Five different stories, one thing in common: they’re all training with the U.S. Men’s National Team for the first time. They range from 20-year-olds with heaps of experience at the youth international level, to a recent college grad living out a dream, to a 27-year-old whose performance at the club level has earned him a shot at the prime time. ussoccer.com sat down for a round table discussion with the five newest members to the MNT club – Jimmy Conrad, Mike Magee, Justin Mapp, Chad Marshall, and Clyde Simms – to talk about their experience so far, the difference in making the jump to the international level, and their hopes for their careers in the future.
ussoccer.com: How’s it going so far?
Mike Magee: “It’s been pretty good. Expectations are pretty high. We’ve done a lot of running, probably more than I prefer, but it’s been a real good experience.”
Chad Marshall: “I got hurt the last game of the MLS season, so I’m a little out of shape. It’s been tough, but a great opportunity. The running hasn’t been the funnest thing. Even If I don’t get to play in these games, it’s still good to get a head start going into MLS preseason.”
Jimmy Conrad: “It’s been great. I’ve played against a lot of these players before in MLS and in college. Now having the opportunity to play on the same team is fun. It’s quite a challenge.”
ussoccer.com: How do you think you managed to put yourselves on Bruce Arena’s radar?
Conrad: “I think just working hard and progressing naturally as a player. Obviously, MLS is a great vehicle for some players to ply their trade and do good things. Guys like Landon Donovan and Freddy Adu provide a lot of the splash, while many of us have to work our way up. I’ve just tried to get better each year and take my opportunities as they come.”
ussoccer.com: Many of you played at the youth international level, and all of you have teammates that have been in the national team before. What were your expectations coming into camp about what the challenges would be like?
Magee: “I knew it was going to be tough. Just looking at the other guys on the list, it’s guys you play against every weekend, and you know how difficult that is. To come in to play against all of them in one big camp, I couldn’t describe how tough it might be. It’s been easier since I got here, because they are all good guys and easy to get on with, but it’s definitely difficult.”
Marshall: “I knew it was going to be tough. Like Jimmy said, you play against them every week, but in this is setting it’s completely different because everyone is so good and the pace is so high.”
Justin Mapp: “For me, I’ve played at the youth international leveI, but this is totally different. It’s grown men at the highest level, as opposed to playing against teenagers. There are a lot of guys here who have played in World Cups. It’s as tough as it gets.”
ussoccer.com: One of the things that most players talk about after their first experience here is the speed of that game. Have you found it difficult to adjust?
Clyde Simms: “It was shocking. To go from one week with all the USL players to the next week with all the MLS players was a big step up. The biggest difference is that the pace is so much faster. I’m just trying to get used to it.”
ussoccer.com: Most of you are at an age (sorry, Jimmy) where you got to watch some of these players growing up. Is there anybody in camp here that you looked up to as a kid? Someone you wanted to emulate?
Marshall: “I remember when I was a teenager I had a Frankie Hejduk poster on my wall, and now he’s my teammate in Columbus. It’s a little weird, but it’s cool. He’s a fun guy on and off the field.”
Magee: “Clint Mathis was a guy I watched growing up. He’s one of those characters you see on TV and he’s always talked about. When I got drafted to the MetroStars he was the first person I thought of. He took me in pretty easily and made me feel comfortable, and I’ve always looked up to him. Now I’m in camp with him, and it’s a dream come true.”
ussoccer.com: Here’s a question we like to ask all the newcomers. What’s it like working with Bruce Arena?
Conrad: “It’s a little overwhelming at times. Obviously you are at the whim of his decisions. That’s true of any coach, but at this level the competition to be on the 18-man squad for any game is high, so the expectations are high. For him to have that power over the best group of players in the U.S. is pretty intimidating. As each day passes, you get to know him better and that makes it easier.”
Marshall: “I had never talked to Bruce prior to this camp, so my first day here was the first time I ever spoke to him. He’s a great guy. He’s very calm, and not upset about where you’re at in terms of your game. He knows that it is a process, and that you’re going to grow. There’s not a lot of expectation on the young guys to perform right off the bat. He knows you have to get acclimated to the pace.”
Mapp: “It’s the first time I’ve talked to him. He seems really laid back. He tries to keep an ease about everything, not going crazy yelling or anything like that. I think the players like that and respect that.”
ussoccer.com: The USA’s run to the quarterfinals in the 2002 FIFA World Cup was one of the most exciting moments anyone of this generation has witnessed. Where were you guys taking it all in?
Simms: “I was actually working. I had a summer job at a tobacco plant. It was so early in the morning. I didn’t get a chance to see a bunch of games.”
Marshall: “That was my senior year in high school. [Conrad moans.] So we were staying up late watching games. I missed my senior trip to Disneyland because the U.S. was playing Germany in the quarterfinal.”
Mapp: “I was in D.C. in my first year in the league. I had just finished school, and I remember everybody joining at RFK Stadium to watch the U.S. play Germany in the quarterfinal. It was almost like a D.C. home game. There were a lot of fans and a lot of American flags.”
Magee: “For the Mexico game, I think I was over at my buddy Nick’s house. We stayed up all night, and I made it all the way to kickoff before I passed out. I caught the highlights on ESPN.”
ussoccer.com: After seeing the success of so many MLS players in the World Cup, does that solidify for you that playing in MLS provides an avenue to playing for the national team?
Magee: “Definitely. You see these young guys go to Korea and watch how well they perform, and you realize it’s not as difficult as it used to be for American players. It gives you incentive that if you keep playing well and striving to be as a good as a Landon Donovan or a DaMarcus Beasley, then you can play at the top level.”
Conrad: “I think the best thing about the success in the World Cup is that we closed the gap on the rest of the world a bit, and opened their eyes to how good we can be. We’re just hitting the tip of the iceberg of our potential. The guys I’m sitting next to are young, and are just a part of the bright future of what MLS and U.S. Soccer has to come. MLS is a great vehicle for it. Guys like Landon and DaMarcus were going to shine, but I think Pablo Mastroeni is a good story about how far MLS has come. His is a story you can try to emulate. The World Cup was his coming out party, and MLS is a big reason why.”
ussoccer.com: You’ve played against many of these guys with your clubs, but it’s often difficult to have an appreciation for their skills until you get to train with them. Who’s impressed you so far?
Marshall: “I’d say Clint Mathis. This is my first time being around him or seeing him play in person. Some of the shots he hits, and the balls he plays from ridiculous angles are incredible. To see them first hand is pretty unbelievable.”
Simms: “All the guys. I’ve seen them play on TV, but never played with them. I’ve really enjoyed the camaraderie as well. To get to hang out with guys I’ve watched so much is pretty neat.”
ussoccer.com: Even if you don’t have the chance to go to Trinidad, what will you take away from this experience to improve your game in the future?
Conrad: “I’ll be taking back free Nike gear (laughs). As a player, I will have an appreciation of the level and speed of play. At the MLS level, you can take little breaks during the game, and up here everyone is competing at 100 miles an hour. Everyone wants a spot, and that kind of intensity is something I’ve taken for granted. If anything, I’ve learned not to take any mental breaks.”
Mapp: “I think it takes a little more at this level than in MLS. You see a lot of these guys coming off a long break and their fitness levels are still pretty good. I can see that I’m going to have to do extra work on all areas of my game to play at this level.”
Marshall: “I’ll definitely work hard when I go back to Columbus. As you see the level of the fitness and the pace of the guys that are here, you understand what it takes to play at the international level. I’m definitely going to have to do more than my MLS club does.”
ussoccer.com: Have you set any personal goals for 2005?
Magee: “To get called back into another camp!”
Conrad: “I think you take it one step at a time. I’d like to get my first cap. I know we have a lot of games in this calendar year, so I think there’s a lot of opportunities for the guys sitting at this table. I just want to take advantage of any camp I get called into and run with it.”
ussoccer.com: Even though it is your first time in a MNT training camp, have you placed any pressure on yourselves to perform?
Mapp: “I think there is definitely pressure coming into the senior national team. At the same time, Bruce has said he is just looking right now and the expectations aren’t as high as they might be. Right now we’re just going out and playing our best.”
Magee: “I think there’s always a little bit of pressure. It definitely helps having guys you’ve played with on youth national teams here; guys who are going through the same thing you are. Bruce is pretty understanding about where we are. He’ll be able to watch us as we progress in the season and hopefully call us into more camps.”
Marshall: “I’m not putting any pressure on myself in this camp. Justin, Magee and myself are only 20, so I don’t think it’s a make or break camp for us. I can see that I need to improve my fitness, work on playing quicker and being smarter on the ball. But I’ve got a lot of time to work on it.”
ussoccer.com: You’ve all grown up in a time where the U.S. National Team has gained more prominence than ever before. Even as young players, has it always been a goal to reach this level?
Simms: “Last year playing for the Richmond Kickers and finishing college, I never would have thought I’d have this opportunity. I never could have imagined this. I’m just going to enjoy it.”
Magee: “Definitely. It’s the biggest honor for a soccer player to play for the national team. This is obviously a first step, but it’s a dream come true.”