Chicago is where US Soccer is based, but for all intents and purposes, home is Florida this winter.
The US men’s national team settled in Miami in December and is heading north to Bradenton beginning Saturday for the annual January camp exercise. There will be joined by the US U23 men’s team, which is gathering for the first time in 10 months, and the only time before Olympic qualification takes place in March, in a simultaneous but separate camp, although it is expected that there will be some overlap.
Approximately 120 miles to the northeast, the United States women’s national team will meet in Orlando, continuing its work under the direction of manager Vlatko Andonovski. He is tasked with narrowing the pool of players to 18 for this summer’s Olympic tournament as he prepares for the next SheBelieves Cup competition.
Three groups, three sets of very unique purposes and goals, and three teams tackling different questions to start an important year. Here’s a closer look at a pressing matter for each:
What impact will Altidore’s return have?
With Gregg Berhalter summoning just 12 players, a select group of under-23s will join the senior team for a closing camp friendly that is expected to be played against Serbia in Orlando but has yet to be made official. what to try to evaluate. Tristan Blackmon’s first call-up is intriguing to some degree, as is the return of forward Chris Mueller after his first productive and friendly camp last month.
But the clear focus is on Jozy Altidore, the two-time World Cup veteran, who, at 31, may still be the smartest forward now in the US group. The problem is, he hasn’t prepared for the national team in 18 months (he was called up for the October 2019 Nations League games, but was ruled out due to injury) and was limited to 14 MLS appearances in the past year. . In that time, Josh Sargent, Gyasi Zardes, Jesus Ferreira, Nicholas Gioacchini and Sebastian Soto have been rotated through Berhalter’s lineups as center forward. Even midfielder Sebastian Lletget played like a false nine against Wales. While global circumstances have made it difficult to build continuity, if you go position by position, you can probably still settle for a consensus group of American starters for maybe all but one center back and one center forward. Clearly, no one has yet to make an unassailable claim on the latter, and it is at stake for Altidore if it can show that it still meets the requirements.
Berhalter himself, however, has openly questioned whether he is already a 90-minute player. counting MLS overtime in October, “What I would say is just looking at the forward position in general, I think you have Jozy Altidore, who is probably still the most talented we have in that position, but he has fitness issues. Let’s call it what it is. He is not in a position to play the 90 minutes, he is not in a position to play at the level we need. But he’s still an incredibly talented player, so our goal is to keep working with him, working with the club to get him where he needs to be and hopefully get there. But we’re not sure about that, we’re not sure. ”
Three weeks of careful scrutiny will help determine the level of certainty. With Zardes out after what US Soccer deemed a minor medical procedure, and with Paul Arriola, Jordan Morris and Mueller more suited to the bands, it’s Altidore’s spectacle as a center forward. January camp is generally about emerging talents getting a chance to make their case. This is about a proven veteran who claims he still belongs.
How much benefit of the doubt do Lloyd and Rapinoe get?
Out of action for the club and the country since last March’s SheBelieves Cup, it is unknown where Carli Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe are in terms of fitness and form. However accomplished they may be, they will surely need some time to get back up to speed. So how much leeway will they be given playing among a group that has been building and evolving under Andonovski?
The coach, for what it’s worth, doesn’t seem to expect much downfall from two players who have accomplished as much as anyone who has played the game.
“Everything is documented. Everything they do, we follow, ”Andonovski said in comments to reporters on Wednesday. “We have a pretty good idea of where they stand. In fact, they are both a bit ahead of what we expected, from a physical point of view. The only thing they lack is the training of the team. It’s good that we have eight or nine training sessions before going to the game[es vs. Colombia to close camp]. They are both excited to get the minutes in the first or second game.
“Their minds are rested and they are excited to be back at camp. I have been in constant communication with both of them, and they are both eager to get back to camp.”
However, with only 18 players going to the Olympics, some tough decisions will have to be made, and Lloyd, who will turn 39 in July, and Rapinoe, who will also turn 36 in July, cannot be considered blocked at this time. That list is likely limited to 13 players right now:
Goalkeepers: Alyssa Naeher
Defenders: Kelley O’Hara, Becky Sauerbrunn, Abby Dahlkemper, Crystal Dunn, Tierna Davidson
Midfielders: Julie Ertz, Sam Mewis, Lindsey Horan, Rose Lavelle
Forward: Alex Morgan, Christen Press, Tobin Heath
A second goalkeeper will claim one of the five remaining spots, leaving four spots theoretically up for grabs. The rest comes down to how Andonovski wants to strategically build his squad, both in terms of youth and roster versatility, and whether Catarina Macario secures FIFA eligibility to represent the USA in international competition, as is. on the way to doing so, that would add yet another element to consider. Rapinoe and Lloyd haven’t had to prove themselves to earn spots on the list for years, but with Heath and Press remaining in Manchester and Morgan out with COVID-19, they will have every opportunity to remind Andonovski of their capabilities. The next few weeks and a couple of friendlies could determine how much they will have to prove in the months to come.
Who will leave a lasting impression?
As mentioned above, this is the only time that coach Jason Kreis will assemble a team to train prior to the qualifying tournament, which is expected to take place in Guadalajara in late March. He may have the biggest headache of all American coaches, given that it is not really known who will be available for selection for qualifying competition and, if successful, this summer’s Olympics. Given that clubs are not required to release players for youth competitions, a full-strength U-23 squad (which would look very much like a senior national team at this point) is sadly a pipe dream.
Fortunately for Kreis, there is depth in the pool, but since he likely doesn’t know yet which of the Europe-based players will be available in March, there are many contingencies that need to be taken.
That brings us to this camp, where 10 of the 20 players who participated were named to the Kreis initial qualifying tournament team 10 months ago, only to have the competition postponed due to the pandemic. That means there is ample opportunity for players to increase their individual actions. With a good number of them making the jump to the senior team on January 24 before the proposed friendly with Serbia, we are likely to have a better idea of who has made it.
“With Olympic qualification fast approaching, this training camp is a great opportunity to prepare and evaluate some new faces,” said Kreis. “While 2020 was a very challenging year, it was impressive to see so many U-23 eligible players make great strides on the field. Some of them have been involved with the senior team for the past few months and it is exciting to gather our players and staff at the camp alongside Gregg and his group as we prepare for a very important qualifying tournament. “
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.