Tuesday night at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, the USA will open a busy 2013 schedule with a low-profile friendly against a Canadian team that failed to qualify for the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. And with the USA opening its own Hexagonal slate on Feb. 6 in Honduras, it would be easy to pass the Canada match off as completely meaningless, but that's far from the case.
Jurgen Klinsmann's team for the trip to Honduras seems anything but set, and with the manager likely to rely on a number of MLS players - players whose club seasons finished two months ago - Tuesday's friendly is the final step in preparing for the larger tests that are headed the USA's way.
"That’s what these January camps are for," Seattle Sounders forward Eddie Johnson said. "I think the coach got us in with the right amount of time for us to prepare for this friendly against Canada. It was a tough three weeks: two–a-days, coming off of offseason, the guys coming in not 100 percent but trying to maintain some type of fitness in the offseason and coming in and trying to meet the coach’s expectations."
As with all January camps, the 2013 version is made up largely of MLS stars looking to prove their worth in front of the national team staff. For some, this camp may end up being nothing more than a one-off chance, but Johnson says this group came in and worked hard to prove that they should be put into Klinsmann's plans.
"It was a good camp in all for the players that play here in MLS to prove to the coach that they can play a role within the national team," Johnson said. "It says a lot about how far our league has come. This camp, there’s not a lot of familiar faces, but it was a tough camp, a lot of hungry guys that are eager to please the coach and who have goals of one day being a mainstay on the national team."
For Johnson, whose spot on future rosters is probably slightly more secure after his two-goal outing in a qualifier against Antigua & Barbuda last October, the camp and the match against Canada represented a chance to regain his fitness and sharpness in time to open qualifying in Honduras."For myself, I’ve been in these January camps, and we try to use these camps to get our fitness, to get our sharpness, to get our cleverness around the goal," the forward said. "And, like I said, we were doing two-a-days and we had a couple of intra-squad scrimmages, and (I was) just trying to use though the intra-squad scrimmages to get my fitness. To put myself in a good position to either start or come off the bench (against Canada) and most importantly to be an important part of these World Cup qualifiers, this 2013."
But Johnson, who has had a resurgence with the USA after a long hiatus, knows that nothing can be taken for granted and that Tuesday's match could prove vital for players looking to make their way into the national team picture in the long term.
"At the end of the day, it’s mainly about ourselves," Johnson said of the Canada match. "As professionals what do we want to get out of this game? Those are the questions we have to ask ourselves. What are our goals this year? Can we take others guy’s spots that are on the national team?
"Because at the end of the day we all want to go out there and compete and be as competitive as we can and try to force our way onto the team."