When it comes to assessing and dissecting the U.S. national team’s January camp rosters, here is this most important thing to remember: You really should conquer any urge to overreact.
Generally speaking, what happens in the January camp has only marginal bearing on what happens through the rest of the year, also known as the time “things get real,” or something like that.
January camp has always been about experimentation and exploration, so getting too upset about things happening on the StubHub Center training fields and at those two winter friendlies is just wasted energy. Remember how much breath we all wasted last year in deliberation of the three-man back line? Well, that thing was like the latest failed app out of Silicon Valley; it lasted 45 minutes and was never seen again.
So this is where it’s better to give Jurgen Klinsmann a pass on any mixed messages, spin and instances of wandering philosophy that have marked his time in charge. Yes, anyone could find a few things not to like about the January camp roster, but it was ever thus.
Would it be better to see a few more guys in the mid-career range (thinking mostly about Dax McCarty, Matt Hedges, Andrew Ferrell and Robbie Rogers here) invited into camp? Probably. After all, if this is a camp of opportunity ahead of World Cup qualifiers, as Klinsmann says, they seem closer to being battle hardened and ready to contribute than others.
Would it be better if Jermaine Jones, now 34 years old and likely to become an increasing drag on the program in various ways, were not any part of it? You could make that case.
Would it perhaps have been better to have two separate groups, one complete under-23 version ahead of the critical, last-hope Rio Olympics qualifier, alongside a more typical January senior team bunch? Perhaps.
But again, these are all meandering and somewhat pointless suggestions. The January camp has always been a bit of an odd duck, a camp whose purpose wanders and shifts with the times. It’s not something most national teams have, so its very structure and purpose is perennially “under construction.”
That’s not a criticism; it’s just a product of shifting priorities, shifting coaching staffs and shifting player pools. Remember, this is always an MLS-heavy camp, designed in large part for those MLS types. So the winter camp’s targets and intent evolve, based in part on how many national team candidates are in Europe. (Actually, even then it changes based on current dispersion patterns of the Yanks abroad. Players employed in Scandinavian leagues can participate in the camp, while most in England, Germany, Spain or elsewhere cannot, since their clubs remain in mid-season.)