On a day when most of the San Jose Earthquakes fan base was in euphoria at news of the signing of Simon Dawkins to a Designated Player contract, the team received good news from U.S. Soccer when Fatai Alashe and Marc Pelosi were invited to the Men's National Team's annual January training camp.
For both Alashe and Pelosi, MLS rookies a season ago, the call-up to the senior team is a good reward following a year in which they made significant contributions to the program's U-23 team. While neither was enough to propel the U.S. to a berth in this summer's 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, each had a role in helping the team advance to a home-and-away matchup with Colombia in March for a spot in the summer showcase.
The camp begins on January 10 and runs through February 6, which means Alashe and Pelosi will miss the beginning of the Earthquakes' preseason camp in later this month. However, the time with the national team will feature two international friendlies -- January 31 against Iceland and February 5 against Canada -- with both games played at the StubHub Center in Carson.
Veteran forward Chris Wondolowski was not one of the invited players as head coach Jurgen Klinsmann elected to bring a significant number of younger players to the annual camp. Both Alashe, 22 years old, and Pelosi, 21 years old, will have a chance to earn their first caps for the senior national team, just as Wondolowski did five years ago when he received his first USMNT call-up.
"We start out our year with a January camp where we give the opportunity to the next wave of players to come in and make an impression and see if they are ready to step it up into international level, if they are ready to understand what it takes to become a National Team player," said Klinsmann in a statement from U.S. Soccer. "This camp will be a little bit different because we're going to mix it almost half-and-half with senior players that are already National Team players or some that are older and maybe get the chance to play their first cap, and a lot of the Under-23 players that hopefully qualify us for Rio de Janeiro. This will be more of an identification camp and a development camp. We want to give those players a head start into their very busy year 2016, but we also want to make it clear to them that it's a huge opportunity that you have to understand what it takes to step it up and to become an international-level player."
Alashe and Pelosi are both eligible to be part of the U.S. Olympic team should it get past Colombia in March, so the opportunity to work with Klinsmann for the month-long camp is invaluable in making their case to be included in that squad. The Rio games begin in August and the soccer tournament will run through the course of the event. If the U.S. does qualify and Alashe and Pelosi are included, they would certainly miss 3-4 weeks during the Earthquakes busy summer schedule.
For San Jose, that is still a big if, and the experience that the pair will gain over the next month will help each of the second-year MLS players be ready for what is expected to be a challenging MLS campaign. With the aforementioned signing of Dawkins, the return to health of Innocent, and the emerging importance of Anibal Godoy, Alashe and Pelosi will need every edge they can get to earn playing time in head coach Dominic Kinnear's 2016 rotation.
In 2015, Alashe, the MLS Rookie of the Year runner-up, made 27 starts for the Quakes, scoring two goals and adding two assists. He scored the first MLS goal in Avaya Stadium history in the Earthquakes season home opening 2-1 win against the Chicago Fire. Alashe also took a turn at center back late in the season, looking only marginally comfortable, but certainly growing into the role.
Coming aboard midsummer, Pelosi featured in 12 games, 7 games as a starter, and proved to be a good partner with Godoy in the center of the midfield. The former Liverpool FC Academy star quickly adapted to MLS and by season's end was showing glimpses of the talent that led to his signing by the English giants when he was 17 years old.
And now both may have to take a seat on the bench to start the season if the rest of the roster is healthy.
Team president Dave Kaval stated that the club would sign 2-3 attacking players in the off-season, with midfielder Dawkins the crown jewel of that class so far, and former Seattle Sounder Chad Barrett a capable back-up at forward. If Kinnear elects to employ a 4-3-3 or a diamond 4-1-3-2 formation to start the season, he may very well put Godoy as holding midfielder, Dawkins, Matias Perez Garcia, and Shea Salinas across the midfield, and Innocent and Wondolowski up top. Alashe or Pelosi may replace Salinas in that line-up, changing it to more of a 4-2-3-1, but both are unlikely to see the field at the same time.
It is certainly premature to guess at what Kinnear will choose to do, and, if like Wondolowski in his experience at previous January national team training camps, Alashe and Pelosi return to San Jose from Carson with the sharpness and fitness Klinsmann will demand of his charges, the competition to make the Earthquakes starting eleven will be fierce.
Good news for the Quakes that Alashe and Pelosi made the USMNT camp roster? More like great news for a pair of very promising young players -- a duo that may prove to be a core of the team for many seasons to come.
U.S. Roster by Position:
GOALKEEPERS (2): Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Luis Robles (New York Red Bulls)
DEFENDERS (7): Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Matt Miazga (New York Red Bulls), Eric Miller (Montreal Impact), Tim Parker (Vancouver Whitecaps FC), Marc Pelosi (San Jose Earthquakes), Matt Polster (Chicago Fire)
MIDFIELDERS (8): Fatai Alashe (San Jose Earthquakes), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Mix Diskerud (New York City FC), Jermaine Jones (Unattached), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution), Tony Tchani (Columbus Crew SC), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC)
FORWARDS (6): Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Ethan Finlay (Columbus Crew SC), Jerome Kiesewetter (VfB Stuttgart), Jordan Morris (Unattached), Khiry Shelton (New York City FC), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)