Los Angeles Galaxy defender Chris Albright and goalkeeper Kevin Hartman are among 27 MLS players called in by U.S. men's national team manager Bruce Arena for a training camp at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., ahead of the squad's upcoming FIFA World Cup qualifier against Trinidad & Tobago on Feb. 9, in Port of Spain, Trinidad. Kickoff for the opening match of the final round of qualifying is set for 2:30 p.m. ET, with live coverage available on ESPN2.
Albright, who began his professional career as a forward, returned to the national team fold in 2004 after not making any appearances in 2002 and 2003. He made four appearances for Arena last year, including his third World Cup qualifying cap, which came on November 17 against Jamaica. Hartman is looking to make his third career national team appearance. He was capped once in 2004, his first international appearance since 1999.Arena called in a total of 28 players, and the Kansas City Wizards, Columbus Crew and New England Revolution lead the way for MLS teams, four players having been called up from each side. MLS Cup 2004 winners D.C. United contribute three players, as do the Colorado Rapids.
The announcement comes after Friday's agreement between the U.S. Soccer Federation and the U.S. national team's players association. Arena had brought in a group of minor league and indoor league players before both sides agreed to a deal.
MetroStars defender Eddie Pope is the most experienced member of the squad, having suited up for the national team on 66 prior occasions. Defender Frankie Hejduk (Crew) is close on his heels with 61 caps, while Tony Sanneh adds another 41 appearances to Arena's defense. Four MLS goalkeepers are vying for the chance to start between the pipes, led by Joe Cannon (Rapids), the MLS 2004 Goalkeeper of the Year.
MLS 2004 Rookie of the Year finalist Chad Marshall received his first full national team call-up, though he isn't alone in the feat. Joining him is Chicago Fire midfielder Justin Mapp, who previously shined for the U.S. at the youth international level. Other MLS players looking for their first full caps are goalkeeper Jon Busch (Crew), defenders Jimmy Conrad and Ritchie Kotschau (Rapids) and striker Mike Magee (MetroStars).
Offensively, Arena is taking a close look at several MLS youngsters. FC Dallas striker Eddie Johnson will aim to continue his impressive national team form that saw him score five goals last year in his first three appearances for the senior team. Alecko Eskandarian, Brian Ching (San Jose Earthquakes), Pat Noonan and Taylor Twellman (both Revolution) are additional young options in the mix.
Also in the race is newly-signed Real Salt Lake marksman Clint Mathis, who gets his first national team invitation since returning from the German Bundesliga earlier this month. The lone player in camp who does not currently ply his trade in Major League Soccer is midfielder Clyde Simms, of the Richmond Kickers of the second-division A-League.
The squad is expected to be whittled down in early February, when they will relocate to south Florida and they are joined by the European-based U.S. players on Feb. 6-7. After taking on Trinidad & Tobago, the Red, White and Blue will regroup for a pair of matches in late March, including an away match at Mexico (March 27) followed by their first home match of the final round at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala., when the USA takes on Carlos Ruiz (Los Angeles Galaxy) and Guatemala on March 30, at 8 p.m. ET.
The final round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany consists of 10 games. The USA, Trinidad & Tobago, Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Panama are battling for three automatic berths from the CONCACAF region to the World Cup, while the fourth-place finisher will face the fifth-place team from the Asian Football Confederation in a home-and-home series to determine the final entrant into the tournament.
Goalkeepers (4): Jon Busch (Columbus Crew), Joe Cannon (Colorado Rapids), Kevin Hartman (Los Angeles Galaxy), Nick Rimando (D.C. United)
Defenders (8): Chris Albright (Los Angeles Galaxy), Jimmy Conrad (Kansas City Wizards), Nick Garcia (Kansas City Wizards), Frankie Hejduk (Columbus Crew), Ritchie Kotschau (Colorado Rapids), Chad Marshall (Columbus Crew), Eddie Pope (MetroStars), Tony Sanneh (Columbus Crew)
Midfielders (9): Clint Dempsey (New England Revolution), Diego Gutierrez (Kansas City Wizards), Justin Mapp (Chicago Fire), Pablo Mastroeni (Colorado Rapids), Clint Mathis (Real Salt Lake), Brian Mullan (San Jose Earthquakes), Ben Olsen (D.C. United), Steve Ralston (New England Revolution), Clyde Simms (Richmond Kickers/A-League)
Forwards (7): Brian Ching (San Jose Earthquakes), Alecko Eskandarian (D.C. United), Ed Johnson (FC Dallas), Mike Magee (MetroStars), Pat Noonan (New England Revolution), Taylor Twellman (New England Revolution), Josh Wolff (Kansas City Wizards)
Jonathan Nierman is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.