Over the next week and a half, the senior United States men’s national will seek to make firm strides toward an eighth consecutive World Cup appearance in Russia in 2018, while the Under-23 team attempts to qualify for this summer's Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
The big team faces Guatemala twice, away on Guatemala City on Friday and then four days later in Columbus, Ohio. Win those two games and the U.S. is practically assured of a spot in the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying that will begin in November. The prospects face off with Colombia in Baranquilla and Frisco, Texas, on the same days.
On Sunday, U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann announced a 26-man roster for the World Cup qualifiers – his under-23 counterpart Andy Herzog had already done so on Saturday, picking a promising team including nine players who have already made their senior team debuts.
The confluence in qualifiers between the two highest age levels made for a unique situation in which Klinsmann and Herzog, who is also Klinsmann's senior team assistant, had to coordinate carefully to address the needs of both teams. After all, Klinsmann is eager to win all six points available against Guatemala. But in his dual role as U.S. Soccer’s technical director, he’s also conscious of the enormous developmental value of his best prospects competing at the Olympics.
But the senior team will see the return of former captain Clint Dempsey, who had not been a part of the last two camps.
"Having Clint Dempsey back is very, very important for us," Klinsmann said in a statement. "He’s a tremendous goal-scorer and when we play teams like Guatemala, you need to figure out ways to score just one or two goals that make the difference. Clint is a guy that can get that done."
Dempsey’s return will be welcomed after his strong season start with the Seattle Sounders. He is tied with the retired Landon Donovan for the most World Cup qualifying goals for a U.S. player with 13. And he has scored five times against Guatemala, also more than any countryman.
Alejandro Bedoya also made his first camp of the year. The midfielder has been in torrid form for Nantes in France. Defender John Brooks was called in for the first time since September. Edgar Castillo hadn’t been on the national team in two years. But their respective work with Hertha Berlin and Monterrey earned them looks.
Striker Jozy Altidore and midfielder Fabian Castillo, however, enter camp with a hamstring and groin injuries, respectively.
After a come-from-behind 6-1 win over Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and a 0-0 away tie with Trinidad and Tobago in November, the Americans are tied on points for the lead in Group C of qualifying with T&T – although the Yanks’ goal difference is better. Klinsmann hopes to lock up one of the top two places in these games, allowing this summer’s stateside Copa America Centenario to take center stage.
"We badly want to get the job done before the Copa America if possible,” Klinsmann said. “We know it’s going to be very difficult, especially in Guatemala City, but it’s also going to be difficult in Columbus, but there we have a great crowd behind us. It will be vital how we come out right away from the first second in Guatemala City, and hopefully being able to get three points. That would make things a lot easier for the second game."
The Americans will take heart from their 15-4-6 all-time record against Los Chapines, and their ongoing 21-game unbeaten run against them. But then the U.S. has won just one of six World Cup qualifiers on Guatemalan soil and the opponents badly need points after dropping their home game against Trinidad and Tobago, their main rivals in the race to qualify along with the American favorites.
Klinsmann called in 26 players for this camp, even though he’ll only be allowed to put 23 on his game-day rosters. While the stakes are considerable, he hopes the camp can double as a tryout of sorts for the prestigious Copa.
"This is now the time where you have to show how good you are in terms of you want to make a statement to be in the roster for Copa America," Klinsmann said. "So this is big. The competition will be intense. … The reason why we brought in a little bit of a bigger roster is because of the fact that it is the last time before we decide on the roster for the Copa America. We want to have the opportunity to see a couple more players."
Before the summer, however, two tricky games await. For the national team and its understudies.
The full senior team roster:
GOALKEEPERS (4): David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton FC), William Yarbrough (Club Leon).
DEFENDERS (9): Ventura Alvarado (Club America), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Edgar Castillo (Monterrey), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana), DeAndre Yedlin (Sunderland).
MIDFIELDERS (8): Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes FC), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Mix Diskerud (New York City FC), Ethan Finlay (Columbus Crew SC), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Monchengladbach), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers FC), Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution).
FORWARDS (5): Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Bobby Wood (Union Berlin), Gyasi Zardes (Los Angeles Galaxy).
And the Under-23 roster announced on Saturday:
GOALKEEPERS (3): Cody Cropper (Milton Keynes Dons), Ethan Horvath (Molde KJ), Zach Steffen (SC Freiburg).
DEFENDERS (8): Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Matt Miazga (Chelsea FC), Eric Miller (Colorado Rapids), Tim Parker (Vancouver Whitecaps FC), Desevio Payne (FC Groningen), Shane O’Neill (Cambridge United), Brandon Vincent (Chicago Fire), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas).
MIDFIELDERS (9): Fatai Alashe (San Jose Earthquakes), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Luis Gil (Queretaro), Julian Green (Bayern Munich), Emerson Hyndman (Fulham FC), Jerome Kiesewetter (VfB Stuttgart), Matt Polster (Chicago Fire), Dillon Serna (Colorado Rapids), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC).
FORWARDS (3): Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC), Mario Rodriguez (Borussia Monchengladbach), Khiry Shelton (New York City FC).
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.