Avi Creditor: Despite a busy schedule, the USA January camp still carries value

The training camp typically reserved for fringe national team players is still useful, and Jurgen Klinsmann can take a page out of Bob Bradley's book from 2009 to maintain it.
To keep with the theme of Tuesday's election day, when it comes to the question of January Camp 2013, just vote yes.

The U.S. national team's "Camp Cupcake" has become more of a "Camp Candidate" in recent years, and even though the potential scheduling crunch with the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying hexagonal has given U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann a bit of a quandary, there remains plenty of leeway to move forward in the usual manner.

Based on Klinsmann's recent comments about the topic, the camp -- one typically reserved for MLS and Scandinvaian-based players who are out of season and on the fringes of the national-team radar -- will hinge on a number of conditions, most of which are tied into World Cup qualifying. The picture will become a bit more clear on Wednesday, when CONCACAF conducts its draw for the hexagonal and the schedule for the 2013 qualifying matches becomes concrete.

"It’s a bit tricky, because we don’t have the schedule yet," Klinsmann told reporters on a national conference call last week. "We want to wait until next week when we finally have the schedule for the qualifiers, to see whether it starts with a home game on Feb. 6 or there’s an away game. I’m in touch with quite a lot of coaches from Major League Soccer about the topic of a January camp that was traditionally set up. We’ll need to figure out what is the best way to approach it."

There is a proven way to approach it, though, and Klinsmann's predecessor has the blueprint. At this time during the last qualifying cycle, Bob Bradley was faced with a similar dilemma -- one that included an even busier schedule than this coming year, because the U.S. men were in the Confederations Cup as well as the CONCACAF Gold Cup and qualifiers -- and his January training camp consisted of the typical out-of-club-season players who gathered for three weeks and had their time together culminate in a friendly against Sweden.

Bradley then called in 20 players -- 14 of whom had participated in the first camp -- for another 10 days of training before naming his 20-man roster for the February World Cup qualifier against Mexico, one that included eight players who had already been training with the team. Later that year, eight players who had already established themselves enough in the January camp were recalled for Gold Cup duty.


With a similarly busy year ahead that consists of qualifiers, friendlies and a Gold Cup, it would benefit Klinsmann to take a page out of Bradley's book and act in a similar manner, one that would not harm his preparations for qualifying in the least. Even though Klinsmann has made a habit of trying out new players and lineups and expanding his roster pool during his 15 months of friendlies and World Cup qualifiers, January is the real time to experiment while taking a look at players without any hovering club commitments at the time.

Klinsmann knows this quite well. Just last January, he was able to uncover two of his current roster staples, as Geoff Cameron (a 2009 January camp call-up as well) and Graham Zusi proved their worth and won the manager's favor. With the team needing depth in central defense, getting the chance to have the likes of MLS standouts Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler compete in a camp set-up would go a long way in establishing a foundation ahead of this summer's Gold Cup, which will likely feature a B-team.

Other rising MLS players such as Steven Beitashour, Justin Morrow, George John, Chris Pontius, C.J. Sapong, Jack McInerney, Will Bruin, past national team players like Chris Wondolowski, Chris Rolfe and Ricardo Clark and even the polarizing Freddy Adu also fall into that category.

"Obviously, going through all the names that are out there, we have seen an exciting 2012 MLS season with a lot of names breaking through," Klinsmann said. "If you find another Geoff Cameron in that moment, that’s big. That’s why I wanted from an organizational point of view, just wait until we have the draw next week and then talk that through with [U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati] and some people about how we do that.

Klinsmann is not going to oust the camp altogether, but it seems as if the option of tinkering with it to a serious degree is very much on the table. That option would act to the detriment of Klinsmann's desire to add to his player pool and bring in young players who would benefit from a national-team experience.

"We are always looking for new faces. We want to dig into the MLS player pool, and we want to see where the players are," Klinsmann said. "We’re constantly watching games. I’m in touch with the coaches. We want to help the Under-23 generation that went through a tough 2012 because of not qualifying for London. There is a big case to be made for the January camp. What we need to sort out is, maybe we reduce the time of the camp or lead the camp into that Feb. 6 fixture date so we start it much later, like in the middle of January, and go straight into that Feb. 6 date."

Klinsmann's priority is qualifying for the World Cup, and rightfully so. If he deems it impractical or not helpful to hold a camp for fringe players while trying to keep his focus on the Hexagonal, then that will be that. There is a proven way to balance both, though, and a group of eager players, both younger ones and veterans, are left waiting to see whether they will get their annual chance at staking their claims for future call-ups.

"It’s an important point to get your hands on those younger guys and see where they’re at," Klinsmann said. "We follow them through the entire year, whether it’s Juan Agudelo and Teal Bunbury, who got injured, or Bill Hamid and Sean Johnson and all the kids involved in the Olympic qualifying disappointment. It is an important point to consider a January camp for them.

"In 2013, there will be plenty of opportunities for those youngsters to show what they’re capable of. In May, June, July we have World Cup qualifiers, friendly games, Gold Cup – there are definitely opportunities coming up for them to show what they can do."

One of those opportunities is even sooner, though. It carries plenty of value and should not get overlooked.