Olympic hopefuls lay qualifying groundwork with USMNT
RANCAGUA, Chile --
Indicators for the future popped up frequently as the U.S. men’s national team proceeded through the first friendly of the year. There were instant concerns to manage in the 3-2 defeat in Chile, but there were also signs about the sweeping plans ahead.
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann nodded toward the future with a few of his selections. Bobby Wood featured up front for the first half. DeAndre Yedlin flew all the way from London in search of match practice as a right wingback and fullback. Wil Trapp made his full international debut as a second-half substitute.
Their presence on the field creates a tangible link between these efforts at Estadio El Teniente and the pursuit of an Olympic berth later this year. In his dual role of national team head coach and technical director, Klinsmann oversees both efforts. His decision to name those players -- plus the other three players picked for the 23-man travel party and several more asked to join training camp back in southern California -- in the side to face Chile reflects the desire to combine immediate demands with future goals.
“We’re building the core group for the Olympic team, which is important,” Trapp said in the buildup to the match. “Any time we can get that group together and can work with them alongside the guys who have been there and done all of those great things, it’s important. It’s vital to our development and moving forward to qualifying for the Olympics.”
OLYMPIC CANDIDATES ON CHILE TRIP
|Starting XI||Bobby Wood (Erzgebirge Aue), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders)|
|Substitute||Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC)|
|Unused Substitute||Shane O'Neill (Colorado Rapids)|
|On the trip||Luis Gil (Real Salt Lake), Jon Kempin (Sporting Kansas City), Dillon Serna (Colorado Rapids)|
Every little bit helps, particularly in the wake of the failures four years ago. The efforts to qualify for London slid off the tracks in Nashville under the direction of current Portland Timbers coach Caleb Porter. The setback prompted reassessment within U.S. Soccer and underscored the resolve to place the program in a better position to secure one of the two direct berths this time.
The key in this cycle: a return to a more cohesive and integrated approach within the program. U.S. Soccer returned to the usual model of appointing a national team assistant to lead the charge and selected trusted Andreas Herzog as coach. Klinsmann integrated a handful of Olympic-eligible players into his plans after the World Cup and opted to name several potential contenders in the annual January camp. The decision -- coupled with the choice to include MLS-based veterans like Jozy Altidore (after the completion of his move to Toronto FC), Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and Jermaine Jones in the squad -- provided the Olympic candidates with the chance to learn the expectations and the procedures of the senior team.
“For the Olympic guys, it’s about getting that experience with the national team guys, the guys that have been there before,” U.S. defender and potential Olympic linchpin Yedlin said. “Obviously, it’s a great experience and you can learn a ton.”
At this nascent point, it is mostly about cultivating habits, establishing standards and gathering experience. The daily grind proves particularly instructive for those objectives. The process used each day supplies a template for the younger generation and underscores the work ahead to reach the overarching goals.
“It’s always exciting to be called in,” Trapp said. “It’s definitely not easy by any means. You’re going to get tested. You’re going to get pushed. But from that, you’re going to grow. I think I’ve seen a lot of mental toughness, a lot of growth soccer-wise. It’s been great to mix in with some of these guys and get to learn from them.”
Yedlin sits squarely at the junction between his current teammates and his potential Olympic colleagues. He knows most of the fresh faces (he traveled with Trapp, Luis Gil and Shane O’Neill to the FIFA Under-20 World Cup back in 2013), but his time in Brazil last summer distinguishes him from his peers. The dynamic gives him a chance to assume a prominent role among the cohort searching for Olympic glory while reinforcing his claims for a prominent place in the setup.
“Even for me, there are a lot of new guys in the camp,” Yedlin said. “I’m friends with a lot of them. It’s a good opportunity for me to become a leader and then learn from these guys – these older players -- every day. It’s a great opportunity for everybody.”
The magnitude of the opening afforded isn’t lost on Trapp, Yedlin or their peers. This is the time to lay the groundwork in front of Herzog and work on building the infrastructure required to mount a successful qualification campaign next year.
“Any time you get to play alongside like Jermaine and Michael and Clint, guys who have proven themselves at the World Cup and the highest level for U.S. Soccer, it’s a huge honor,” Trapp said. “It’s important that any time you step on the field, you have those experiences day-to-day in training. It gives you confidence. It gives you a better understanding of what you need to do.”
It also provides the knowledge necessary to push forward. The experience of playing in Chile and soaking up every last detail from the excursion represents one of the initial steps along a daunting path. It is now up to these players to keep marching along to ensure it eventually ends up with a return to South America next year.