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Young Lions Have Chance to Follow January Camp Path to USMNT

Orlando’s youngsters have an opportunity to follow a trail previously blazed by former January camp success stories.

El Salvador v United States Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Earlier this week Orlando City fans were greeted with the welcome news that there would be four familiar faces joining the USMNT and U-23 USMNT setup at the team’s traditional January Camp. Gregg Berhalter has called up 12 players to the senior side, including Orlando’s Chris Mueller.

Those 12 will train alongside 24 U-23 players until Jan. 24, after which some of the youngsters will be brought up to the senior side to play a match at the end of the month. Daryl Dike, Andres Perea, and Benji Michel were all brought in as U-23 players, and likely stand a decent chance of being elevated to the senior team at the end of January.

There has been a tendency at times to dismiss the January camp as a bit of a soft show, given that it almost always features younger players and guys based in the United States due to the camp conflicting with the European competition schedule. However, there are plenty of guys who got their start at a January camp and went on to become successful with the USMNT, and the four young Lions have a chance to imitate the path that the following players took to the senior side.

Taylor Twellman

While Twellman made his debut with the senior side in November of 2002, he got his breakthrough during a friendly against Norway at the end of the January camp in 2006. Twellman scored a hat trick in the game — at the time only the ninth in USMNT history — and greatly improved his chances of making the roster for the 2006 World Cup. While he ultimately did not make the team, he cemented himself as being firmly in the picture before a series of concussions led to his retirement.

Jozy Altidore

Altidore scored his very first international goal for the USMNT in a tough 2-2 draw with Mexico in February of 2008. He got his first start for the national team during that game, and Bob Bradley certainly seems to have liked what he saw. While his struggles with injury have hampered his career at times, Jozy has gone on to make 115 appearances for the USMNT and has scored 42 goals.

Michael Bradley

Bradley was around the national team for several years before eventually making his breakthrough in 2009. He started during the 2007 Gold Cup and scored his first goal in October of that year, but spent time with the youth sides as well during that time, and wasn’t firmly cemented as a player for the senior side. That changed after he scored both goals in a 2-0 win over Mexico during a World Cup qualifying match that took place right after January camp ended.

Gyasi Zardes

Zardes received an invitation to January camp in 2015, and made his debut during a friendly against Panama. He got his first start several days later, and provided an assist for Clint Dempsey in a match against Chile. Since then, he’s been a regular with the USMNT, and while he hasn’t always been a fan favorite, his 52 appearances make him one of the more frequently called-upon forwards in recent years. With his career kicking off at January camp, it proved to be a crucial event for his national team future.

In Mueller’s case, his second call-up isn’t super surprising considering how well things went for him the last time around. While Dike and Perea were also called up back in December, neither one of them made an appearance, (Dike due to injury) and it’s good to see them back and getting another shot. Benji also has a big chance to make a good impression after receiving his first January camp invitation. All four of the young Lions have a chance to follow in the footsteps of plenty of recognizable names that came before them, and hopefully they’re able to do so.