Sporting Kansas City will have a very busy 2013 (beginning in less than a month in Arizona!) and Peter Vermes has to build his roster to tackle matches in three very, very different competitions -- MLS regular season play, U.S. Open Cup defense and CONCACAF Champions League.
The U.S. men's national team will also have an incredibly busy 2013 (beginning in less than a month in Honduras!) and Jurgen Klinsmann has to build his roster for a very hectic year -- 10 World Cup Qualifying matches, a handful of friendlies and the Gold Cup.
More likely than not, those two paths are going to intersect at some point -- and probably beyond just Graham Zusi wearing a red, white and blue kit.
Because of the logjam of U.S. action (including a brutal stretch in June with three World Cup qualifiers and the Gold Cup after that in July), it's almost a foregone conclusion (at least amongst those who follow U.S. soccer closely) that Klinsmann will be forced to build two very different squads: An A-squad for the qualifiers and a B-squad for the Gold Cup.
Because of the schedule (and because many foreign-based players will be in the middle of their off-season), the B-squad for the Gold Cup will likely be MLS-heavy. (This is also a decent chance for Klinsmann to scout some of the depth he'll need for the 2014 World Cup.)
Because of the success and development and profile of Sporting Kansas City, there are seven current players (by my count) in the mix for a USMNT call-up this year: Zusi, Matt Besler, Chance Myers, C.J. Sapong, Seth Sinovic, Benny Feilhaber and Teal Bunbury. All but Myers and Sinovic have previously worn an American shirt.
We'll find out on Sunday (hopefully/maybe/probably) who will get an invitation to Klinsmann's January training camp.**We'll also find out if this is going to be a World Cup qualifier camp or the traditional "Camp Cupcake" heavy with MLS and Scandinavian players like in years past. Or a hybrid combination of the two.
Zusi is just about a lock for the A-squad after his performances for club and country in 2012.
But what about the rest? Who gets a phone call for the January camp? Who's in the conversation for the Gold Cup roster? Will Vermes have to look deeper down his bench come summer because he's short multiple guys off wearing red, white and blue? (And this isn't even counting the inevitable Sierra Leone call-up for Kei Kamara.)
• Besler was the 2012 MLS Defender of the Year. He's left footed and a proper mix of cerebral/physical defender. And he's on Klinsmann's radar after a surprise call-up for the Mexico friendly last summer -- even though he didn't see the field.
The United States has struggled to find an effective defensive pairing under Klinsmann, with the most common fallback Geoff Cameron and aging captain Carlos Bocanegra. It's a shallow field behind those two with Besler and Los Angeles' Omar Gonzalez fighting for Klinsmann's attention with Clarence Goodson, Tim Ream, Edgar Castillo, A.J. Soares and Oguchi Onyewu.
Besler is likely somewhere beneath Stoke City's Cameron (an A-squad lock) but above New England's Soares (a B-squad maybe). Besler should be a shoo-in and push for starts on the Gold Cup squad.
• Myers and Sinovic are both rowing in the same boat. They are the outside backs on the league's best defense and are capable, attacking, sure-footed fullbacks hailing from a nation that, quite frankly, has struggled with depth at both positions.
I'm fairly certain that neither will crack the A-squad without a dynamic performance in the early MLS season or a U.S. friendly -- or unless they unearth a German passport.
If Klinsmann holds "Camp Cupcake,"* one or maybe both should be part of it. (I'd go so far as to guarantee that at least one of them will be there.)*Because of the schedule this coming year, Klinsmann has hinted he might alter the normal "Camp Cupcake" format. The U.S. will have a friendly on Jan. 29 against Canada in Houston just a few days before opening its qualifying campaign. It will be very interesting to see what he does.
I'd give Myers slightly better odds based on ability/talent/experience and he should crack the Gold Cup roster this summer.
I can count on one hand the number of leftbacks in MLS I'd invite to the January camp above Sinovic,* but he is probably not as strong a defender (nor fast enough) to attract Klinsmann's attention. He'll have his work cut out for him, but he's deserving of a look.*Todd Dunivant and Justin Morrow -- the latter will likely get a call over Sinovic based on speed and size.
• The U.S. doesn't have a ton of fast/young forwards with high ceilings who are familiar with a 4-3-3 system. Kansas City has two in Sapong and Bunbury. Both have had chances -- Sapong and Bunbury joined Zusi in last year's "Camp Cupcake" and Bunbury had a spot on the disappointing U.S. U-23 Olympic qualifying team.
Sapong is a strong bet for the January camp (probably behind Terrance Boyd and Juan Agudelo in Klinsmann's book). If he can come out of the blocks fast and continue to improve his finishing and hold-up play, he's definitely in the conversation for the Gold Cup. Bunbury's injury will likely hamper him a bit and it's way too early to figure anything out.
• Feilhaber is the most intriguing guy on the list. He's been there before, having worn the jersey during the 2010 World Cup. He was part of the 2012 January camp, but he's been passed up by a handful of other players (Zusi, for one) on the depth chart.
I don't think he gets a call-up now, but he's a player that Klinsmann will definitely keep his eye on him. Maybe the change of scenery can re-ignite his U.S. national team career? It would take a really, really strong start to the season -- and, even then, it might take an injury. The potential central midfielders for a Gold Cup roster: Kyle Beckerman, Maurice Edu, Jose Torres, Joe Corona, Chris Pontius, Sacha Kljestan and Dax McCarthy. Not stacked, but highly competitive.
It would be a great coup for Kansas City and Vermes if they could send all seven to the national team 2013, but it probably won't happen. Three or four? Now, that's a little more likely.
My prediction for this month: Klinsmann calls his camp as a mixture of World Cup certainties and fringe players with Zusi, Besler, Myers and Sapong a part of it.
For the summer? Zusi is a key sub/rotation player for the World Cup qualifiers (or starter if Landon Donovan is injured/out), with Besler and Myers part of the Gold Cup roster. A good season (3 goals, lots of activity, smarter runs) should get Sapong onto the Gold Cup squad too.
However it shakes out, it's almost a guarantee that a few Sporting KC players will rack up some frequent flier miles and new kits this year. And Vermes will have to rely some unheralded options to keep Sporting KC running.