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.

Bradley Calls 24, Including Two American-Germans, For March Friendlies

Chandler says he's more interested in playing for the U.S. than for Germany.

Timothy Chandler, a 20-year-old defender for FC Nuremberg, and David Yelldell, a 29-year-old goalkeeper for MSV Duisburg, were among the 24 players U.S. coach Bob Bradley called into camp for upcoming friendlies against Argentina and Paraguay.

Chandler broke into the Nuremberg first team this winter and scored his first professional goal in February against Stuttgart. Yelldell, who once backed up Brad Friedel at Blackburn, is having the best season of his career, with 11 shutouts so far for Duisberg (extra points if you know the correct, and humorous, pronunciation of that name).

Both players were born in Germany, Chandler to a German mother and U.S.-serviceman father. Yelldell holds dual citizenship.

Also getting his first call-up is Norwich City defender Zak Whitbread, who’s had an injury-marred career since representing the U.S. at the 2003 U-20 World Cup. Whitbread, who was born in Houston and grew up in Singapore, where his father was coach of the national team, started his career in Liverpool’s youth system. He played at Millwall for five years before joining Norwich City in 2010.

Bradley’s roster is being called veteran-heavy, and there are many South Africa 2010 vets in the group, but in addition to the newbies mentioned above, there are also a handful of relatively new faces, including Red Bull youngsters Juan Agudelo and Tim Ream, Norwegian-born Mikkel Diskerud, and Jermaine Jones. Former Chivas USA and current Anderlecht midfielder  Sacha Kljestan was also called back into the mix for the first time since last winter.

Complete Roster:

GOALKEEPERS: Marcus Hahnemann (Wolves), Tim Howard (Everton), David Yelldell (Duisburg)

DEFENDERS: Carlos Bocanegra (Saint-Etienne), Jonathan Bornstein (Tigres), Timothy Chandler (Nuremberg), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96), Jay DeMerit (Vancouver Whitecaps), Oguchi Onyewu (FC Twente), Tim Ream (New York Red Bulls), Jonathan Spector (West Ham United), Zak Whitbread (Norwich City)

MIDFIELDERS: Michael Bradley (Aston Villa), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Mikkel Diskeruud (Stabaek), Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy), Maurice Edu (Rangers), Benny Feilhaber (AGF Aarhus), Stuart Holden (Bolton Wanderers), Jermaine Jones (Blackburn Rovers), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht)

FORWARDS: Juan Agudelo (New York Red Bulls), Jozy Altidore (Bursaspor), Edson Buddle (FC Ingolstadt)

The U.S. plays Argentina on March 26 at the New Meadowlands Stadium, then meets Paraguay on March 29 at Nashville’s LP Field.

Red Bulls Wrap Up Preseason with Chippy, Less-than-Impressive Draw Against Atlas

We are still awaiting the day when Marquez applies himself in a Red Bull game.

Preseason games can be notoriously misleading, and an isolated preseason game is a limited sample size, for sure, but, man, based on last night’s performance in Glendale, Arizona, the 2011 Red Bulls look a lot like the 2010 Red Bulls—only not as good.

They were missing two projected starters in Juan Agudelo (groin) and Jan Gunnar Solli (undisclosed “minor” injury), but they looked far more than two pieces away from being a contending team. There was no rhythm whatsoever to their play, they struggled to connect passes, and they were fortunate to escape with a 1-1 tie against Atlas, which is currently 4-4-1 after nine games in the Mexican Primera Division.

In short, they looked like what they were last season—a work in progress, a team yet to cohere.

A positive echo of last season was the one player who made something happen—Joel Lindpere, who drew an 88th-minute penalty that enabled New York to tie it up. Sure, he embellished it a little, but he got himself in a good attacking position, made a move, felt contact and went down. Boom: penalty; tie game.

But there was very little else to praise. Thierry Henry vacillated between frustration with his teammates for their inability to read his intentions (we’re looking at you, Dane Richards) and wild-eyed outrage at some rash tackles from the opposition (late in the game, he retaliated for one in a fashion that would have earned him a straight red in 99.9% of the leagues around the world. He got a yellow.).

He had isolated moments of gliding-on-air effectiveness, but overall, Henry did not look like a player ready to dominate MLS competition. Which, you know, was sort of the idea when RBNY brought him over last season.

Rafael Marquez was even worse. He was beaten badly on a ball over the top in the first half, and if not for some excellent cover from American Carlos Mendes, New York would have surrendered a goal on the play. Later, Marquez sent an awkward backpass to Bouna Coundoul that forced the keeper into an even more awkward emergency clearance.

The Mexican international also seemed to mentally float in and out of the game—a trait we saw in his RBNY appearances last season.

Partnering Henry up top was the 6-4 Ghanian Salou Ibrahim—a player that coach Backe spent the preseason going out of his way to say is not in his plans. Now here’s a start, Salou—go get ’em. He was predictably feckless and missed a clear chance in the first half, sending a lob over the bar with the keeper beaten.

New signing Teemu Tainio did not look like the answer in the middle of the park, and slightly ahead of him in midfield, Mehdi Ballouchy made us think Backe and Co. fell in love with the Morrocan prematurely last summer, and made a rash decision when they acquired him from Colorado (which went on to win the league without him, btw).

Ballouchy brings sporadic flashes of skill to the table—and nothing else.

Speaking of one-dimensionality, Dane Richards didn’t even have his primary (solitary?) asset—speed—going last night. Atlas defenders seemed prepared for that element and did an effective job neutralizing the Jamaican winger—when he wasn’t neutralizing himself with unforced errors and passes to no one.

On the positive side, Tim Ream was his usual composed and consistent self at centerback (despite scoring an own goal when a driven cross wrong-footed him), and Mendes, as we suggested earlier, looked pretty good—especially so since he had played 90 minutes against Dallas the day before.

Beyond that, though, if Red Bulls fans want to maintain their optimism for the 2011 season, they’ll have to set this one aside and fuhgettaboudid, as they say in New York.

Look What the Cat Dragged In….

Mr. David Beckham graced the Home Depot Center and the Los Angeles Galaxy with his presence today, participating in his first preseason training session of 2011 with his MLS employers.

He also posted a newsflash for the attending media: His focus has been with the Galaxy all along! Who knew? From the MLS website:

“My main objective was to get fit for the Galaxy and for the MLS season,” Beckham said after training. “My main objective wasn’t to play for a Premiership team. Even if I would have been on loan, even if I would have played the games, this is the time I was always going to come back.”

That quote could make a good launch point for Seth Myers’ “Really!?!” segment on SNL‘s “Weekend Update.”

But before we go judging Becks (any further), check out Landon Donovan rushing to his teammate’s defense with a bold “none of us should judge Beckham” for his offseason choices. “The only person who knows what’s going on and what the real story is,” Donovan proclaimed, “is David.”

Really, Landon?

The Galaxy heads to Georgia early next week for the Atlanta Pro Soccer Challenge preseason tourney.

Joseph, Alston Sent Home from Revs Camp

New England’s Shalrie Joseph has been one of the better players in Major League Soccer during the past eight years, and arguably the best holding midfielder in the league during that span.

He helped lead the Revs to three straight MLS Cup appearances (2005-07) and is a four-time MLS Best XI selection (2005-09).

In 2007 and ’08, Glasgow giants Celtic made repeated bids for the dominating, 6-3 midfielder, but had their offers—of $1 million in ’07 and $2 million in ’08—rejected by MLS.

Joseph’s on-field performance has never been questioned, but last April, we saw the first chink in his off-field armor, as the Grenadian left the Revs to join the MLS substance abuse and behavioral health program.

He returned to New England in May and finished the year without incident, but now he appears to have gone off the rails again. Over the weekend, New England coach Steve Nicol dismissed Joseph, the Revs’ captain, and young defender Kevin Alston, from the team’s Orlando, Fla., training camp.

No one from the Revs has offered any specifics on the reason for the suspension, but vice president of player personnel Mike Burns, when asked if the pair would return to the team, New England  said, “Not for this trip.”

Veteran goalkeeper Matt Reis, who, along with Joseph, is the longest-serving player on the Revs roster had this to say:

“Every year you have to deal with things that are out of your control. As a team, the main thing we have to worry about is the guys who are with us, the guys who are here. We have to prepare for the season. It’s very unfortunate, very distracting, something I think could have been avoided. But we have to move on and we can’t stop doing what we’re doing to get ready for the season just because two guys aren’t here. So, we’ll go from there.”

That “something I think could have been avoided” comment is interesting. How so? A towel at the foot of the door? A spritz of Binaca?  (We kid, we kid.)

Nicol didn’t have much to say, but if we read between the lines of what he did say, we conclude that the Revs’ coach is ticked off:

“It’s not ideal, but everyone is professional here and you don’t want any of your teammates not to be here. But, at the same time, everyone is a good pro and, at the end of the day, you blow the whistle and roll the ball out and you play. That’s the main concern.”

He’s not making a whole lot of sense there, but he does repeat the phrase about everyone being a professional, seeming (in a soundbite version of sputtering rage) to call into question the professionalism of the suspended pair.

This is a big setback for Alston too. The 22-year-old defender received his first U.S. national-team call-up in 2010, and this definitely was not the way he wanted to kick off his 2011 season.

D.C. Goalkeepers Coach Pat Onstad Becomes … D.C. Goalkeeper

Faced with last week’s injury to Steve Cronin (broken wrist) and Bill Hamid’s ongoing recovery from offseason shoulder surgery, D.C. United had been in the market for a new goalkeeper—until they remembered they had a candidate on their coaching staff.

Former San Jose and Houston backstop Pat Onstad, 43, who retired after the 2010 season and joined the Black-and-Red as goalkeepers coach, will re-don his gloves and begin training with the team immediately.

United has two other netminders in camp, 22-year-old rookie Joe Willis and 26-year-old journeyman Chase Harrison, but the team thought it best to re-enlist the veteran Canadian to solidify its defense with veteran leadership.

“Pat is our best option in goal right now for the situation we’re in,” D.C. coach Ben Olsen told the team website. “Pat is an extremely experienced player that can bring stability to our backline—we are very lucky to have him.”

Davies Has Goal, Assist as D.C. Routs Canada U-20s 5-1

Under normal circumstances, the lede (as opposed to lead; see here) for this game report would tout the hat-trick scored by United’s new striker Joseph Ngwenya, then move on to the three assists racked up by Montenegrin designated player Branko Boskovic.

But these are not normal circumstances. These are the days that D.C. is using to evaluate U.S. forward Charlie Davies as he continues his recovery from the Oct 2009 car crash that derailed his career and nearly took his life.

So we open with Davies’ goal and assist in the Black-and-Red’s romp over Canada’s U-20 national team—a performance that may have moved him one step closer to a one-year loan deal with D.C.

The ex-Boston College striker took a pass from Dax McCarty eight minutes into the game and cracked a shot on goal that was too hot for Canada keeper Robert Stillo to handle. The rebound made its way to Ngwenya, who buried his second of the game inside ten minutes.

Davies added one of his own in the 41st minute, collecting a through ball from Boskovic and finishing with authority past Stillo to give United a 4-0 advantage.

D.C. coach Ben Olsen made wholesale changes after the break, but Davies stayed on, eventually playing 74 minutes. United’s scheduled friendly against Florida International later that day was postponed.

Davies will meet with team doctors this week for a medical evaluation.

Highlights: Davies’ First Intrasquad Scrimmage with D.C.

U.S. striker Charlie Davies played all 60 minutes of D.C. United’s Red vs Black training-camp scrimmage today. He made a mark early, helping to set up the Red team’s first goal by pressuring keeper Steve Cronin into a poor clearance that Brandon Barklage pounded home for a 1-0 lead.

Davies later crossed nicely for Chinese international Yang Men, whose header was kept out by Cronin.

Highlights here:

After the session, D.C. coach Ben Olsen was predictably guarded regarding Davies, saying, “We need to see more. This was a good first day, but we will continue to look at [Davies] over the next week.”

United has two preseason friendlies scheduled for Monday. They’ll play the Canada U-20 national team in the morning, and Florida International University in the afternoon.

What’s Cooler Here, Zakuani’s Stinging 22-Yard Strike, or the Super Slo-Mo?

Here’s Sounders FC winger Steve Zakuani crushing one from distance past (what looks to us like) Seattle backup keeper Terry Boss during a preseason scrimmage yesterday.

It was captured in super slo-mo by SoundersFC.com. Nice work, gents:

Great touch to set himself up, and then he just puts his foot through it. Little to no spin on the ball = evidence of said ball having been hit well and truly….

Thierry Henry’s Knee: “Not there yet ….”

We came across the above quote in this ostensibly positive account of Thierry Henry’s first preseason camp with the Red Bulls, who opened training in Waldwick, N.J., this week.

We were breezing along, reading about how the 33-year-old striker is determined to help “finally bring that trophy that New York never won,” when we came across the following assessment of the knee injury that kept him out of the stretch run in 2010:

“[It’s] better, way better; not there yet to strike the ball too hard, but it’s hopefully something that’s in the past and hopefully will stay in the past—it’s way better.”

We dropped a Sheila Broflovski–style “What-what-what?!” when we read that.

Not there yet to strike the ball hard? Hopefully in the past? Hopefully will stay in the past?

None of that sounds very convincing, or, um, hopeful—or good for Red Bulls fans.

Henry has had nearly 12 weeks off (not counting his training stint with Arsenal in London last week). He could have had surgery on his injured knee and been in the above condition by now. How is he not 100% healthy?

If we were gambling types, we’d bet there’s more to this story than we’ve been told.

And the longer this sort of thing keeps up, the closer Henry’s MLS career comes to being Beckham-esque—minus the English icon’s far-reaching PR boost.