December has barely begun, but the speculation machine is getting geared up for the January Men's National Team Camp. Who will Bob Bradley call in? Who will get snubbed? Who, who, who?
Okay, if others are going to speculate, I might as well also. Let me say who won't be called in: Anyone whose club team is in season, in pre-season (Mexico) or injured. What does that mean--MLS and Scandanavia for the most part, of course that is not that surprising.
The January camp is about the future and finding some depth for the USMNT bench. Let's face it, unless your name is Landon Donovan or Brian Ching, the chances of an MLSer finding regular starts with the MNT is pretty remote. So what Bob Bradley does with the MNT January Camp is find a few more players who might make the jump to the more normal national team pool.
With a friendly scheduled against Chile--a team that is very attack minded--I think Bradley will focus on the midfield and strikers and play it pretty safe with the back line. Bradley put together a very experimental squad for the Nelson Mandela Challenge last month. I know I was worried about Bradley's willingness to experiment and the January camp will give us another opportunity to see if Bradley is going to be wed to his previous starters or if he is going to continue looking to the future.
Here is who I think gets called in and some possible alternates for each line:
This position will be like just four guys, but I could see some additional young players called in for training time, even if they won't see the playing pitch.
Nick Rimando--he may be the smallest goalkeeper in any professional league, but you can't escape the fact that he commands the box and is a quality shot stopper.
Jon Busch-- Another small keeper, I was shocked when he was let go by Chicago and happy for him when he won the starting nod in San Jose. Busch is a quality keeper and a smart one too.
Sean Johnson--Chicago's rookie keeper, I didn't expect to see him this year, but when he played he played well. He is currently getting time with the Generation Addidas team in Spain.
Zach McMath--McMath will not be in college (U. of Maryland is closed in January) and won't be with the U-20s. Do I expect McMath to get minutes? Nope, but Bradley will look at him.
Troy Perkins--after a horrific season and a forgettable 2009 Gold Cup Final, Perkins' confidence might need a boost. He is a quality keeper in a bad patch of form and playing his club ball behind a shockingly poor back line.
Matt Pickens--he came back to the MLS two years ago and has posted some quality numbers. He is certainly on the radar and is young enough to be a contributor over the long haul.
Tyler Deric--the former Houston Dynamo academy product saw a couple of starts for the Dynamo and could be a young gun who is called in. He has looked sharp and shaky at times. Still a kid, he could be called in as a training partner if nothing else.
Chris Seitz--after being touted as a potential MNT keeper for the future, I just don't see his development right now as worthy of a call in. Maybe Peter Nowak can bring him along better.
Kevin Hartman--this not a snub for poor form or being old and Hartman's season was certainly worthy of a call up, I could see Bradley not calling him in to allow Hartman's knee to heal. I could also see Hartman declining for the same reason.
Bradley is going to have a solid mix of veterans to provide leadership and up and coming MLSers to test.
Jay DeMerit--since he hasn't played all season since Watford let him go and recently signing with Vancouver, look for the solid veteran to wear the captain's armband for Bradley. Leadership, experience and strength are all upsides.
Clarence Goodson--I am calling Goodson the late bloomer. He is one of the few experienced center backs for the U.S. who is as comfortable with the ball at his feet as he is winning the ball. Great positioning, smart defending and a real scoring threat on set pieces. Goodson has earned his spot through discipline and hard work.
Omar Gonzalez--could he be the future of the national team center defense. A lot of people think so, but he is still prone to ghastly positioning mistakes. Sure he is dominant in the air, both on offense and defense, but he will need a partner with solid positioning skills.
A.J. De La Garza--he could be the perfect partner for Gonzalez in the center, but I see De La Garza more at full back. His flexibility at both centerback and fullback make him a valuable player. He is not an attacking fullback though and that could be a hindrance for his MNT career.
Bobby Convey--in the search for a quality, attacking left back, the former national teamer could be the answer for Bradley. Whether Convey can make his way back into the National Team pool remains to be seen, but with few options at left back, Bradley can't afford not to take Convey after the 2010 season Convey had. A true attacking left back, Convey also showed that he can defend and play midfield if necessary.
Tim Ream-- another player like Clarence Goodson, great with the ball at his feet, and solid in the air. My knock on Ream is pace and positioning. Positioning will come with experience and Ream has shown that he learns from his mistakes.
Marvell Wynne--Wynne was on the radar a couple of years ago, but fell off due to poor MNT form. With pace aplenty and a resurgence as a centerback, Wynne is definitely back on the radar. He is a burly fellow with lots of strength to go with his speed, but doesn't display the same comfort on the ball as other candidates. If he can improve his crossing, Wynne could be a dangerous right back.
George John--what a season this young man had, even the bad luck in the MLS Cup Final cannot detract from his steady play. A smart defender who doesn't get caught ball watching like a lot of young defenders he could find his way onto the fringes of the MNT. Not a full time starter, but certainly in the mix.
Kevin Alston--New England has another shocker of a season but Alston was one of the few bright spots for the Revolution. I am not sure he is ready for the jump to the big time, but is worth a look.
Heath Pearce--the journeyman 26 year old was at one point Bob Bradley's go-to left back and could be again. The only question is whether Pearce will be healthy enough to train and play--if so you will see Pearce at the camp.
Michael Parkhurst--veteran MLS player, solid positioning and not a great deal of drama from the former Revolution centerback.
Sean Franklin--the former MLS Rookie of the Year looks a good candidate at times and with the dearth of quality fullbacks, could see a call up. Franklin just hasn't impressed me in the past two years the way he should if he is going to be a national team fixture.
Nat Borchers--a solid center back, but with the depth that the U.S. has in that position, I don't see him breaking into regular rotation on the squad. When Agboussomonde, Gooch, Bocanegra and potentially Jonathan Spector not included along with the guys listed above--I just don't see much room for Borchers.
Ike Opara--injuries keep him on the fringe list. If healthy and ready to train, I could definitely see a call up, but that is a big if.
Zach Loyd--the FC Dallas rookie looked good at times and perhaps has the MNT potential. A call up is not out of the question, but minutes on the pitch probably is at this point.
Chad Marshall--injuries and poor form plagued the two time MLS Defender of the year. Given the other options at centerback for Bradley to explore, Marshall will be sitting at home in January.
Alejandor Bedoya--barring injury, he is a lock to spend some time in Southern Cali. He is more or less a fixture for the regular squad and getting more time will help him.
Benny Feilhaber--Feilhaber needs to step up his game a little for Bob Bradley or find himself on the fringe list soon. He has loads of potential, but just can't seem to tap into it.
Dax McCarty--the little ginger really grew into his own this year with FC Dallas-despite his clashes with Schellas Hyndman. A fixture on youth national teams, another good year for McCarty could see his move to Europe soon.
Geoff Cameron--an unlucky injury early in the season saw him riding the pine a fair bit, but once he recovered, he put in very good time for U.S. Given the depth at the defensive/holding midfielder position, Cameron might want to think about competing for centerback or improve his distribution skills to the point that Bradley can't ignore him for regular squad inclusion.
Jeff Lawrentowicz--in my mind, the Man of the Match for the MLS Cup Final. Solid leadership, cool head, deadly on the tackle and good passing make MLS journeyman one to pick.
Mikkel Diskerud--Mix showed what he could do in South Africa. Could Diskerud be the playmaker Bob Bradley needs? Maybe, and he will get a chance to prove it.
Kyle Beckerman--Beckerman is coming to the end of his national team window. He will get called in for experience and leadership, but while he is still a quality MLS holding midfielder--he won't make the leap to national team regular.
Robbie Rogers--a good wing midfielder, he will need to improve his defensive tracking back and his crossing if he wants to see any time.
Brek Shea--for me Shea is the most frustrating pool player right now. Flashes of brilliance followed by stretches of mediocrity. While still young, Shea is in danger of becoming an Eddie Gaven, a young player with lots of promise at the youth level who never really lives up to the potential.
Eric Avila--lots of promise, lots of pace and good skills. Is he a national teamer? I am not sure, but he is worth a look.
Logan Pause--got called into South African squad--did okay, but with Beckerman, McCarty, Lawrentowicz, and Cameron available, he is just not good enough.
Brian Carroll--ditto on from Pause
Freddy Adu--not getting playing time, not getting a club, not getting any younger. Could get called in so that if someone in the U.S. is willing to take a punt on him, they can look at him in camp. Someone needs to smack him upside the head.
Eddie Gaven--never lived up to the early promise, but still a solid player.
Brad Evans--I like him, but he is not good enough.
Justin Mapp--despite a renaissance after his move to Philly, and his speed and workman like attitude, I don't think he showed enough to warrant a call up.
Santino Quaranta--I am enough of a DC United homer to want Tino called up--but he was mediocre at best last year, but then again, so was all of DC United save Andy Najar-who can't get a call up.
As much as I would like to say there will be surprises here, there won't be.
Conor Casey--a bruiser to be sure, but he can do something that most of the players on this list can't, hold the ball up, take a beating like Brian Ching, and play with his back to goal. He never shows the skill of Brian McBride, but he does the dirty work--oh and he tracks back to defend. If he could run faster and score more goals, he would be Bob Bradley's dream striker.
Juan Agudelo--how do you not call this kid up. He is exciting to watch, but didn't do as well at the U-20 Tourney in Georgia as I would have liked. He still has a lot to learn, but can be a real game changer with his nose for goal.
Teal Bunbury--showed some flair, showed some good off the ball movement and has skill. Needs to work on that first touch to hold the ball a little better, but worth a look.
Justin Braun--top goal scorer for the second worst team in MLS last year. A poacher and quite frankly we need a goal poacher who will sit in the penalty area and feed off the scraps.
Edson Buddle--yeah he has disappointed at the international level, but who else are you going to call.
Chris Wondolowski--how does Bob Bradley not call in the the MLS golden boot winner? He can't, but that is probably the only reason Wondolowski is going to be there.
Brian Ching--could the veteran take teh call from Bradley and have a last hurrah for the Gold Cup next year? Maybe but not being taken to South Africa might sting for Ching.
Jack McInerney--true his is a project that Thomas Rongen didn't even call for the U-20 Tournament in Georgia--but he is something like Justin Braun--a kid with a nose for goal and the fearlessness to take the chances.
Chad Barrett--previously looked at by Bradley, but not sure if he is international quality--even on a B team level.
Tristen Bowen--the L.A. Galaxy forward could get a call up. When Buddle was in South Africa, Bowen did a bang up job. Got the call up to the U-20 tournament, not a great showing but not a bad one either. Needs help on his first touch, but has the finishing skills.
Fuad Ibrahim--a U-20 player, the Toronto FC striker is young, pacy and been struggling in obscurity at BMO field.
Robbie Findley--looked poor in South Africa at the World Cup and looked poor there last month. Bob Bradley should put Findley last on his list and call him only if everyone else says no or gets injured.
So there it is. Bradley's got a slightly better pool of potential players this year than in past camps. As the quality of player in MLS improves and the MLS academy players begin making their way to the first team and even reserve games, the depth of the player pool will improve. There is enough potential experimentation in this group of players that will make people like me happier, but there is enough veteran leadership and experience to help the young players along and give Bob Bradley some comfort.