CARSON -- The foundation Jurgen Klinsmann and Caleb Porter are building this month at Home Depot Center will support U.S. Soccer's primary men's teams through what could be a pivotal year for the sport in America.
The start of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup and the London Olympics dominate the calendar, but as important as results might be, more crucial is the steps forward the national team looks to take in Klinsmann's first full year in charge and the role the under-23 national team will play in developing talent for the top side.
The teams tangoed late Friday afternoon on Glenn “Mooch” Myernick Field, right outside HDC's main stadium, with the full nats -- starting the So Cal portion of their annual January camp -- scoring four times in 15 minutes late in the first half for a 4-0 victory over the U-23s.
They'll scrimmage one more time at HDC before Klinsmann's group returns to Phoenix for next weekend's friendly against Venezuela, with University of Akron coach Porter's younger group, which is preparing for the Olympic qualifiers in March, sticking around through Jan. 25.
The national team has the usual January collection of top MLS talent and secondary players from European leagues with winter breaks, with two midfielders from the 2010 World Cup side (New England's Benny Feilhaber and Eintracht Frankfurt's nearly forgotten Ricardo Clark) and two players from the preliminary World Cup squad (Chivas USA defender Heath Pearce and Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando).
They've been working the past 10 days in Phoenix, with a lot of fitness work, and will focus on technical and tactical work before the games Jan. 21 against Venezuela and Jan. 25 at Panama.
“This scrimmage gives us an idea of how they are comfortable on the field,” Klinsmann said afterward. “How they shift. How they take a couple of guidelines that we gave them and implement them. And now we can real the players a bit better. Because you never know when you get a fresh group coming in how their understand is of each other, how they read reach other. We know about their personal capabilities, but not in the context of a team, so that's why we need those games to see that.
“And then we can go ahead and modify training sessions and talks where we kind of want to guide them towards on the tactical side as an entire team together.”
There is some crossover between the national team and the U-23s. Freddy Adu, who has been called into only one full camp under Klinsmann after a stirring performance in the CONCACAF Gold Cup title-game loss last summer, is the most prominent name on the roster, but the most important players are with Klinsmann's bunch.
Juan Agudelo, the 19-year-old New York Red Bulls forward, is the most significant -- Klinsmann calls his abilities “special” -- and Sporting Kansas City forward Teal Bunbury are age-eligible for the Olympic team, and so is FC Dallas winger Brek Shea, who is drawing considerable interest from Europe. D.C. United's Bill Hamid and Chicago's Sean Johnson, both goalkeepers, also can make the U-23 roster.
Everyone on the U-23s, of course, wants to play for the full national team.
“The first thing that was said when we were about to kickoff was: 'Those guys want to be on this side. So don't take it for granted that we're out here,' ” said Rimando, a former UCLA star from Montclair who played the first half for the national team. “ 'Prove to them why we're on his side, go out and fight because those guys are gonna fight, and bring it. They're going to want to prove a point.' ”
The U-23s, who opened camp earlier this week, looked sharper to start. Their lineup included in central defense childhood pals/new Montreal Impact teammates Zarek Valentin, the former Chivas USA right back, and Andrew Wenger, the No. 1 pick in Thursday's MLS SuperDraft. Plus Adu on one flank and UCLA product Amobi Okugo, from the Philadelphia Union, and Norwegian-born midfielder Mixx Diskerud in midfield.
The national team lineip included Houston's Geoff Cameron and Denmark-based Michael Parkhurst in central defense, Pearce at left back and Irvine-bed UCLA alum Feilhaber, from New England. San Jose's Chris Wondolowski, who won or shared the top goals mark in MLS the past two seasons, tallied in the 29th and 32nd minutes, Bunbury made it 3-0 in the 40th and his K.C. teammate Graham Zusi added another just before halftime. Shea set up two of the goals.
“It took about 15 minutes to settle in,” Wondolowski said. “I think I was trying to do too much and just trying to impress. Even though it's a practice game, you still want to do too much.”
The desire to prove oneself, to win a roster spot when all the big guys are around, is intense.
“Absolutely,” the Earthquakes striker agreed. “It's a funny thing. When you do too much, it causes you to not play your best. So you've got to let the game come to you rather than try to do that. It's a hard balance.”
It's part of the learning curve, and that's what this camp, and the games against Venezuela and Panama, are all about.
“Obviously, you want to win every game, but mainly we want to see how they manage those situations,” Klinsmann said. “We want to see how -- knowing that maybe a Tim Howard is not there, a Clint Dempsey is not there, a Landon Donovan is not there, and the captain [Carlos] Bocanegra is not there -- that they get a sense for the international level and say, 'We can compete on this level. You know, we can be eye to eye.'
“Also to get an understanding and a level of confidence that they, you know, say, 'C'mon, let's take them on.' That's why I scheduled purposefully the second game in Panama, away from home. Let's go down there -- let's get kind of banged up! And it's important, because that's what we're going to face in World Cup qualifying, and if they get a sense for it, that's a learning experience.”
WORTH NOTING: Klinsmann let it slip that an August friendly against Mexico at Estadio Azteca was in the works, but a U.S. Soccer spokesman quickly noted that nothing is finalized and several opponents are being considered for the Aug. 15 international fixture date. “We want to get challenged,” he said. “We need the best competition possible.” ... The Brazilian federation announced a three-game American tour in spring that would include a game against the U.S. on May 30 or 31 in Landover, Md., or Foxboro, Mass. Brazil also will face Mexico on June 3 in Arlington, Texas, and Argentina on June 9 in East Rutherford, N.J. ... German-born Schalke 04 midfielder Jermaine Jones, serving an eight-game suspension after stamping on an opponent last month, has been added to the U.S. roster and will arrive Saturday in Los Angeles. ... Agudelo played the first half for the national team and was slated to play the second half for the U-23s, but he turned his ankle and left for treatment in the training room.