Darlington Nagbe getting up to speed for U.S., Jozy Altidore early for camp
CARSON, Calif. -- For many U.S. fans, Darlington Nagbe's November debut with Jurgen Klinsmann's squad in a pair of World Cup qualifying games provided a badly needed bright spot at the end of a mostly disappointing 2015 for the national team.
The Liberia-born Portland Timbers midfielder had recently become an American citizen. At 25, he was still three or so years from entering his prime. And in his two brief substitute appearances, against St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago, he showed off the Velcro-like touch on the ball that he has displayed since arriving in MLS in 2011.
The expectations on Nagbe only grew when he led the Timbers to the league title in December, to the point where it's easy to forget he's currently participating in only the second U.S. camp of his career.
"I'm still trying to figure it out," Nagbe told reporters before the U.S. trained Thursday, three days before Sunday's friendly here against Iceland (3:45 p.m. ET, ESPN2/WatchESPN). "But I feel confident being here. It's a lot of good players and hopefully I can show what I can do."
So far, circumstances haven't made putting his best foot forward easy. Nagbe joined the group late, following the birth of his second child. The demands are different this month than in shorter get-togethers, with fitness the primary focus. Practices are fast and grueling and it's still unclear exactly where Nagbe's best spot on the field with the Americans might be. That question isn't likely to be resolved before the full contingent of European-based players return for a pair of qualifiers against Guatemala in March.
Which is why U.S. captain Michael Bradley, for one, would like to see the hype surrounding Nagbe toned down just a bit.
"I think everyone needs to be a little bit careful in terms of trying to put too much on his plate too soon," Bradley said of Nagbe, who has been deployed at the tip of a midfield diamond as well as on the wing this week. "He's still young -- certainly young in terms of the national team. He will start to get his chance now to come into the group and see where it all fits in.
"He has natural ability, for sure. But again, I think for any new player who comes into the group, you want to be careful not to expect too much."
U.S. fans would be wise to listen.
U.S. camp notes
- Despite two fast-approaching friendlies (after Iceland, the U.S. plays Canada at StubHub Center on Feb. 5), the American players are still very much in preseason mode. Overall, though, Bradley is pleased with how 2016 has started.
"It's been a good few weeks," he said. "I think the mix in the group has been good. The younger guys are excited and motivated and certainly see their two [Olympic] qualifiers with Colombia right on the horizon. The older guys are committed to leading and showing them, as much as possible, the right way on a daily basis. Guys have come in every day ready to train and compete."
What they're not doing, however, is spending a lot of time dwelling on last year. Not that they haven't talked about it some. "We're certainly very aware that we let ourselves down in big moments last year. That's sports," Bradley said. "You play big games, you play in big moments where everything is on the line, and one team has to lose. That's reality. We've looked back at things. We've thought about things. The way we played in certain moments weren't good enough.
"[But] It's the start of a new year, a lot of big things ahead of us: qualifying, Copa America. We're excited."
- After being plagued by hamstring issues in recent years -- injuries that prevented him from completing Gold Cups in 2011 and 2015, as well as the 2014 World Cup in Brazil -- Jozy Altidore has made some adjustments to his lifestyle. "I've definitely changed my diet, sleep habits, little things like that to try to adjust," he said Thursday. "I'm trying to keep myself as lean as possible. [The hamstring problems] have been unfortunate for me but it's something I'm looking at this year to try to take away."
Part of that process included arriving in Carson a week early, on his own dime, to train ahead of his teammates. "I think I needed to just come in a little bit and get myself moving and get going.
"I'm feeling good. I'm excited. I'm just trying to get myself fit and excited for what looks to be a long, long year."
- U.S. U-23 coach Andi Herzog doesn't have all his players available this month, and lost another when defender Matt Miazga left camp Tuesday to complete his reported transfer to Premier League champions Chelsea.
"Obviously we're missing some from Europe, but we have 10 or 11 players here, which is really good for me," Herzog said. "So at least they've started. They're in OK shape right now. We train real hard, so their [fitness] is getting better and better."
So what does he make of Miazga's move?
"It's not easy to get the starting job there, but it's huge for him," Herzog said, adding that he expected Miazga to be available for his team in March. "It's good for U.S. Soccer that a young player gets the opportunity and signs with one of the best clubs in Europe. It will be a huge adventure for him, because everything will be new. He trains and plays with the best players in Europe. It's amazing."
Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN.