The United States Men's National Team kicks off 2016 against 36th ranked Iceland. The USMNT will look to put a disappointing 2015 behind it, as the team has several important World Cup qualifiers as well as the Copa America Centenario this year.
Iceland, on the other hand, is coming off of a great year in which the team qualified for its first ever European Championship.
The U.S. players have been training together at in Carson, California since January 11th, as part of the USMNT's annual January camp. Jurgen Klinsmann called in many young players, with 10 uncapped players on the roster. Klinsmann said that he wanted to use the camp to assess U-23 talent as the U-23 USMNT faces Colombia in March, in a crucial two-legged Olympic qualifier.
After playing Iceland, the U.S. will take on Canada in a friendly on February 5th. As neither this match nor the Canada match falls on a FIFA International Date, clubs are not required to release players for these games. The U.S. roster consists almost entirely of Major League Soccer players with centerback Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana) being the lone exception.
Defenders (9): Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders FC), Eric Miller (Montreal Impact), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana), Tim Parker (Vancouver Whitecaps FC), Matt Polster (Chicago Fire), Brandon Vincent (Chicago Fire)
Midfielders (8): Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Mix Diskerud (New York City FC), Jermaine Jones (unattached), Perry Kitchen (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 (Seattle Sounders FC), Khiry Shelton (New York City FC), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)
Goalkeepers (2): Gunnleifur Gunnleifsson (Breiðablik), Ögmundur Kristinsson (Hammarby IF)
Defenders (6): Birkir Már Sævarsson (Hammarby IF), Ari Freyr Skúlason (OB), Hallgrímur Jonasson (OB), Jon Guðni Fjóluson (GIF Sundsvall), Diego Jóhannesson (Real Oviedo), Hjörtur Hermannsson (PSV)
Midfielders (6): Arnor Smarason (Hammarby IF), Runar Már Sigurjónsson (GIF Sundsvall), Gudmundur Þórarinsson (FC Nordsjaelland),Christian Steindórsson (GIF Sundsvall), Aron Sigurdarson (Fjölnir), Ævar Ingi Jóhannesson (KA)
Forwards (4):Eidur Gudjohnsen (Shijiazhuang Ever Bright), Kjartan Henry Finnbogason (Horsens), Gardar Gunnlaugsson (ÍA), Aron Eli Þrándarson (Aalesunds)
Clint Dempsey did not take part in the January camp and is therefore not on the roster for these matches. Dempsey said he chose to skip the training camp and games. Jurgen Klinsmann confirmed this, and insisted that Dempsey remains in the team's plans for 2016.
Like the U.S., Iceland will be missing several regulars such as midfield star Gylfi Sigurdsson (Swansea City) and forward Kolbeinn Sigthorsson (FC Nantes). The majority of players on Iceland's roster ply their trade in Scandinavia or in the semi-professional Icelandic leauge.
For Iceland, forward Ediur Gudjohnsen will be the key player in this match. Gudjohnsen is the national team's all-time leading goal scorer with 25 goals in 83 games. Despite being 37 years old and having lost a step or two, Gudjohnsen is still the biggest scoring threat on this Icelandic roster. Gudjohnsen also creates many chances for his teammates and is lethal inside the penalty area. Matt Besler will be tasked with containing Gudjohnsen.
Jurgen Klinsmann will want the USMNT to possess the ball and the team should have no trouble doing so against a weakened Icelandic side. The Icelandic team should be well-organized and have a stout defense, but the team lacks dangerous attacking players. Iceland has used both a 4-4-2 and 4-3-3 in its most recent matches and is likely to deploy a 4-4-2 against the stronger U.S. side.
It is unknown to what extent Klinsmann will experiment with the team, but if he puts out an experimental lineup several players could receive their first caps. Matt Miazga would have been expected to start, but as he is in London to sign for Chelsea, he is not available for this game. Expect to see Matt Besler as one of the starting center-backs. The veteran Besler will be a key player for this inexperienced defense.
New York Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles should start the match over Chicago Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson. Robles had an excellent MLS season and was named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year. While Johnson has more national team experience, he was only called into camp late as a replacement for an injured Bill Hamid.
In the central midfield, the tandem of Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones will likely start. This pairing was used several times towards the end of 2015 and as Jones remains a free agent, his performances in these pair of friendlies could affect the contract offers he receives.
With few natural wide midfielders on the roster, Gyasi Zardes can be expected to play right-midfield. Darlington Nagbe will probably get the nod over Ethan Finlay at the left-midfield position. While Nagbe usually plays in the center of midfield, he was used on the left flank in November World Cup Qualifiers against Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago.
With six substitutions at Klinsmann's disposal, he will likely use many of these in the second half in order to better evaluate fringe players. Ethan Finlay, Lee Nyguen, and Perry Kitchen should all appear in the second half.
For the U.S. , Jozy Altidore will be the key player. Without Clint Dempsey, Altidore is the team's best goal-scoring threat. The Icelandic defense includes several veterans such as 6'2" centerback Birkir Már Saevarsson (Hammarby IF) and should present a firm challenge for Altidore.
With neither team at full strength, this match may be somewhat lackluster. Fringe players from both sides will have an opportunity to stake a claim to a roster spot. Although I think Iceland will put in a decent performance, I predict a 3-1 U.S. win.