The USMNT January camp, or as USMNT team supporters refer to it “Camp Cupcake”, is viewed as a time when US based men get the opportunity to train and possibly play with the first team. It’s their chance to impress the coach.
Why Camp Cupcake?
Mainly because it is not a recognized FIFA international break. Those American players playing their trade overseas are often not released by their clubs to take part in the January tradition, usually accompanied by one or two friendlies. This year the USMNT team takes on Panama (1/27 in Glendale, Az) and Costa Rica (2/2 in San Jose, Ca). This yearly tradition in American soccer has lead to a number of international debuts for up and coming players. This year’s edition ushers in the beginning of Gregg Berhalter’s career as the national team coach. With Panama coming to our beautiful state this weekend, I want to give you heads up on the atmosphere and three players to keep an eye on this weekend.
If you have never been to a national team game in Arizona (or made it to a watch party) with the American Outlaws (Official USMNT supporters group), then you are in for a ruckus surprise. From the tifo to the capo, this group of supporters will be standing and singing for the red, white, and blue. Many have connections with Phoenix Rising supporters group, so expect a similar atmosphere.
Players To Keep An Eye On At State Farm Stadium
This is a tough question to answer. Out of the 23 players in the roster, 11 have never made an appearance for the national team and only four players have more than 10 appearances. But, my three players to watch are Zack Steffan, Cristian Roldan, and Gyasi Zardes.
Steffen is the first choice goalkeeper for the USMNT taking over the position from Tim Howard and Brad Guzan. Steffen began his career in Germany with SC Freiburg before moving to the Columbus Crew in 2016, spending one season as a back-up before being promoted in 2017.
In his first year as the starting keeper he conceded 53 goals and racked up 11 clean sheets. The following year his stats improved. He conceded 42 goals and racked up 11 clean sheets on his way to being named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year in 2018. This lead to him being transferred to Manchester City in January of 2019 (although he will be playing the first half of 2019 on loan at Columbus). Steffen is incredibly athletic and has very good feet. The only downside is that he can be prone to the occasional blunder. Overall, I think Zack will be the man between the sticks for years to come.
Cristian has been making a name for himself among the Seattle Sounders faithful for the past couple of seasons and has recently gotten a chance to shine for the national team. He is a disciplined center midfielder that can control the flow of the game. For the Sounders, his contribution has grown year after year.
This year he finished with 4 goals and 7 assists to his name. While he has only made 5 appearances for the USMNT, I believe that he is the heir to the role that Michael Bradley has played in the past. He is a box-to-box midfielder that is not afraid to put in a hard challenge on an opponent.
Zardes has seen a resurgence in his career under Gregg Berhalter at the Columbus Crew. Coming out of college, he was a highly touted player, but ended up signing a homegrown contract with the LA Galaxy. While he enjoyed some success, he was often buried under designated players and wasn’t allowed to shine.
At Columbus, Berhalter changed him into an attacking threat. He finished this year with 20 goals (a career high) and 1 assist. I believe that he will thrive in the national team set up. At 27, he has made 40 appearances with the national team and scored 6 goals. Under Berhalter, Gyasi Zardes could be the reliable striker that the national team has been missing.
A New Era
Overall, this is an exciting time for the national team. A new coach. A new World Cup cycle.
If you haven’t already, it’s time to pay attention to what the US is doing. The 2022 World Cup could very well be our best showing on the world’s biggest stage.