What started as a promising year with a classic 2-0 win over Mexico in April, friendly wins over German and Netherlands teams in June, a 6-0 smashing of Cuba in July led to a crashing out of the podium placements at the CONCACAF Gold Cup, a 4-1 thrashing of a Neymar-led Brazil in Massachusetts, and finally were dominated by Mexico in the CONCACAF Cup at the Rose Bowl that felt like an away game. The year ended with a disappointing 10-3-7 record every Yankee fan asking the question, â€œWhere did the passion go?â€
With camp opening January 11th, a new-look squad was called into the U.S. Soccer National Training Center at StubHub Center for the upcoming friendlies.Â Â A strong veteran presence will be absent for these friendlies, with key American stars being omitted, and notable players who are in European and Mexican leagues were not invited.
Captain Clint Dempsey is a notable absence, as well as Premier League goalkeepers Tim Howard and Brad Guzan. Omar Gonzalez, making a winter move from the LA Galaxy to Mexican-side Pachuca, is also omitted from the camp roster. Third choice keeper Nick Rimando was among those initially invited to the camp, but when the final list was released late last week, Rimando found he had an extra month vacation.
The U.S. veterans who do make the trip to California include Midfielders Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Mix Deskerud, defender Matt Besler, Striker Jozy Altidore and budding star Gyasi Zardes.
An influx of youth into the American ranks include former Stanford stars Jordan Morris and Brandon Vincent.Â Â Goalkeepers Bill Hamid and David Bingham are both under 25 and are looking to take the torch from Tim Howard and man the goalposts for the next decade.
Surprisingly, FC Dallas goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez pulled out of the U.S. Camp to attend Mexicoâ€™s U-23 camp, essentially ruling him out of a national call up for the U.S. as Mexico looks to hand him a senior call up and make him ineligible to play for the Americans.
This roster for the United States is an odd blend of stars who havenâ€™t preformed well (Altidore) or too old to be part of the next World Cup cycle (Jones) to a handful of U-23 players (who need to win a two-legged playoff against Colombia to get into the Olympic tournament in Brazil). There isnâ€™t a lot of synergy in this iteration of camp invitees. Jurgen Klinsmann has been known to shake things up and has never been afraid to sit a star (Landon Donovan, anyone?) but this is a curious gathering of American soccer talent when there are no major senior tournaments for the U.S. to build for until 2018 World Cup qualifying begins, and the U-23 team needs as much time together until their home-and-home playoff in March.
While the U.S. will rev the engine up for the first time in the new year at StubHub, Iceland will come into the contest having played a couple of games in the United Arab Emirates against the hosts and Finland in mid-January.
UEFA European Championship-bound Iceland team will be gearing up for their France rivals by bringing their senior squad to Carson. Iceland defeated Turkey, Kazakhstan, Latvia and the Netherlands to book their spot in their first major tournament ever.
A long-term investment in the facilities and coaching staff in Iceland has proved fruitful, as the small country of 330,000 is the smallest ever to compete in the European Championships.
Lead by Cardiff City Midfielder, Aron Gunnarsson, the young and talented squad is supported by the leading goal scorer in Iceland Football Association history, Eiour Gunjohnsen, who has won domestic championships with both Chelsea and Barcelona, and a Champions League winnerâ€™s medal with Barcelona.
Up top, their main goal scoring threat is Kolbeinn Sigborsson, who at age 25 years old is already the second-leading scorer in the history of Icelandic football (18 goals in 35 caps).
With a carefully-built mix of youth, experience and passion, Joint head coaches Lars Lagerback and Heimir Hallgrimsson look forward to building on their Euro qualification success and hoping to make some noise in the 2016 tournament.
With the U.S. in a transitional period with no clear directional goals, and a coach on the hot seat, and the upstart Icelandic squad visiting, I predict that the U.S. will lose their opening match of 2016, and the woes of 2015 following the squad into the New Year.