Just last week I wrote about the U.S. national team’s recent history of realizing useful squad players and/or key contributors during the program’s annual January training camp and subsequent series of friendlies.
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On Sunday, the USMNT knocked off a mostly B- or C-team Iceland squad in its first game of 2016, and already there seems to be someone inching ahead following this year’s January camp. The “winner” comes straight from the lips of USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
Klinsmann, on why New England Revolution midfielder Lee Nguyen was “one of the winners” of the last few weeks — quotes from USSoccer.com:
“He was really prepared for this camp. From day one he set the tone. He said, ‘OK I was here last year, and I didn’t make the impression that I wanted to make, so I better make it right now.’ So he was unquestionably in the starting lineup after a week.”
“After three weeks of training, he’s definitely one of the winners of this period.”
While Nguyen’s 2015 season for the Revolution (7 goals, 10 assists) was a bit of a letdown after the dizzying heights he reached in 2014 (18 goals, 5 assists), the fact he had already taken part in one of Klinsmann’s camps will have prepared him not only in knowing what to expect, but to have also arrived fit for camp by Klinsmann’s high standards.
Since the omission and departure of Landon Donovan from the USMNT picture, the Yanks have been in dire need of a focal point for the attack. Clint Dempsey isn’t a playmaker as much as he is a goalscorer, and if anything, the 2014 World Cup taught us that Michael Bradley is not a no. 10.
At this point, with qualifying for the 2018 World Cup already underway and the 2016 Copa America Centenario looming this summer, Klinsmann would be happy for just about anyone with a semblance of play-making instinct to step up and take hold of a starting spot. Darlington Nagbe will figure into that search going forward, but it appears that Nguyen’s performance on Sunday, in which he was hugely successful at dropping in between Iceland’s midfield and defensive, and finding some much-needed time and space on the ball, has pushed him to the top of Klinsmann’s list.