The Importance of January Camp for the US Men's National Team
As 2012 rapidly draws to a close, one last important event lingers on the calendar this year. This would be the announcement of a January friendly for the USMNT and the training camp that comes with it, beginning just after the new year. This match and camp, affectionately known as Camp Cupcake to many, has given the fans previews of players who have gone on and continue to play important roles with the full National team.
Many have made transfers to teams abroad after appearing in January camp and often the January friendly showcases some of the finest talent MLS has to offer.
To say that 2013 is important to the USMNT is like saying water is important to fish; you're damn right it is. With all of the matches for the final group of World Cup qualifying falling in the 2013 calendar year plus the CONCACAF Gold Cup next summer, the January camp couldn't come at a more important time for any players who would like to put on the beautiful red and white striped jersey in a critical match later in 2013.
The question is not if someone will step up, but who will it be?
If we look back at previous years, we can see how many came through the January camp and went on to play key roles in much bigger games. 2009 might be the only year that Camp Cupcake had bigger implications then this next one will, as the US had an even busier international schedule, with the FIFA Confederations Cup mixed in with World Cup qualifying and the Gold Cup. Among the 25 players called into camp was Charlie Davies, who made a big impact in World Cup qualifying and the Confederations Cup, Ricardo Clark and Stuart Holden, who both appeared at the World Cup a year later. You had some key contributors to the current effort to qualify for 2014 in Clarence Goodson and Geoff Cameron, who were both part of the 2009 camp along with Sacha Kljestan, who scored 3 goals against Sweden in the friendly which manufactured a move to Anderlecht from Chivas USA.
In 2010, three players who participated in the January camp went on to be part of the roster for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Clarence Goodson followed up his appearance the year before and bagged the only goal the US in the friendly against Honduras. Jonathan Bornstein went on to start against Algeria and Ghana during the World Cup after his start against Honduras in January. Robbie Findley, who was viewed as a replacement for Charlie Davies, also was in this camp before playing 3 games for the US at the World Cup that summer. The time each of these players spent in January camp certainly helped influence the decisions to include them on the World Cup roster.
January camp in 2011 saw the inclusion of Tim Ream and Alejandro Bedoya, who made big transfers later that year; the former from MLS to the EPL and the latter from the Swedish league to Rangers. Both Mikkel Diskerud and Brek Shea started for the US when they played Chile at the Home Depot Center in late January and now appear with the national team regularly.
The first part of World Cup qualifying for Brazil 2014 had some serious contributions from players who were in Jurgen Klinsmann's first January camp in 2012. Geoff Cameron, Michael Parkhurst, Kyle Beckerman and Graham Zusi all played big roles in helping the US get out of the group of four and into the Hex. It is likely that Cameron, Parkhurst, and Zusi will be key factors in securing a spot in the 2014 World Cup. There is a strong chance that we will see Omar Gonzalez, Brek Shea, and Juan Agudelo contributing to these efforts as well, they too were in camp in 2012.
The ongoing theme is that giving young and current fringe National team players a shot during January has greatly benefited the depth and strength of the USMNT. Often times the US is appearing against a second tier international side and as a result, both the camp and friendly seem relatively unimportant, especially with World Cup qualifying dates looming in February.
It is a mistake to overlook the importance of the January camp as it is very likely that multiple players that are called in will play big roles in World Cup qualifying and even possibly at the World Cup, if the US can qualify. The ability to build depth and give players an opportunity with the National team that they wouldn't regularly get with the full side is invaluable. Expect that if and when the roster for the January camp 2013 is announced (my money is on December 22nd) that you will see some names that are very relevant for the next two years.
Matt Biggerstaff has followed the USMNT since the 90s and has written about them for multiple sites over the past 5 years. You can follow him on Twitter @biggysf