There's quite simply no way to overstate the importance of the 2013 calendar year for the United States Men's National Soccer Team. The final round of World Cup Qualification (admirably referred to as "The Hex"), the CONCACAF Gold Cup, as well as several friendlies that will help coach Jurgen Klinsmann decide who will be a part of the next generation of American soccer.
While that opening paragraph may seem a little emotional, a little heavy, it's not a life or death situation tonight when the Stars and Stripes take the field in Houston to face Canada in the first friendly of 2013. Klinsmann will look to primarily American-based players tonight, so fans of MLS will certainly see familiar faces on BOTH sides of the field.
Today's preview isn't diving into the usual hard-nosed "x's and o's" type stuff, but instead will try and get you primed and up to speed on who you should expect to see, and perhaps a few little storyline tidbits you should look out for:
Get the obvious name out of the way: Dwayne De Rosario. The talismanic playmaker has been the best Canada has had to offer for several years, but with a new batch of young starlets set to take over, De Rosario has certainly begun the back nine of his playing career.
After their defeat to Denmark in Arizona, the Canadians will be looking to bounce back against their neighbors to the South and will look to their youth movement for inspiration. Those of you that followed the draft will be familiar with the name Kyle Bekker, the Boston College product drafted by Toronto FC, who will no doubt see time in the central midfield position. Also included in the Canadian side was D.C. United's Dejan Jakovic, who played all 90 minutes against Denmark, which may rule him out for tonight's encounter.
After those familiar names, however? You'd have to be a pretty devout soccer fan and in tune with other countries' development systems to have a grasp as to what Canada will be putting on the field on Tuesday Night. This is the youngest squad that the Canadians have fielded in camp since 2006, and after their 4-0 drubbing by Denmark, the inexperience showed.
If you're looking for a few more names to keep an eye on Tuesday, newly-appointed captain Terry Dunfield should return to the Canadian lineup, as well as FC Edmonton prospect Kyle Porter who also made his debut against the Danes last week.
Klinsmann stirred up a ton of emotions with his comments to the Wall Street Journal (he commented that the environment in the American system was too easily content), and as the Yanks embark on this massive calendar year, it's put up or shut up time for the German head coach.
January's camp is youthful, MLS-laden, and eager-to-please, and with many players getting their first full-on chance to impress, this United States team will be very aggressive, and full of energy tonight.
11 of the 19 MLS clubs are represented in this camp (no Revs though, sorry, unless you want to count Benny Feilhaber...and I don't) so you're going to be very familiar with this group, and that should excite you as an American soccer fan.
Young up and comers like Will Bruin, Connor Lade, Juan Agudelo, and Omar Gonzalez all highlight a roster chock-full of potential, and while we'll have to wait and see how Klinsmann will utilize his blend of youth and experience (of which he only has a handful), you'd have to expect to see many of these faces in some way on the field tonight.
The aforementioned Feilhaber, Eddie Johnson, Kyle Beckerman, and Chris Wondolowski will all lend some experience to this young American side, and you'd be hard-pressed to find two central midfielders more primed to lead than Feilhaber and Beckerman. While Feilhaber hasn't seen the USMNT camp in some time, his previous experiences in both the World and Gold Cup will certainly help calm the nerves of players making their first appearances.
If there's a theme for the night, it's certainly "experimental". Klinsmann may have said this was a camp to prepare for a World Cup qualifier, but the fact of the matter is, he used this camp as an experimental time to decipher just how deep the MLS talent pool is. There's been talk of some new tactics, a new formation, and with several new faces, the word "experimental" reigns supreme.
Tonight will hopefully serve as a strong catalyst to this important calendar year, but also be mindful and understanding that tonight is about introducing new players, and getting them acclimated into the senior National Team style and philosophy. While we all want to focus on wins and losses, on a night like tonight it's okay to look towards the future. A future, we all hope, that leads to Brazil next summer.