A year ago, the buzz around the USMNT January camp was about as loud as USMNT buzz ever gets, outside of a tournament, and for all the wrong reasons. With an explosive inside-baseball exposé by Brian Strauss indicating that there were some, if not many, members of the squad not happy with Jürgen Klinsmann’s coaching, all eyes were trained on the camp.
This year? Not so much.
The team managed to keep things a whole lot quieter this time around, spending 12 days in Sao Paolo, Brazil, training at the facility that will be their home during the World Cup tournament this summer. 26 players made the trip down south, but only 22 were invited to Los Angeles for the final part of the camp, which is culminating in Saturday’s game against Korea Republic (5:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2, WatchESPN, UniMás).
Who stepped up?
With so little news leaking out of camp, it’s tough to get a read on who has performed well in these last few weeks. The five players who didn’t make it back to LA (Colorado Rapids defenders Chris Klute and Shane O’Neill, Sporting Kansas City defenders Chance Myers and Seth Sinovic, and Houston Dynamo goalkeeper Tally Hall) have evidently not done enough to earn a shot at a cap, while someone who wasn’t present earlier, Michael Parkhurst (recently returned to MLS with the Columbus Crew) has been added.
Parkhurst, who did well for the U.S. during the Gold Cup at right back, is one of a pack of outside backs still in camp and looking for a spot, including national team newcomers DeAndre Yedlin of Seattle, and Michael Harrington or Portland. Brad Evans is also in camp, but his place on the roster is relatively assured.
In midfield, Brad Davis (Houston) and Benny Feilhaber (Kansas City) are two veterans fighting for a spot. Davis has never been to a World Cup, while Feilhaber has, appearing in 2010 for the U.S. Beside them are Eric Alexander, Dax McCarty (New York), and Luis Gil (Salt Lake City). None seem likely to get on the plane to Brazil, but all may have future tournaments to look forward to.
The most intriguing name, though, is Mike Magee (Chicago). At 29, Magee has yet to earn a cap, but his 2013 MLS season was so excellent that Klinsmann really had no choice but to bring him into camp. With presumed starter at forward, Jozy Altidore, struggling mightily for his club team, the forward position is perhaps more open than it was even six weeks ago.
The starting lineups will be particularly illuminating tomorrow, as the faces Klinsmann wants to get the longest looks at will likely play from the opening whistle.
Korea Republic, otherwise known as South Korea, will also be at the World Cup, playing in Group H with Belgium, Algeria, and Russia. As anyone who remembers the 2002 World Cup, hosted by South Korea and Japan (and which happens to be the last time the US and South Korea met), the Koreans have an almost indefatigable stamina allied with decent technique, though few players with superior individual talent.
Last Saturday, Costa Rica continued its post-qualification habit of not scoring and lost 1–0 to Korea. The Korean followed that admirable display by getting shellacked, 4–0 by Mexico on Wednesday (two goals were scored very late), giving CONCACAF watchers little useful information. Costa Rica seems uninterested in working particularly hard, with the World Cup assured. Mexico, on the other hand, is full of players champing at the bit to perform, as the Mexican campaign for the World Cup nearly foundered spectacularly, prompting the hiring of a new coach and new players getting their chances.
Korea is likely to be a good athletic match for the U.S., but the U.S. should have better talent. In the end, of course, this match isn’t about the result, but rather, as Klinsmann says, “[widening] the pool” of players available for selection.
The fruits of a successful, settled team
And that’s a pretty lucky, even privileged, place to be. The U.S. will always be looking to improve, and find new players. But what this last year has shown is that the team as it stands right now is pretty darned good—possibly the best U.S. team of the modern era. No one found during this January camp will hold the magic elixir that allows the U.S. to successfully navigate the Group of Death™. This camp was all about maintaining focus and giving some new faces a shot. There were no frenzied searches to cover the gaps in the squad because there aren’t that many gaps to cover.
It’s shocking, I know, but: the U.S. is ready.