U.S. Soccer’s annual SoCal Training Camp is well under way, ushering in the year. 2011 will lack the drama and draw of last year for the team (naturally), but it still has several themes and events worth following for fans. The Training Camp, which always includes MLS and Scandanavian-based players on break from their leagues (and therefore not all the A-team), sets the tone with a number of youthful call-ups. Saturday’s (Jan. 22) friendly against Chile is the culmination of this camp, giving some young and otherwise unknown players their shot.
Coach Bob Bradley brought in a youngish group, with many of the call-ups eligible for next year’s London Olympics. Some of these guys, we’ve barely heard of – especially those with dual-citizenship (like Ukrainian-American and Russian-based Eugene Starikov) or guys who skipped MLS after school with little fanfare. The objective here is not only Olympic qualification, but getting a chance to evaluate the depth chart before the next cycle of World Cup qualification begins. See for yourself…
Coach Bradley and company need to find replacements and depth for aging veterans who will likely bow out before the next World Cup, and you also like to reward players who’ve proven it in MLS and elsewhere and deserve their shot. This is why older guys like Dax McCarthy and Chris Wondolowski are on this roster. So what are we looking for? First let’s review the important events on the calendar this year.
- March 26, 29 – Games against Argentina and Paraguay: these two friendlies will be the only full call-ups, with all players eligible, prior to the Gold Cup.
- April 3-17 – U20 World Cup Qualification Tournament: This year’s version of the U20 team is as heralded as any. Not winning the qualification tourney, held in the U.S., would be a let-down; not qualifying a disaster.
- June – Gold Cup: This is the Gold Cup that counts, the one that feeds into the Confederations Cup in 2013 and the chance to play the other top teams from each region. It will be all hands on deck this summer, and anything less than a victory will be disappointing.
- July29 – Aug 20 – U20 World Cup in Colombia: A chance to shine for the young guys, and the best chance for the U.S. to lift some hardware in some time. The last U20 cycle jump-started the senior careers of guys like Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore. Who steps up this time?
Definitely some games to look forward to. And everyone will be eager to tab the next great young player or potential difference-maker. The team needs depth and new blood on the back-line, and the question of who plays up top and scores the goal seems and unending one. The midfield has plenty of good options, and goalkeeper continues to be a source of strength. So Bradley will keep a close eye on guys like Wondolowski, Starikov, Teal Bunbury, and young Juan Agudelo at forward. In defense, look for Tim Ream, Omar Gonzalez, and Sean Franklin. Some of them will need to be ready this summer and beyond.