[THIS WEEK IN SOCCER: Jan. 6-12] The USA gets down to work Monday on the serious task of preparing for the World Cup with the opening of the national team's January camp that begins Friday. The hot stove heats up as top MLS draft prospects assemble for the annual adidas MLS Player Combine. Saturday features two a top-of-the-standings clash in Spain and an EPL relegation battle of interest to American fans. For more on these events, plus the Concacaf Under-20 Women's Championship and MAC Hermann Trophy presentation.
MONDAY, Jan. 6
First stop for Camp Klinsmann is U.S. Soccer's National Training Center in Carson, Calif., where 26 players -- all but one of them from MLS -- begin training. Jurgen Klinsmann called up 10 players who had taken part in World Cup 2014 qualifying, and all would be considered serious candidates to make the final 23 for the World Cup. Most interesting is the presence of youngsters Luis Gil, Chris Klute, Shane O'Neill and DeAndre Yedlin, who are making late pushes to get into the World Cup mix.
THURSDAY, Jan. 9
The Cayman Islands -- home of Concacaf president Jeffrey Webb -- aren't a bad place to spend the holidays. The USA opens play at Concacaf Under-20 Women's Championship against Costa Rica at the Truman Bodden Sports Complex in George Town. Michelle French has assembled a star-studded team, led by Paris St. Germain's Lindsey Horan and a host of college stars, that is favored to take one of the three berths up for grabs for the 2014 Under-20 Women's World Cup in Canada.
FRIDAY, Jan. 10
The Missouri Athletic Club in St. Louis is the site for the presentation of the MAC Hermann Trophy winners. Both 2012 winners, Maryland's Patrick Mullins and North Carolina's Crystal Dunn, are up for the 2013 award, though there should be competition from Notre Dame's Harrison Shipp and Virginia's Morgan Brian, respectively. UCLA's Leo Stolz and Abby Dahlkemper are the other finalists.
FRIDAY, Jan. 10
The Central Broward Regional Park is best known to locals as a cricket ground but for one week each year The Lauderhill, Fla., complex is ground zero for MLS soccer. The adidas MLS Player Combine is the annual showcase for talent MLS clubs are eyeing for the upcoming SuperDraft. This year's draft pool is considered a weak one, but there are still a half dozen players who could contribute in 2014. Action begins with two games -- Nitro Charge vs. Predator and adiZero vs. Brazuca -- and continues through Jan. 14.
SATURDAY, Jan. 11
-- Atletico Madrid and Barcelona are tied for first place heading into their La Liga clash at the Estadio Vicente Calderon. Atletico is putting to the test that the notion that no one can compete with Barca and Real Madrid for the Spanish championship, and Brazilian-born Diego Costa is a serious contender to beat out Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in the race for the Pichichi, the Spanish scoring crown.
(Trivia time: Which former Atletico Pichichi winner played in the NASL before moving to Spain?)
-- It's Clint Dempsey vs. Jozy Altidore (if they play) as Fulham hosts Sunderland at Craven Cottage. Dempsey and Altidore have scored just one league goal apiece in the last six months, so both players have a lot of work ahead of them if they want to be in top form for the World Cup. Neither club is where it wants to be either as Fulham sits in 16th place, five points ahead of Sunderland in last place
Trivia answer: Hugo Sanchez.