awkward tackle was worse.
If the USMNT expects to qualify for the 2014 World Cup, they must find Geoff Cameron a suitable partner in defense. At 33, there is no telling how much of a liability Bocanegra can be.
Enter Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler.
Both defenders entered January's camp as potential favorites to solidify a roster spot for the opening match of the Hexagonal. Besler, the 2012 MLS Defender of the Year, hopes to make his first senior cap at BBVA Compass Stadium. Gonzalez, named the defining MLS player of 2012 by yours truly, is looking to build on the momentous 2012 season that saw him capture the 2012 MLS Cup MVP.
Productivity breeds optimism. A solid performance by Gonzalez or Besler next week will help soothe the nerves of American soccer fans everywhere.
But given the recent calamity at central defense, it wouldn't hurt if both staked their claim for a trip to Honduras.
Donovan's return to the Galaxy, however, doesn't ensure his return to the USMNT. In an interview with Galaxy insider Adam Serrano, Klinsmann even affirmed that Donovan will not be taking part in the opening match of the Hexagonal:
Landon decided to take a break at the moment and he wanted to consider all his options and what is next in his life, so we said that he can take all the time in the world to decide what is next for him personally. That's why he hasn't been invited to this camp; we don't have him in our sheet for Honduras because if you're not part of this camp then you basically have no preparation for a World Cup qualifier.
Undoubtedly, if and when Donovan is willing and ready, he is an automatic start for Klinsmann. His 144 caps and 49 goals makes him the most decorated soccer player in American history.
But Donovan's prolonged absence has opened the door for Sporting Kansas City midfielder Graham Zusi.
Zusi was a solid contributor for the USMNT in the third round of qualifying—the most notable performance coming in front of his home crowd at the stadium formerly known as "Livestrong Sporting Park." His 78 minutes of unshakable play were vital to a 3-1 victory over Guatemala. His name did not appear on the stat sheet, but Zusi's play was crucial to each of the three goals scored.
Klinsmann's inclination to lean on the 26-year-old attacking midfielder in Donovan's absence leaves Zusi as a virtual certainty for the USMNT's starting XI on Jan. 29 and beyond.
For Brad Davis, this is the last chance to leave a mark on the international level.
Outside of the 2005 Gold Cup, Davis has been practically absent from the USMNT's radar. It has been a full three years since his last cap. For reasons unbeknownst to him, the 2011 MLS MVP finalist has been repeatedly overlooked for the national team.
But his technical ability on set pieces and recent progression at the club level makes him a dangerous addition. After only recording double-digit assists once in his first seven seasons, Davis has done so in the last four.
Klinsmann may not have previously taken notice, but he has definitely taken notice as of late:
He has excellent technique. His vision on the field is really special. And then he can hit set pieces really well. He has weapons others don't have. As a coach you try to put your puzzle together and supplement it everywhere in every position. We're happy to have him now in this group. He's very, very hungry to show his strengths.
The crowded talent pool at the midfield position, however, brings question to Davis' inclusion moving forward.
At 31, Davis has the experience. But he lacks the speed and pace of his younger counterparts Joshua Gatt and Mix Diskerud, among others.
That said, there is no denying the importance of his aforementioned set-piece ability.
Forty-six of his of his 96 career assists have come on corners. If the USMNT's 2-1 loss at the hands of Jamaica last September taught us anything, it's that you can't undervalue the momentousness of a free kick.
The Houston Dynamo faithful can attest to this: If the USMNT's life depended on a well-executed set piece, you want Brad Davis taking it, period.
Eddie Johnson made the most of his opportunities last October. There is no doubt he will look to make the most of them once more in next week's friendly. Jozy Altidore's exclusion from the final two qualifiers against Antigua & Barbuda and Guatemala gave pause to American soccer fans everywhere.
That quickly subsided after Johnson's staggering performance.
Johnson netted two goals and an assist last October, including a game-winner in the 90th minute against Antigua & Barbuda that absolved Klinsmann of any intense scrutiny. There's no telling what pressures a draw against a lowly Antigua & Barbuda side could've generated for the USMNT heading into its final match against Guatemala.
After a disappointing spell in Europe, Johnson appears to have revitalized his career.
His resurgence and return to MLS concluded with 14 goals and three assists. That was enough to give the 28-year-old striker a shiny 2012 MLS Comeback Player of the Year Award to polish. Johnson's performance in meaningful qualifiers gives credence to his continued involvement with the USMNT, not only for the upcoming friendly, but for the ensuing qualifiers as well.
After being left off the 2010 World Cup roster, Johnson looks determined to ensure his inclusion for 2014 is a foregone conclusion.
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