BRIAN SCIARETTA - Monday, January 7, 2013
US national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann today announced the roster for the annual January camp and, as expected, there were many surprises.
As we all know from years past, the January camp consists mostly of MLS players along with a few European based players who are either non in season, or are not playing for their clubs. This year was no different but some of the names were curious choices.
That being said, the perspective of January camp is that the USMNT needs to get the top picks right. The marginal picks are generally not going to make a significant difference either way. From the look of things, the best possible players are on the roster aside from injuries to key MLS players like Brek Shea, Chris Pontius, and Nick Rimando.
With that said, here are the talking points.
Central defense is key
The two most important players in this camp are Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler. Looking back on 2012 it became glaringly obvious that the biggest weakness on the national team is the lack of depth in central defense. Oguchi Onyewu struggles for playing time, Carlos Bocanegra is getting older and plays for a terrible team in Spain's Segunda, and Clarence Goodson's has been struggling mightily in Denmark for Brondby.
Rebuilding the central defense is crucial and Besler and Gonzalez could be two very important pieces of the puzzle. Besler won the defender of the year in MLS and Gonzalez looks to have recovered well from his torn ACL suffered 12 months ago on the first day of his loan to Nurnberg.
If either of these two players proves to be effective, it will have been a very successful camp for Klinsmann.
Feilhaber, Morales, and possibly Edu are thrown another lifeline
One things is for certain is that if club performance is what merits a callup to January camp, Benny Feilhaber, Alfredo Morales, and Maurice Edu (who is not on the roster yet but may join the camp soon) do not deserve to be on the team.
Morales simply can't get minutes for Hertha Berlin right now and is in the final year of his contract. The fact that Hertha, normally a club that fights the release of its players for international duty, is letting Morales attend this camp tells you how much they value him in their future plans.
Benny Feilhaber's disappointing tenure in New England ended with him as a bench player. The fact is that Feilhaber, now 27, has only had one solid season for his club and that came while in the Danish second division. He has a had a few moments of brilliance for the national team but has been extremely inconsistent, especially when starting a game.
Maurice Edu's move to Stoke City so far has been a disaster. He is not even making the bench for cup or league games and has played a total of 10 minutes this season. The fact that Stoke still may release Edu for this game shows that they don't see him as a needed player.
The good news for Feilhaber is that he has at least found a new club. The question for Morales and Edu is that neither are in good club situations and it is not likely to improve anytime soon. The fact each player is unlikely to see mintues the rest of season and they must peform in January or else they could be off the radar completely.
Donovan's uncertainty makes Zusi crucial
The other bit of news coming out of the roster is that Klinsmann revealed that the team's all-time leading scorer, Landon Donovan, is very much uncertain on his future.
A potential Donovan retirement seems very realistic at this time. The US national team is right now in an important stage as the hexagonal round is set to start and the team has never taken off offensively since Jurgen Klinsmann was hired. The team needs offense badly and Donovan surely knows this. If he's willing to miss out on the key games ahead, it is a serious posibility that he may not be coming back.
Klinsmann's job is now to find out where the goals will come from without Donovan and the best option in the midfield seems to be Graham Zusi at this time. Sacha Kljestan has been by Klinsmann to play in a more advanced role out wide. Kljestan is a very good player but that's not his best position. For Zusi, it's a more natural fit.
Zusi had an very good year for both club and country and he seems to be able to cross well and combine with right back Steve Cherundolo effectively. Central defense is the biggest area of concern for the national team but the importance of Zusi cannot be understated.
Were there players who didn't make the January roster but who should have been there? Absolutely. The good news is that most of the players who didn't make it are young and if they continue to play well can make this summer's Gold Cup team which won't feature many of the top players.
Conor Lade was the only MLS player coming off his rookie season to make the team. There is something to be said about making a player earn a callup based on more than one season. Austin Berry, Luis Silva, and Matt Hedges all made nice cases but the staff of the US team will likely be keeping a close eye on them in 2013.
So who were the snubs? Here is my list of players who should have been on this team
Perry Kitchen: His move to defensive midfield for DC United last season indicated he has a bright future ahead.
Amobi Okugo: Like Kitchen, Okugo had a position switch from defensive midfield to central defense and has looked very promising for Philadelphia. His smooth passing out of the back along with his physical play could be a welcome addition to the US team.
Conor O'Brien: 2012 was a very good year for O'Brien who was one of the better box-to-box midfielders in the Danish Superliga for Sonderjyske. He is a possession oriented player who can make creative passes and help on defense.
Steve Clark: After widely being considered the best goalkeeper in Norway's Tippeligaen, Clark is a very athletic and gifted keeper. He's flown under the radar but he one that should catch the eye of bigger clubs.
Nick DeLeon: It's easy to understand why only one 2012 MLS rookie made the roster, but it's hard to see why that one player wasn't Nick DeLeon who was more impressive than Conor Lade - who did make the team. Lade played with a ton of heart , has skill, and was a tireless worker in his rookie season but DeLeon looks more ready for the international stage at this point in his career and likely has a higher ceiling.
Jack McInerney: After entering the league in 2010, a lot was expected of the talented McInerney. It took him a while for him to adjust to the professional game but towards the end of last season he was a mature and effective goal scorer for Philadelphia.
Chris Rolfe: Rolfe is a veteran and an effective player. With Donovan's future uncertain, Rolfe is a player who can help boost a team struggling offensively.
Michael Farfan: Farfan is a player gradually establishing himself in MLS. Like Rolfe, he is another offensive option who should be given a look.