Klinsmann's youth-heavy U.S. January squad leaves veterans' futures unclear
Jurgen Klinsmann hinted late last year that 2016 could spell the end of the road for several longtime U.S. national team veterans. That process now seems to be well underway, as the U.S. coach on Wednesday named a young roster for the Americans' annual, monthlong, year-opening training camp in Southern California that will conclude with friendlies against Iceland on Jan. 31 and five days later vs. Canada.
With most European leagues in the middle of their seasons, the 23-man squad, which has an average age of just over 24, is limited mostly to domestic-based players or those out of contract. U.S. regulars Jozy Altidore, Matt Besler and captain Michael Bradley were selected, as were 2015 MLS standouts Ethan Finlay, Tony Tchani (both of Columbus Crew SC ) and Luis Robles (New York Red Bulls) -- all of whom received their first call-up under Klinsmann.
At 34, midfielder Jermaine Jones was the oldest player picked, but there was no place for fellow 30-somethings and 2014 World Cup vets Kyle Beckerman, Clint Dempsey or Chris Wondolowski, although several experienced players -- Beckerman, Wondolowski and Brad Evans among them -- have been placed on standby and could be added later, according to a team spokesman.
"This will be more of an identification camp and a development camp," Klinsmann said in a statement. "We want to give those players a head start into their very busy year 2016, but we also want to make it clear to them that it's a huge opportunity that you have here to understand what it takes to step it up and to become an international-level player."
Robles, Major League Soccer's reigning goalkeeper of the year, has one senior cap on his résumé, which came in 2009 under then-coach Bob Bradley. D.C. United's Bill Hamid, who won the award in 2014, was the only the other keeper named.
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The U-23 national team's looming two-leg March playoff with Colombia for a place at this summer's Olympics also factored into the makeup of the group, Klinsmann said.
Eleven age-eligible U-23 team members will travel to the Los Angeles area ahead of the camp's Jan. 10 start date, including midfielders and MLS rookie of the year finalists Fatai Alashe of the San Jose Earthquakes and the Chicago Fire's Matt Polster. Jordan Morris, 21, will join his teammates Jan. 20 following a training stint with German club Werder Bremen. Only three U-23s have appeared for the senior team before: Morris, Wil Trapp and Matt Miazga. There are 10 uncapped players on the roster in all.
"We need to help our younger U-23 players to get a head start because they still need to qualify for Rio de Janeiro," Klinsmann said. "Pretty much half of the squad for the January camp are the youngsters and the Olympic team players."
If history is any indication, a couple will stick around when the full senior team convenes in March for a pair of World Cup qualifiers against Guatemala. Besler broke in early in 2013 and quickly became a starter. And Gyasi Zardes, who also returns this month, made 19 appearances in 2015, his first year with the team.
As for those players not invited, Dempsey's future is particularly opaque. The 32-year-old Seattle Sounder led the national team in scoring last year with nine goals in 10 appearances, but he was left home for November qualifiers vs. St. Vincent and the Grenadines and at Trinidad and Tobago. Dempsey has said that playing in this summer's Copa America Centenario is a goal.
But whether he and the other vets omitted this month return to the national team at all remains to be seen.
Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN.