Commentary: Surprises and snubs of latest USMNT roster

Connor Lade

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Sunday’s announcement of the roster for the US national team’s January camp served up yet another reminder of a recurring theme: Jurgen Klinsmann sees things in a way that others just don’t.

Sure, there weren't many earth-shaking shockers, with many of MLS' best 2012 performers duly rewarded for their exploits. But the USMNT boss certainly did toss out some eyebrow-raisers.

Let’s start with the New York Red Bulls. Myriad MLS observers thought a certain bustling, diminutive RBNY contributor had done more than enough to earn a call-up after perhaps the best season of his career.

Except that Klinsmann elected to call on Connor Lade, not Dax McCarty, even after Lade was targeted again and again as the Red Bulls defense’s weakest link by D.C. United in their Eastern Conference semifinals series.

But Lade, the hard-working New Jerseyite, has impressed the Yanks head coach enough to earn his first-ever international experience, where coach and player alike may discover whether Lade has the savvy to become the next Steve Cherundolo or perhaps is better-suited to pursue opportunities on the right wing or defensive midfield.

D.C. United attacker Chris Pontius looked like a lock to make this roster after a scintillating campaign which resulted in an MLS Best XI spot. But surprisingly, the groin strain he picked up in that D.C.-New York playoff war two months ago has apparently not healed sufficiently for him to return to his Southern California homeland for this month’s camp.

Pontius’ international career remains stuck in a frustrating, injury-enforced limbo, which has probably opened a door for Houston Dynamo veteran Brad Davis to stake his claim after years of snubs that denied him a national-team shot that his prolonged excellence in club play would seem to have earned. If Davis can impress the US technical staff, he could well have the best opportunity for Hexagonal qualifying action of any of this camp’s new faces.

Further upfield, Klinsmann has elected to again run the rule over striker Edson Buddle, who recently departed the MLS Cup champion LA Galaxy to join the Colorado Rapids after his 2012 return to MLS led to a difficult season with only three goals and one assist in 969 minutes. His  most recent USMNT appearances have been underwhelming, but Klinsmann has already delved into personal rehabilitation projects on the likes of Juan Agudelo and Brek Shea. He may fancy his chances of doing the same with Buddle, whose skills set remains highly alluring to most any coach.

Klinsmann’s love affair with German-American prospects continues, though perhaps not in the fashion one would expect here, as Alfredo Morales has earned another camp call despite his inability to break into the starting lineup at 2.Bundesliga club Hertha Berlin. The young defender should be thankful for the chance to test himself in a new environment and perhaps even show his wares in the friendly match against Canada.

Along those same lines, Alejandro Bedoya finds himself without a pro club this winter break and will benefit from training reps as well as exposure to potential employers when the US faces their northern rivals in Houston on January 29. The winger's career has wandered down a cul-de-sac since his impressive showings in the 2011 Gold Cup and a move to MLS might suit him as he looks to display the tools that would seem an ideal fit for Klinsmann's tactical preferences.

Many would’ve expected him to be joined by Jermaine Jones while the Schalke 04 hardman serves another Bundesliga disciplinary suspension -- just as he did a year ago -- but Klinsmann and his staff may prefer to nudge other faces into leadership roles this time around. Look for Graham Zusi and Kyle Beckerman to pick up that mantle.

Finally, a disclaimer: US January camp rosters have long had an inherently experimental air about them and Klinsmann’s picks should be read in that light. Despite his flirtations with a major overhaul to the framework of the camp, it remains a fundamentally exploratory exercise where MLS standouts and European-based youngsters are exposed to US Soccer’s way of doing things.

The forward-thinking German-Californian’s decision not to reinvent the wheel should be lauded.

Charles Boehm covers the US national team for MLSsoccer.com