Gonzalez, Cameron, Sapong Called to Klinsmann’s January Camp

U.S. national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann invited 20 players to his first training camp of 2012, which will take place in Glendale, Ariz., and Carson, Calif., from Jan 3 to Jan 26.

The group will compete in friendlies against Venezuela on Jan 21 in Glendale and against Panama on Jan 25 in Panama City.

The roster is heavy with MLS players, including such first-time call-ups as Graham Zusi and CJ Sapong of Sporting Kansas City, Omar Gonzalez of Los Angeles and George John of FC Dallas.

Here’s the full group:

GOALKEEPERS: Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

DEFENDERS: Geoff Cameron (Houston Dynamo), A.J. DeLaGarza (LA Galaxy), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), George John (FC Dallas), Zach Loyd (FC Dallas), Michael Parkhurst (FC Nordsjaelland), Heath Pearce (Chivas USA)

MIDFIELDERS: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Ricardo Clark (Eintracht Frankfurt), Benny Feilhaber (New England Revolution), Jeff Larentowicz (Colorado Rapids), Brek Shea (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

FORWARDS: Juan Agudelo (New York Red Bulls), Teal Bunbury (Sporting Kansas City), C.J. Sapong (Sporting Kansas City), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

In comments published on the US Soccer website, Klinsmann essentially said this was a roster of backups and second-stringers, but the selection includes players such as Beckerman and Shea, both of whom have been regular starters in the early Klinsmann era. “Ultimately, it will create more depth for us, which you need at this level,” said the U.S. coach. “I’m very curious and excited to see this group.”

We’d wager that at least two from this roster—Cameron and Sapong—will edge into the starting-XI picture before too long. Klinsmann has shown a desire to have at least one centerback (in addition to the physically imposing Oguchi Onyewu, presumably) who can pass the ball out of the back skillfully.

He’s tried Tim Ream there for that purpose, with mixed to negative results. Cameron, a converted central midfielder, looks to be a much better option: He is equal to or better than Ream in the foot-skills department and he’s superior both physically (6-3) and athletically. If he shows well in this camp, we’d love to see Klinsmann try an Onyewu–Cameron pairing in the middle of defense sometime soon.

Sapong is a player we’ve been bullish on since we got our first long glimpse of him last spring, and we can’t wait to see him in a U.S. shirt. He’s incredibly athletic, highly skilled and poised on the ball, and he can play with his back to goal, holding possession until his teammates get involved. He’s also got a nose for goal. Check out this clip here for an idea of his potential.

There hasn’t been a striker with his skill set in the U.S. pool since Brian McBride, and Sapong is slightly more athletic than the Fulham legend.

Another player who could challenge for the centerback spot—and who, at 6-5, could offer a Twin Towers pairing alongside Onyewu—is the Galaxy’s Omar Gonzalez, the 2011 Defender of the Year in Major League Soccer.

Whatever shakes out, it’ll be interesting to watch. The Jan 21 Venezuela match kicks off at 9:00 pm ET; kickoff time for the Jan 25 Panama game is TBD.