PANAMA CITY, Panama -- Brek Shea and Jermaine Jones are locked in on the U.S. men's senior team when World Cup qualifying begins in June. The remaining 18 players on January's roster are simply fighting for head coach Jurgen Klinsmann's attention.
With almost every league around the globe playing right now, the United States is in a unique position where it is able to take an extended look at domestic-based players this month, five of whom entered camp looking for their first cap and 13 with five or fewer caps.
"It's a great opportunity to integrate younger players and give them a first sense and the first smell of what it means to play for the senior national team," Klinsmann told Goal.com at the team's hotel prior to Wednesday's friendly against Panama.
"That process is really important to us and it's great for them. I think they sense right away that this is now a different ball game, this is a different level. We ask a lot more than what they're used to."
C.J. Sapong, the reigning MLS Rookie of the Year, can attest to that. Making his first appearance with the squad, Sapong admits that he did not know what to expect when he entered the three-week camp leading into friendlies against Venezuela and Panama.
But it helps that several of his teammates are in the same position.
"Coming into camp, it was tough at first for everybody," he said. "I think that helped ultimately helped us get to know each other more and push each other."
It also helps having a patient coach.
"We do it at their pace," Klinsmann said. "We tell them to not worry about it too much. We have players to look after you and we have an environment that looks after you, so don't be overly nervous. Just come in and do your best."
"Jurgen helped me a lot in this camp with not overthinking things," Sapong said. "He told me to just be in the flow of the game, and I found myself doing that in the end."
Klinsmann understands that mistakes will be made by the young players but that is OK considering the team is just playing friendlies. Teal Bunbury missed some scoring opportunities against Venezuela that could have put the game away much earlier, but Klinsmann let it slide. He understands that each training session and game is another step for these players to develop.
"I told these guys that if they make mistakes or miss a chance like Teal Bunbury that it's no big deal. Don't worry too much about it and move on," Klinsmann said. "The only way you're going to score them one day is by going through those moments and to shake it off when you miss a chance.
"It's always about the next moment and not about what you just did recently."
Klinsmann will have to decide which of these young players are ready to play in the team's next meaningful games. Klinsmann acknowledges that most of them are on the bottom of the depth chart leading into the qualification games this June. But that doesn't mean they can't move up.
"Those guys who are in the camp right now are next in line. They're knocking at the door," Klinsmann said. "Some already, like Brek Shea, they're already on that team but other ones want to figure out 'how much am I missing to play at the international stage? Why is it that I'm not there yet?' That's totally normal and we're going to tell them that."