Welcome to 2016. A year where Coach Jurgen Klinsmann and his men must look past the disaster that was 2015. *shivers* The focus shifts to the Road to Russia, and qualifying for this summer’s Olympics in Rio. First let me welcome you to Camp Cupcake. Camp Cupcake is what the USMNT’s yearly January camp is dubbed due to an influx of younger or previously uncapped players finally getting their chance to be looked at on a national team level. This year’s camp includes many exciting faces, with the likes of relative newcomers like Jordan Morris and Brandon Vincent, veterans in the likes of Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones, and finally a couple of uncapped players like Ethan Finlay and Tony Tchani. The full roster includes…
GOALKEEPERS (3): David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Luis Robles (New York Red Bulls)
DEFENDERS (9): Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), Matt Miazga (New York Red Bulls), Eric Miller (Montreal Impact), Tim Parker (Vancouver Whitecaps FC), Matt Polster (Chicago Fire), Brandon Vincent (Chicago Fire), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders FC)
MIDFIELDERS (8): Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Mix Diskerud (New York City FC), Jermaine Jones (unattached), Perry Kitchen (unattached), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution), Tony Tchani (Columbus Crew SC), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC)
FORWARDS (6): Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Ethan Finlay (Columbus Crew SC), Jerome Kiesewetter (VfB Stuttgart), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC), Khiry Shelton (New York City FC), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)
Many promising faces have been brought in for the almost month long camp but the makeup of the roster is a solid mix of veterans, newcomers, and USMNT U-23 players getting looked at for the Olympic qualifying matches vs Colombia in March. Breaking it down we have Acosta, Miazga, Miller, Parker, Polster, Vincent, Trapp, Kiesewetter, Morris, and Shelton getting looked at for the Olympic qualifying team (only U-23 players are allowed for Olympic Men’s soccer). Veteran faces like Besler, Evans, Bradley, Jones, and Altidore lead the pack through an exciting beginning to the aspiring year ahead for US Soccer.
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Klinsmann’s first opponent in January will be Iceland, this Sunday, the 31st. Iceland is an extremely small country with an equally small population of around 325,000 people. This has not stopped the Icelandic Football Federation, KSI as it is called in Iceland, from shooting up the ranks in European international play and qualifying for the Euros for the 1st time. Iceland called up more of a B team squad for the match up against the US, including former Chelsea and Barcelona star Eidur Gudjohnsen and former Columbus Crew SC player Kristinn Steindórsson. The complete roster is made up of players from mostly Scandinavian leagues…
Goalkeepers: Gunnleifur Gunnleifsson (Breidablik), Ögmundur Kristinsson (Hammarby);
Defenders: Birkir Már Sævarsson (Hammarby), Ari Freyr Skúlason (Odense), Hallgrímur Jónasson (Odense), Jón Guðni Fjóluson (Sundsvall), Diego Jóhannesson (Real Oviedo), Hjörtur Hermannsson (PSV Eindhoven);
Midfielders: Arnór Smárason (Hammarby), Rúnar Már Sigurjónsson (Sundsvall), Guðmundur Þórarinsson (Nordsjaelland), Kristinn Steindórsson (Sundsvall), Aron Sigurðarson (Fjolnir), Ævar Ingi Jóhannesson (Stjarnan);
Forwards: Eiður Smári Guðjohnsen (Shijiazhuang), Kjartan Henry Finnbogason (Horsens), Garðar Gunnlaugsson (IA Akranes), Aron Elís Þrándarson (Aalesunds).
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Also a notable addition is 1st time call up for Icelandic Spaniard Diego Jóhannesson of Real Oviedo in Liga Adelante, Spain’s second division. He is widely regarded as being one of the best full backs of the first half of the season in Liga Adelante, and he was rewarded by Coach Heimir Hallgrimsson with a call up to play for Iceland.
All time the USA’s record with Iceland is 2-2-2, but they have not played them in around 20 years. Recently, Icelandic-American forward Aron Johannsson of Werder Bremen chose to play for the Stars and Stripes over his home country of Iceland. Although Johannsson is not on this roster for the USMNT, I am sure it adds some fuel to the fire for Icelandic supporters knowing a Bundesliga caliber striker chose to represent the USA over them.
Klinsmann has been known to roll out in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2 recently. I am sure there will be plenty of experimenting in lineups for the matches versus Iceland and Canada, but there are certain players who had fantastic seasons or are in great form that deserve minutes. For me, Luis Robles, Tim Parker, Darlington Nagbe, and Ethan Finlay deserve their fair looks on the pitch after stellar season in the 2015 MLS campaign. Luis Robles single-handedly kept RBNY in many matches this year and certainly attributed to their Supporters Shield win. While Tim Parker was more of a second half of the season realization in the absence or injuries of Vancouver center backs. He partnered well with Waston and Kah when either were missing in the lineup and Carl Robinson (Vancouver Whitecaps Coach) awarded him with a starting role towards the end of the season. Darlington Nagbe just recently received his American citizenship and right away earned a callup and his first cap versus St. Vincent, also appearing in the match against Trinidad. Nagbe was moved to a more central role in midfield this year for the Portland Timbers, and it brought success as he was a strong reason for why the Timbers won MLS Cup 2015. Nagbe’s speed and vision are lethal weapons that he could utilize well on an international level. Finally, Finlay. Ethan Finlay had a breakout year for Columbus Crew SC and in my opinion is the winger the United States very much needs. Equipped with blazing pace, and great control he created havoc on MLS defenses this past season. As seen versus Tottenham in the MLS All-Star game, Finlay came on and immediately paced down Spurs’ left flank with a strong work rate. His link up play with Kamara on Columbus was phenomenal, and he tends to tuck inside and let the full back get into the attack as well. (Just ask Harrison Afful-Crew SC Full Back)
These players and the rest on the roster have something to prove as Camp Cupcake comes to an end, and they will be looking to put their persistent hard work to fruition. I expect a great a match against an Icelandic team we should not take lightly. It wouldn’t be a USMNT performance without a few hiccups so expect a few mistakes from nervous youngsters and many substitutions as Klinsmann will look to give playing time to those who deserve it. Predicting the starting formation and line up for Sunday is a long shot but we are going to take a crack at it anyways.
I think Klinsmann goes with a 4-2-3-1 to start against Iceland and plays the following line up…
With 2015 being such a disappointing year (Losing the Gold Cup and Confederations Cup Qualifier), Jurgen and his staff need to motivate the players to qualify for the Olympics and start off World Cup Qualifiers on the right foot at the end of this year. American supporters expect nothing less and especially should expect a win over Iceland’s B team. Klinsmann is often criticized in the media and public but it is time to set all this apart and focus on improving the play and identity of our national team. 2016 could really be kicked off by a solid performance by our youngsters lead by the likes of Besler and Bradley. If there is ever a time to emphasize how important the development of our younger players is, it is now. Many of these same faces will be vying for spots on regular USMNT rosters in the near future.
USA vs Iceland
3:45 Eastern/2:45 Central time on ESPN2 and Unimas/UDN
International Friendly at StubHub Center in Carson, California
Let me know what your predicted line up is and what you think of the USMNT in 2016 in the comments section!