Training for 'El Tri'
As the New Year begins, the U.S. soccer team's schedule shows that Bob Bradley's side will play a minimum of 17 games in 2009. Of course, that number will likely rise, depending on the progress made in both the Gold and Confederations Cups.
Thus, with many of his elite players on duty in Europe with their clubs, Bradley will use the upcoming training camp to, once again, run the rule over a number of men who are likely to push hard for playing time alongside their more established countrymen in the coming 12 months.
What makes this year's California camp even more important is the close proximity of arguably the most important game of the year. After the now annual friendly against Sweden on Jan. 24 at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., the U.S. plays Mexico in Columbus, Ohio, on Feb. 11 in a game that, despite its falling so early in the final round of World Cup qualifying, will go a long way to deciding which country tops the final standings.
Of the 25 players who will report to the HDC on Sunday, there are, in my opinion, more than a handful who should be pushing hard for a place on the game-day roster against Mexico. Defensively, Chad Marshall's form last year makes him an obvious choice while Jonathan Bornstein should seek to remind Bradley of the form that saw him given the first look at left back when the coach took charge a couple of years ago.
Sacha Kljestan started the last four qualifiers of the previous round but must continue to develop his decision-making in game situations. Ricardo Clark is another midfielder who has a chance while Robbie Rogers is an intriguing prospect -- especially given DaMarcus Beasley's situation at Rangers, which currently sees him out of favor and, if recent reports are to be believed, facing an Ibrox exit in January.
Up front, Kenny Cooper gets another chance to impress, two years after his first call-up to the national team squad. The tall striker may end camp with a different team than that with which he began, as might Charlie Davies, whose form at Hammarby in the Swedish league made him arguably the most outstanding American striker in 2008.
Well played, young man
I'm not saying that being interviewed by me made the difference but hasn't Clint Dempsey been in good form recently?! All joking aside, "Deuce" has capitalized on the opportunity to start in Roy Hodgson's side, which is unbeaten in its last nine Premier League games.
Though much of the credit for that run has gone to the Cottagers' back line, there is no doubt that Dempsey's contribution has been another critical factor. Never was that more the case than against Chelsea last weekend, when an all-action display made him his side's outstanding player.
More importantly in the context of the final result, Dempsey recorded his first multi-goal game in Fulham colors, becoming the first player to score twice in the same league game versus the blues for over a year. His goals were very different but equally impressive, the first requiring quick thinking from close range and his second a header that could rank as the best of his 11 career EPL strikes.
When we spoke at the start of December, I asked Dempsey whether he was a 'shirt-swapper' to which he replied that, until he proved himself in England, he would not be:"When I do swap, I want it to be more of a mutual thing out of respect for the two players, rather than just swapping shirts with somebody who doesn't really care that they are getting your jersey."
If he maintains his current form, the time is surely approaching when opposing players seek out the "Dempsey 23" jersey when they face Fulham.
A thing that made me go hmmm ...I am not a great fan of New Year resolutions, mainly because my willpower is such that they are usually broken by the end of January. Similarly, predictions have rarely been my strong suit either but, in the spirit of the season, here are some early prognostications for the year ahead, from a soccer point of view.
Chicago will win MLS Cup after beating Los Angeles in the final.
The U.S. will qualify for the World Cup, along with Mexico and Trinidad and Tobago.
Bob Bradley's side will not win the Gold Cup but will reach the semifinals of the Confederations Cup.