Things to watch for in the USMNT January friendly
By Matthew Biggerstaff
The US has lined up a friendly with Canada on January 29th in Houston, however, everyone knows at this point that it's much more than that. With the final group of World Cup qualifying starting less then a week later, this is essentially a tryout for a number of guys on the bubble of the roster.
Jurgen Klinsmann came out and said straight up that "The roster is who we believe are the players that are in line to challenge for spots in the National Team. This raises the competition within our squad. We want the players to understand that they are here because they are good and they deserve it. We want to see them stepping it up, taking over responsibilities and maturing because being a part of the National Team roster means you have to become a leader on and off the field."
Klinsmann expects a lot out of this group and deservedly so. This might be the strongest roster the US has ever had for a January camp. I'm going to take a look at a couple key spots that will be focused upon during said camp and friendly.
Is this Josh Gatt's time to shine?
Josh Gatt, a name unfamiliar to some, comes into 2013 after having a breakout 2012 for Molde in Norway. Gatt got his first cap for the National team in November to go along with scoring 5 goals, winning the Norwegian league title, and playing in both the qualification stages for the Champions League and the Europa League.
At only 21, he is a player with a lot of promise, especially considering he plays on the right wing, a position the US could use some serious depth. Gatt is extremely quick however the rest of his game has greatly improved in the last year as well. Imagine Gatt lining up in front of Tim Chandler, and suddenly the US has one of the quickest right sides in the world. The question is can he establish himself in Klinsmann's mind and lock up a spot on the full side at this age and with only one cap under his belt?
Considering the lack of depth on the right and the danger that his speed offers, I think there is a strong chance we will see Josh back with the national team only a week later, especially since he has an extended camp session to learn the style the full team plays and acclimate himself to how Klinsmann would use him.
Juan Agudelo, veteran leader
Juan Agudelo comes into camp with the 4th most caps on the roster. Pause for a minute and consider that, because he is the youngest guy on the roster. Even as he has struggled to get time in MLS, Juan has done very well with the national team. His headed layoff to Michael Bradley set up the most spectacular goal of 2012. Will he be the late game changer forward Klinsmann relies on in big situations?
There is stiff competition for the spot with Altidore, Gomez, Boyd, and Johnson all fighting for it. Whoever performs better between Agudelo and Johnson will be scooping up one of the last spots on the roster for the February 6th game. It's a great opportunity for Agudelo to show his talent and remind everyone why he is there. Only time will tell if he capitalizes on it.
Center-back for Brazil
As much as I love him, Carlos 'Captain America' Bocanegra is not going to be the right choice at center back much longer. I don't even think he is currently. Fortunately Geoff Cameron has done a great job stepping up, but he needs a counterpart to partner him in the center of the park. The question now is who will it be? Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler both are getting a major chance to state their case for the position.
Klinsmann is looking for sure, as he even mentioned Gonzalez by name about who had a chance to prove that they were ready for the full team when asked earlier this week. "Whether it’s Omar Gonzalez, a Brad Davis, a Brad Evans … there are so many guys that are mature enough to make that jump. It’s for them to take the next step. When you talk to people overseas, especially in Europe – and I’m constantly talking to the coaches there – they are watching MLS a lot more than they ever did before."
Both are coming off of strong 2012 seasons in the MLS and both have minimal experience at the national team level. Gonzalez is more of a physical presence at 6'5 where Besler is smaller. Hopefully they will have a chance to partner with each other to start the friendly versus Canada and we can see just how good each is. Is one good enough to displace Clarence Goodson in the starting lineup? This will be a good first step to get an idea if such a thing is possible.
The battle for goalkeeper at the World Cup.... in 2022?
Funny to say that, but possible. Sean Johnson and Bill Hamid are both exciting young talents who are likely going to be stuck on the depth chart for a while. Currently this job is a two man operation, run by Tim and Brad, two nice American boys who each start for their respective EPL teams.
I can't see either of them being displaced for at least another 8 years (Tim Howard will probably hand off the position to Brad Guzan post 2014.)
However, that third spot on the roster is certainly up in the air, and both of these guys have the talent to win it. They also both lack a lot of experience and often times the composure that is needed to man the net. Granted they are both younger then 23 and have some time to develop.
Camp will be a great time for them to improve, to learn from each other, and hopefully one will emerge as the clear leader. Of course, that still likely doesn't matter for another 6 years, so no rush fellas. Just keep developing and try not to hurt each other.