By Jacob Klinger
With the exception of Tim Howard in goal, the defense, midfield, and forward positions are all very much up for grabs in the full team. The January campers will have ample opportunity to show Klinsmann that they can do the current regulars one better. Or as the boss himself put it to the Associated Press, "Their goal has to be to move ahead of the guy in front of him in their position, and the only way they can do that is to show how good they are."
The camp competition for midfield spots promises to unfold like a game of King of the Hill. Kyle Beckerman has been a regular in the center of Klinsmann's midfield while Brek Shea has appeared in all seven of the US games since Bradley's firing. Feilhaber showed loads of promise at the beginning of the last cycle,Ahmad Bradshaw Youth Jersey, but tumultuous fortunes on his European adventure have brought him to New England. He's been around the block and is a prime-age player in his own right. One who should have Beckerman sweating it out fighting for one of no more than three central midfield spots. Ricardo Clark is the biggest surprise of this camp considering he plays his club ball in Germany. The Bundesliga is on break, but German clubs are known to be stingy in releasing players, especially outside the FIFA international window. Regardless, he'll go head to head (to head) with Beckerman and Larentowicz for a spot in defensive midfield. Shea is the only winger in this group and seems almost certain to start against Venezuela on the 21st. Graham Zusi is the x-factor. Should the attacking midfielder properly strut his stuff for Klinsmann, the team could end up revolving around him in the team's first game of the year. I anticipate seeing Clark play himself into shape next to Beckerman, with Feilhaber and Shea playing more advanced roles in front of them.
Defense: Geoff Cameron (Houston Dynamo), A.J. DeLaGarza (LA Galaxy), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), George John (FC Dallas), Zach Loyd (FC Dallas), Michael Parkhurst (FC Nordsjaelland), Heath Pearce (Chivas USA)
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Forward: Juan Agudelo (New York Red Bull), Teal Bunbury (Kansas City), C.J. Sapong (Kansas City), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose)
Goalkeepers: Bill Hamid (DC United), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
The January camp, or 'Camp Cupcake' as it's called by many fans, usually allows coaches to further examine players in or around the fringes of the national team. Breaking from Bob Bradley's trend of calling up an extra-large roster for a one-game extended camp,Heath Miller Jersey, on Thursday US Soccer announced that Jurgen Klinsmann will be presiding over a denser 20-man roster for the annual January camp, but with a roadtrip to Panama following the usual camp-capping game (Venezuela). With World Cup Qualifying just around the corner Klinsmann continues to cast his nest across the American player pool, and with good reason. Those that show themselves the best in the three-week camp and the games that follow will be primed to compete for a spot in Klinsmann's first choice rosters in the spring building up to qualifying.
The No. 1 shirt in this camp is as competitive as any position. Hamid has been the regular backup to Howard under Klinsmann, but has showed serious limitations in his positioning for DC. After an offseason training stint at West Brom, this camp and the games that follow will show whether or not his foreign adventure has improved the finer points of his game. Both he and Johnson will come to the camp fresh out of Caleb Porter's Under-23 training.
The bane of the national team's existence, forward, looks as promising in this camp as in any other. Agudelo and Bunbury have shown phenomenal chemistry together before while MLS Rookie of the Year, Sapong, happens to be a teammate of Bunbury's. All four strikers are physically capable of playing centrally, with Bunbury seeming the best fit to do so right now,Aaron Rodgers Packrers Jersey. Wondolowski is more of a poacher, but if he can finish Klinsmann will show little regard for how it happens. The most intriguing of possibilities involves Klinsmann returning to a forward three-some with Agudelo and Sapong - both very capable on the wings - flanking Bunbury,Brett Keisel Jersey. It's a dynamic prospect, but is naturally dependent on how the team shapes up behind them.
All three 'keepers, including former DC veteran Rimando, have displayed copious amounts of athleticism. With Brad Guzan only now beginning to get regular time ahead of the injured Shay Given,Rob Gronkowski Jersey, whichever of this camp's three keepers can show the best technical astuteness will have a legitimate shout as the third-string, if not the direct backup to Tim Howard.
If Gonzalez and DeLaGarza maintain their MLS form, they promise to provide natural chemistry in central defense. A strong showing in camp by George John promises a familiar flanking by FC Dallas teammate, Loyd. Yet the most fascinating character of this bunch is Geoff Cameron. He has been utilized at most every position in Houston, but was in fine form at center back for the MLS Cup finalists this year. Bob Bradley was criticized for not giving Cameron an extended look and the defender himself recently cried foul over the former coach's selection. Cameron has the advantage of representing the tidiest blend of physicality and passing ability as Klinsmann tries to reshape his defense along those two attributes. John, who was the subject of some rampant an very real transfer speculation as recently as this past summer will be looking for his first cap under Klinsmann. Parkhurst, who can play right back as well, offers the most experience of the central candidates with his nine caps for the national team, but will be very dependent on some savvy reading of the game if he is to come out on top of this dog pile. DeLaGarza and Gonzalez offer the most muscle in addition to their club chemistry. Just as with most any position in the US team,Brent Celek Jersey, first-choice center back is far from a done deal. With Bocanegra aging and Onyewu the only apparent holdover from the Bradley era, all the center backs selected for this camp find themselves not far at all from the first team.
Steve Cherundolo and Timothy Chandler have the first-choice right and left backs spots respectively nailed down for now, but Klinsmann's depth chart behind them remains unclear. With the 32 year-old Cherundolo looking unlikely to feature further along in the cycle, the winner of this training camp battle between Loyd, Pearce, and Parkhurst will have put himself in pole position to succeed Cherundolo in Klinsmann's first XI. Zach Loyd won himself Man of the Match in last year's January game against Chile and Heath Pearce was once the man for the job at left back when he played at Parkhurst's current club. Parkhurst lacks strength and pace, but the natural center back has an edge in foresight and positioning. The stakes are simple: win and you're in for the February camp with the full team, lose and look forward to preseason.
Midfield: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Ricardo Clark (Eintracht Frankfurt), Benny Feilhaber (New England Revolution), Jeff Larentowicz (Colorado Rapids), Brek Shea (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
Jacob Klinger is a regular contributor to Soccer365 as well as No Short Corners. He is currently a journalism student at Syracuse University. His love for the game goes back as far as he can remember, but was truly christened during the United States' cardiac qualifying campaign for Korea/Japan 2002. Between classes and columns, he still plays. You can follow him on Twitter @MrJacobK.