7 up-and-coming USMNT players to pay attention to during the January camp

Every January, U.S. Men’s National Team (USMNT) fans get to enjoy watching a crop of players that they might not normally see. The annual January Camp is an opportunity for under-the-radar players to get a chance in the spotlight. This month there are 30 names released by U.S. Soccer on the roster and 21 of those players are 24-years-old or younger. For USMNT fans, that is exactly what we want to see, the youth. Do we have another Christian Pulisic coming through the ranks? Fifteen of the 30 players called up have never received a cap for the stars and stripes, and these players will be aiming to do so in the friendly against Bosnia and Herzegovina on January 28 at 7:30pm EST.

While there are a few names on the roster that are household names to American fans (Paul Arriola, Gyasi Zardes, Juan Agudelo, Jordan Morris), there are a many names that people may not know unless you follow their MLS careers. The 7 players listed below are young, talented, and mostly uncapped, but could provide great support to the USMNT moving forward.

#1: Cody Cropper, GK, New England Revolution (0 Caps)

2017 was Cropper’s breakout season, starting 28 games and posting 8 shutouts and 71 saves in that time. Cropper might not have had the best team in front of him, but he did produce 10 wins and 4 draws in his first full season in MLS. Cropper was born in Atlanta to an English father before moving to Minnesota when he was 12. He moved to England in 2010 and joined the Ipswich Town academy before making a move to Southampton in 2012. Cropper never saw action for the senior team however, and was released after 3 seasons.

After being released by Southampton, Cropper signed a 1 year deal with MK Dons in the Summer of 2015 after they were promoted to the English League Championship. He later debuted for the club in August of 2015. After only making 9 appearances for the first team, he was not resigned. This led Cropper back to the United States, being signed by the New England Revolution in August of 2016. He made one appearance that season, and became the every day starter in 2017 after New England traded Bobby Shuttleworth to Minnesota.

Cropper has represented the USA at the youth level on many occasions, including 21 appearances for the U20 team, and was the first choice GK for the US at the 2013 U20 World Cup. He also was the first choice GK for the 2015 Toulon Tournament, where he helped the US finish 3rd overall.

Cropper comes in as one of the 3 goalkeepers at the January camp who are uncapped, along with Alex Bono and Zack Steffen. Bill Hamid rounds out the goalkeeping corps for the camp. It will be interesting to see who gets the start between the sticks for the US in their friendly, and if they are switched out at halftime. Even if Cody does not pick up a cap at the January camp, he is a name to keep an eye on for USMNT fans moving forward.

#2: Nick Lima, Defender, San Jose Earthquakes (0 Caps)

Defender Nick Lima had a huge rookie season in 2017. The Earthquakes defender made his professional debut in March helping his team to a shutout victory, and went on to be nominated for MLS Defender of the Year and MLS Rookie of the Year. Although he did not win either award, his season was one to remember.  Playing in 22 games, Lima scored 2 goals, including the first ever goal by an Earthquakes homegrown player.

Lima played college soccer at UC Berkeley from 2013-2016 before signing a homegrown player contract in December of 2016. He has quick feet and the ability to start the counter attack out of the back. His club’s technical director says that Lima has all the qualities to be an elite-level player at center back. Lima also cites Jurgen Klinsmann as one of his mentors, with Jonathan Klinsmann being one of Nick’s closest friends from college. It will be hard to know how Lima will develop going forward after the January camp, but he is a name to watch out for during the friendly as well as this upcoming MLS season.

#3: Tim Parker, Defender, Vancouver Whitecaps FC (0 Caps)

Tim Parker might be a name familiar to USA fans if they think back to the 2016 January Camp. Tim was called in for that camp under Jurgen Klinsmann for 2 friendlies, but did not see action in either game. Drafted in 2015 by the Whitecaps, Parker has become a consistent part of the Vancouver defense, starting in 32 league games last season, notching 1 goal and 1 assist.

After his cal lup in January after his rookie season, Parker’s second season did not go as well, and his team as a whole slumped. 2017 was different, however, with Parker leading a defense paired with Kendall Waston and helping his team go to the Western Conference Semifinals. Parker says he hopes “I’m able to contribute in whatever way that they see me contributing in.” This was after his team was knocked out of the Western Conference Semifinals and the US failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

Parker has the ability to lead a back line, something he did not have the last time he was called in in 2016. Hopefully Tim Parker will get some minutes against Bosnia at the end of camp, and the fans will be able to see what he can do first hand.

#4: Matt Polster, Defender, Chicago Fire (0 Caps)

Much like Tim Parker, Matt Polster was called into the 2016 January camp riding a high from his rookie season in MLS. Polster has seen significant minutes in all 3 seasons he has played in Chicago, starting out as a midfielder, before being moved back to right back. In this past season, Polster had 7 assists and 1 goal, using his ability to find open space on the right side and send in a great cross.

 Matt Polster, Chicago Fire

Matt Polster, Chicago Fire

Matt also contributed to the US U23 team during Olympic qualifying in 2016, although the team did not progress to the Olympics. He is joined by 7 other players from that U23 team at the January camp, including Cody Cropper, Tim Parker, and Walker Zimmerman. Even though that team did not progress to the Olympics, and is considered part of the lost generation of US talent, players on that team have big upsides, including Matt Polster.

It is possible that after a good January camp, Polster could be competing with DeAndre Yedlin for minutes at right back in upcoming tournaments. Keep an eye on Polster in the friendly, he’ll be running up and down the right side, pushing into space and sending in crosses to the forwards in the box.

#5: Russell Canouse, Midfielder, DC United (0 Caps)

Russell Canouse is a name many people would not have had on their radar until he came back to MLS from Hoffenheim this past season. Canouse is a midfielder, who can play deep as a holding midfielder or at right back if needed. Leaving for Germany to become a better player, Russell went to TSG Hoffenheim where he signed and played for their youth teams, before making his senior debut in a win in March 2016. Unfortunately, this was his only senior appearance for the club, and they sent him out on loan to VfL Bochum in the 2. Bundesliga. While on loan, Canouse made 20 appearances and scored 1 goal.

Following the 2016-2017 season, Russell transferred back to the United States, signing for DC United along with fellow US international Paul Arriola. Arriola and Canouse were teammates on the US U20 side during the CONCACAF Championship in 2015, where Russell captained the team. He missed out on the U20 World Cup due to injury the same year.

Canouse can hold the ball and find the right pass anywhere on the field, and his leadership will be valuable to the team throughout the camp and moving forward should he get more callups.

#6: Ian Harkes, Midfielder, DC United (0 Caps)

MAC Hermann Trophy winner Ian Harkes came out of college in 2016 and signed a homegrown player contract with DC United, the club he spent his entire youth career with. Harkes went into his rookie year in DC with the ability to play quick passes in an attacking midfield role and move the ball through the midfield and up with ease. Unfortunately for him, this was not something that appeared to be the style DC wanted to play, and he saw only limited success, scoring 2 goals and setting up another.

 Ian Harkes, DC United

Ian Harkes, DC United

Notably, Ian Harkes is the son of John Harkes, a former USMNT captain in the 90’s. John Harkes has seen his son have mixed reviews in his rookie season, and some people think he might have been lucky to get called into this January camp, but this might not be the case.

Ian has a high work rate and the ability to ping the ball in and out of the middle of the field to get through a defense. This could prove very useful to the US as they move forward, depending on the style the new manager will want to play.

#7: Rubio Rubin, Forward, Unattached (4 Caps)

The only capped player on this list, and yet the only player on the roster without a club, Rubio Rubin is a man in limbo. Once he turned 18, Rubio signed a deal with FC Utrecht in the Eredivisie in the Netherlands. After only a few months in the youth academy, he was given his senior debut, and he had an assist. Unfortunately for Rubin, he has not had much luck in front of net since he started his career. In 57 appearances for senior teams, he has only found the back of the net 3 times.

Rubin has had better luck in the US youth national teams, where he scored 14 goals for the U17 team and 6 for the U20 team. This led Jurgen Klinsmann to cap tie Rubin in November of 2014 in a match against Colombia. Rubio has had 4 caps for the US, all under Klinsmann, and he has yet to live up to any hype so far. Rubin is currently without a team, as he was let go by Stabaek at the end of his contract in December.

This could make his January camp very compelling to watch, as fans could see Rubio do everything he can to show he still belongs. This camp will be a tryout for him as many teams will be watching and could see him shine in the moment.

These 7 players will be showing their best at the January Camp, which began January 10th. The US will play Bosnia and Herzegovina on January 28th at the StubHub Center in California, with kickoff slated to begin at 9:30 PM Eastern on FS1 and UniMas.

Author: Sam Nelson