The U.S. Men's National Soccer Team will take the field at University of Phoenix Stadium on Saturday night against Venezuela in an international friendly that caps off a three week camp session. The team will follow this game in Glendale, Arizona with a trip to Panama on the 25th.
Saturday night's game kicks off at 7:00 p.m. and will stream live online at ESPN 3 and can be found on TV on Galavision. As of Friday afternoon, 17,000 tickets had been sold for the event.
Transition to Klinsmann
The U.S. team is in the middle of a transition to a more international style of play being implemented by new coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
The famous German striker and former coach of his homeland's national team took over the U.S. side about six months ago. According to Klinsmann, his focus has been on raising the fitness level of the Americans along with implementing a more ball possession style of play that he feels will (finally) allow U.S. teams to play "face to face and eye to eye" with top international competition.
That transition won't happen overnight and as with any change, the process will be rocky as reflected in the team's 2-4-1 record since Klinsmann took over for Bob Bradley in late July 2011.
"It is just part of elevating the level of the players because the base of everything you do is how fast you can do it and how fast you can recover," Klinsmann said about his focus on fitness. "If you want to pick up the speed of play on a highly international level than you have to build a foundation for it so everything we do we do it with a lot of speed, with high intensity."
Midfielder Benny Feilhaber describe the process on Friday, "Obviously, it's a work in progress. Jurgen (Klinesmann) knows that the U.S. as a whole has been playing a different style of soccer for a long time now so changing that system takes a little bit of work."
Opportunity for MLS players
This January training camp is held in the middle of the season for the big European leagues so the USMNT will be without their big-name players. No Tim Howard in goal. No Clint Dempsey scoring from the midfield. No team team captain Carlos Bocanegra at center back.
The absence of the core of the team, however, does create opportunities for the mostly MLS players who want to be the next generation of American starters.
"I think it's an opportunity for every single person in this camp. You're being called up to the national team for a reason. It's not a hand out," Feilhaber said.
"Now, if you want to take the next step and be on that team that's going to compete in the (World Cup) qualifiers, that's going to compete in the World Cup, Gold Cup, whatever else comes forward you've got to show well in the camps that you're brought in to. It's just taking it one step at a time but everybody's got something to prove."
Players to watch for on Saturday night include:
--Jermaine Jones, the talented midfielder currently on suspension from his German club team. Jones, 30, is the son of a U.S. serviceman and a German mother was mostly raised in his mother's country and has played his professional ball there. According to Klinsmann, his arrival in camp raised the overall level of play due to his experience and quality.
-- CJ Sapong, 23, is an athletic forward who plays in the MLS for Sporting Kansas City where he was named the Rookie of the Year for 2011.
-- Geoff Cameron, 26, is a big and physical center back who plays his club ball in Houston. Cameron impressed Klinsmann in camp and showed that he's ready to compete with established veterans (Carlos Bocanegra and Oguchi Onyewu) for a spot on the main roster.
-- Brek Shea, 21, is one of the rising stars in U.S. soccer. He plays club ball for his hometown FC Dallas team and in just a few brief appearances with the USMNT has shown his potential as an attacking wing midfielder.
Two of the team's more experienced players in this camp have been ruled out against Venezuela and Panama due to injury. Juan Agudelo, sprained his right ankle in camp and Kyle Beckerman came to camp with a groin issue that he's not been able to shake.
Those injuries just create more opportunities for Klinsmann to test and evaluate his younger players against a good Venezuelan team that recently beat Argentina and is third in South America.