It's time for the United States' January camp as players from MLS and Scandinavian leagues gather for another match that only a handful of people will care about and only the parents and drunk will last until the referee blows the final whistle. Every January, the U.S. gets a bunch of their out-of-season players together for a couple weeks of training then a match against another country that also has their "B team." It is riveting.
This year the U.S. is playing two such friendlies with the first coming on Saturday against Venezuela. Like the Americans, the Venezuelans can't bring their best players. No Clint Dempsey for the U.S.? Fine, no Thomas Rincon for Canada. Because Landon Donovan is out, so is Juan Arango. Jozy Altidore is in the Netherlands so Giancarlo Maldonado is in Mexico. See? Fair.
The U.S. actually does have the services of a few of their top players for the match. Thanks to a stomp on Marco Reus that led to an eight-match suspension from Schalke, Jermaine Jones will be available for the Yanks. Jones, along with Kyle Beckerman, Benny Feilhaber and Ricardo Clark give the U.S. a major advantage in the center of the pitch. If any combination of of the four are in the center, and especially if Feilhaber is pinching in from the left, there's absolutely no reason for the U.S. not to dominate the middle of the park.
In addition to the central players, the U.S. will also have Brek Shea at their disposal. The 21-year-old winger who went from promising youngster to undoubted starter for the U.S. with a spectacular 2011 season. After a great year for FC Dallas and the U.S., Shea spent a couple weeks training with Arsenal and is now looking to take the next step in 2012. That would be another great year for Dallas, starring for the Yanks in World Cup qualifying and securing a move abroad. All of that starts for him against Venezuela.
For Jurgen Klinsmann and the U.S., everything starts with Venezuela. As is usually the case with January camp, the match will probably be ugly. The same is likely to be true when the Yanks play Panama on Wednesday, but these matches are about flash or being pretty or star power. If that was the goal of them they would have cancelled them long ago because January camp has none of that.
January camp is about getting a look at a couple players and finding that player or two that may fly below the radar. With World Cup qualifying starting in June, this January camp is more important than most and finding that player could pay bigger dividends than usual. Find that player or two and the matches are a success. That starts against Venezuela in Arizona.
United States vs. Venezuela
Date/Time: Saturday, January 21, 9:00 p.m. ET
Venue: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
TV: ESPN3 (English) and Galavision (Spanish)