Preview: USA – Canada

The US National Team during January camp in 2013.  Credit: Michael Janosz - ISIPhotos.com

By Charles Boehm - INDIANAPOLIS, IN (Jan 29, 2012) US Soccer Players - As it does almost every year, the US National Team closes out its January camp with an international friendly on home soil this week. While normally these games are true friendlies, Tuesday’s game against Canada at Houston’s BBVA Compass Stadium (9pm ET – ESPN2) occurs a week before the USA’s opening final round World Cup Qualifier. For US National Team coach Jurgen Klinsmann, this turns the regular January friendly into an exercise in finding as many as eight players to join the European-based players for that game against Honduras on February 6th (4pm ET – beIN Sport).

“From the beginning, it wasn’t just preparing for a friendly,” goalkeeper Tally Hall told MLSsoccer.com on Sunday. “Jurgen came in and said there’s six to eight guys from this group that will move into a World Cup qualifier against Honduras so that has made the Canada a vehicle to get ready for that. This is a camp that we’re getting ready for something and if you do it right you can be a part of that.”

One of three Houston Dynamo players hoping to see action at their club team’s home stadium, Hall looks like a strong candidate to earn a slot in that select group, as do his Dynamo teammates Brad Davis and Will Bruin. Hall has reportedly shown well over the past three weeks of workouts in Southern California as he looks to haul himself into contention for the third spot on the USA’s goalkeeping depth chart behind starter Tim Howard and backup Brad Guzan.

Up the field, Davis has made a richly deserved return to the international level after several years in the wilderness despite his sustained excellence in MLS play. The left-footer has been logging time at the left midfield spot that lacks a truly established incumbent, and when you add in his sterling set-piece skills, it would appear that a capable showing against Canada could well vault the 31-year-old onto the travel roster for Honduras.

“I’m just as interested as you to find out where I might fit in!” Davis told USSoccerPlayers.com with a laugh last week. “Really, it’s up to me to go out and play these games, [take] the opportunities to try and fit in, try and show them what I can do and hopefully make it a difficult decision to not take me to the next camp.”

On the opposite flank, Joshua Gatt and Alejandro Bedoya offer the attributes and mentality of a true winger, a facet that has often been lacking under Klinsmann despite the coach’s preference for tactical setups which depend on exactly that. Bedoya is a free agent at present, and both he and his country stand to benefit from a positive showing in the “shop window” as the European transfer period draws to a close at the end of January.

Kyle Beckerman is as familiar with Klinsmann’s systems and preferences as anyone in this camp is, making him a likely starter at the base of midfield. The availability of Graham Zusi, Mix Diskerud and Benny Feilhaber presents a wide range of attacking and linking mid options for the US coaching staff. They should have a margin of error against a youngish Canadian side coming off a 4-0 trouncing by Denmark on Saturday in Arizona.

Choices abound up front as well. A young striker gaining his first experience with the full National Team this month, Bruin’s work has drawn Klinsmann’s praise and he scored two goals in a closed-door scrimmage against Mexican Apertura champions Club Tijuana at the Home Depot Center training grounds last Tuesday.

“Will is a team player, is focused 24/7, and is a great finisher,” Klinsmann said. “We're trying now to give him another level, more fast-paced rhythm again, which is normal. The national team is always a faster environment and he adjusted to it right away. So far he's done really well.”

MLS scoring champion Chris Wondolowski, and to a slightly lesser extent Juan Agudelo, have done plenty to deserve a chance to impress ahead of that daunting Hex opener in San Pedro Sula. Seattle Sounders star Eddie Johnson is also available, and his veteran outlook may be preferred in Houston should Klinsmann select youth in other spots on the field.

Defensive concerns have also popped up in recent weeks with injuries to Germany-based fullbacks Fabian Johnson and Steve Cherundolo and some nagging uncertainty about the long-term picture in central defense. The former may open the door for San Jose’s Justin Morrow, Hertha Berlin youngster Alfredo Morales or Tony Beltran of Real Salt Lake, while the latter should result in an Omar Gonzalez/Matt Besler partnership, seen by many as the "central defense of the future,” getting its first legit test drive.

Meanwhile, Canada’s visit also represents an important opportunity for the host city itself. The US Men’s National Team has only played three times in Houston, two of them big-ticket friendlies against Mexico at the NFL-sized Reliant Stadium and one a Gold Cup semifinal victory over Panama in 2011. The success of the Dynamo, coupled with the construction of their gorgeous BBVA Compass Stadium home, should make the Bayou City a contender for big games going forward.

For that to happen, a large, spirited crowd on Tuesday is a must. Reports suggested that about 12,000 tickets had been sold as of Monday afternoon, so Houston soccer fans will be hoping that a big walk-up crowd rounds out a quality overall atmosphere.

“For Houston, this is their opportunity, really, to show their support of the national team and bring future events, qualifiers or friendlies, whatever it may be,” said Davis. “If you don’t sell it out or have great support, most likely there’s not going to be another opportunity, because there are markets out there that will sell out every single time and have supported the National Team.

“We do have great fans [in Houston] and I do believe we will sell a lot of tickets – I hope we do, because I know the fan base that we have there that’s supported the Dynamo over the years has been fantastic and I hope we get a lot of people there [on Tuesday] to show that support.”

USA ROSTER
GK: Tally Hall (Houston Dynamo), Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire)
DEF: Tony Beltran (Real Salt Lake), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), A.J. DeLaGarza (LA Galaxy), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Connor Lade (New York Red Bulls), Alfredo Morales (Hertha Berlin), Justin Morrow (San Jose Earthquakes), Jeff Parke (Philadelphia Union)
MID: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (out of contract), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders), Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City), Joshua Gatt (Molde), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
FOR: Juan Agudelo (Chivas USA), Will Bruin (Houston Dynamo), Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

CANADA ROSTER
GK: Lars Hirschfeld (Valerenga), Roberto Stillo (Genoa ), Simon Thomas (unattached)
DEF: Ashtone Morgan (Toronto FC), Nana Attakora (FC Haka), Dejan Jakovic (D.C. United), Doneil Henry (Toronto FC), Mason Trafford (IFK Mariehamn), Andres Fresenga (Racing Club de Montevideo)
MID: Nik Ledgerwood (Hammarby), Philippe Davies (Richmond Kickers), Terry Dunfield (Toronto FC), Kyle Bekker (Toronto FC), Russell Teibert (Vancouver Whitecaps), Jonathan Beaulieu-Bourgault (unattached), Dwayne De Rosario (D.C. United), Emmanuel Gomez (Club Atlético Griffa), Matt Stinson (Toronto FC), Evan James (unattached)
FOR: Tosaint Ricketts (Sandnes Ulf), Kyle Porter (FC Edmonton), Frank Jonke (FF Jaro)


Charles Boehm is a Washington, DC-based writer and the editor of The Soccer Wire. Contact him at:cboehm@thesoccerwire.com. Follow him on Twitter at:http://twitter.com/cboehm.

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