[HEXAGONAL COUNTDOWN]The revolving door has finally spun to a halt, so no longer will U.S. national team players wonder whom they might line up with Saturday when they face Sweden in the first match of a very busy 2009. Home Depot Center is the venue for the match (8:30 p.m. ET, Fox Soccer Channel, Galavision) that kicks off perhaps the most grueling year in the team's history.
The team will play at least 16 competitive games, including 10 Hexagonal qualifiers and matches in the Confederations Cup and Gold Cup, so now is a good time for casual acquaintances to know each other better. There are 17 players (of 22) in camp with 10 caps or less and seven with zero, but during the next 10 or 11 months Coach Bob Bradley will need a lot of bodies.
"It's just like any other team, there's competition for each individual position," says midfielder Ricardo Clark, whose 16 caps ranks third on this squad behind Brian Ching (32) and Danny Califf (21). "That's just what I'm fighting for on this team. Bob has a lot of players to choose from. I just want to make the most of my opportunities when I get the chance."
The timing of this match, 18 days before the Hexagonal opener against Mexico in Columbus Feb. 11, and the three-week training camp gives Bradley a way to measure the readiness of players whose seasons have yet to commence. He may need more than a few of them, since Feb. 11 is a friendly international date and teams need only release players a few days prior.
"The January camp is always important because the guys who play in MLS need to start the year after being off and you have a January game and that helps those guys get ready," says Bradley. "You mix that in with what you're seeing in Europe."
Four players - Danny Califf, Charlie Davies, Clarence Goodson, and Perkins - play in Scandanavian leagues that take an extended winter break. The players in England go straight through, and the German season resumes Jan. 30.
Michael Parkhurst, summoned from his Danish club FC Nordsjælland after several defenders had to be scratched, has trained for only the past few days. Sacha Kljestan has returned from a five-day trial with Glasgow Celtic, which might attempt to buy the Chivas USA midfielder during the European transfer window that closes Feb. 2. Former D.C. United keeper Troy Perkins is also back with the U.S. team, following a jaunt across the Atlantic to join his Valerenga IF teammates for a few days of team-bonding exercises that included wading through icy, waist-deep water under the direction of Norwegian Special Forces members.
Perkins is just one of four keepers summoned for the camp, yet still Chivas USA goalie Dan Kennedy turned up to take his place. From an original squad of 25 players, there were some notable departures.
Defenders Chad Marshall(knee) and Sean Franklin (sports hernia) had to pull out of camp after aggravating pre-existing problems, and another backliner, Cory Gibbs, elected not to report. One of the replacements summoned, Quakes defender Jason Hernandez, pulled a calf muscle. Houston midfielder/defender Geoff Cameron suffered a hamstring strain on the second day of training.
"You're going to end up looking where everybody is and as is always the case for a single fixture, you're going to be left with bringing guys in on a short turnaround and have them ready to play," says Bradley.
Sweden, which also plays Mexico in Oakland on Wednesday, brought a squad of domestic players very familiar to Davies, who has played in the Swedish league the past two seasons for Hammarby IF. He expects to meet up after the Sweden match with his club teammates when they arrive at HDC for two weeks of training - Hammarby is owned by Anschutz Entertainment Group - unless he's sold to another European club.
"I've been progressing and I think Bob Bradley has seen me progress not only as a forward but as a professional," says Davies, who last year scored 14 goals for Hammarby and also notched his first U.S. goal. "I hope I get the chances with the national team, because I think I can show I can not only play at that level but do well."