Older Nats relishing opportunity in US camp

Wondolowski, Wynne add dash of experience to young assemblage

CARSON, Calif. — The prevailing rhetoric coming from the United States national soccer team’s January camp centers around the collective youth of the group Bob Bradley called up.

The statistics back up this theme: The average age is younger than 24. There are a mere 26 caps scattered among the 23 players. Alejandro Bedoya, who made his debut for the US in January 2010, leads the assembled players with six appearances. Four men were born in the 1990s.

So yes, the majority are young, but there's a dash of age and experience in the ranks as well. The elder statesmen aren't that old – especially when you exclude the goalkeepers – but you can find them if you search.

Marvell Wynne, who turns 25 in May, is the fourth-oldest field player on the squad and a veteran of the senior, U-20 and Olympic teams. He's helping put the proceedings in perspective for the newer guys around him.

"These guys are young," he told MLSsoccer.com after training on Thursday morning. "A lot of them are pretty serious and focused. I try to make some jokes, get them to relax a little bit because we're still playing soccer in the end."

The defender earned his first cap against Argentina in the 2007 Copa América, playing right back. During this three-week training camp, however, he's been deployed in the middle, a position he played during the 2010 MLS season. He says feels more comfortable there now than out wide, and he enjoys the position of leadership afforded by the new role.

At the other end of the field, the forward line consists of 18-year-old Juan Agudelo and 20-year-old Teal Bunbury. Oh, and Chris Wondolowski, who turns 28 a week from Friday and is the oldest field player in camp. He’s hoping to make his first appearance in a US uniform against Chile here at the Home Depot Center on Saturday.

"I'm really enjoying myself and loving the opportunity to play with a lot of great players in front of some great coaches," said Wondolowski. "I just take it as it goes because it's a once in a lifetime opportunity."

The San Jose Earthquakes attacker enjoyed a breakout 2010, tallying 18 goals in 26 matches and leading his club to an upset of Agudelo's New York Red Bulls in the first round of the playoffs. Wondolowski knows he's a long shot to make the Gold Cup roster this summer, but he's appreciating the moment.

"That would be a dream come true – to play in a tournament with the US,” he said. “But just to be a part of [this camp] and be a part of this group has been wonderful. I've learned a lot and I hope to keep on learning."

Given the growing depth of the American pool, players on the fringe like Wondolowski and Wynne might be tempted to press in an attempt to make a statement with the coaching staff. But, as the Colorado Rapids defender mentions, one great season at any age can propel a talent onto the American first team. For proof, look no further than the example of a player who called the HDC home until a couple weeks ago.

"In the last couple of years, I've always thought it was a make-or-break year, and I've realized that it's not," Wynne said. "Edson Buddle took a really big break from the national team. Then, he had a great year, and he goes on and makes the World Cup team."

Who knows where the future will take Wondolowski and Wynne, but they certainly sound happy where they are. Sometimes it's nice have the perspective of "old age."

Noah Davis covers the United States national team for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @noahedavis.