US SoccerUS Soccer

First Timers

The USA’s 3-0 victory against Colombia was a night of firsts for this emerging group of national team prospects. Six first-time starters, four first-time capwinners, and two first-time goalscorers. A journeyman goalkeeper gets his first clean sheet, and a World Cup veteran wears the captain’s armband for the first time. sat down with this clearly excited group to talk about their experiences, the taste of victory at the international level, and what it feels like to represent the United States …

PAT NOONAN (First Start, First Goal) Even though you had already got your first cap as a sub, describe what it was like getting your first start for the national team.
“Obviously it was a good feeling. There’s no question it is an honor. I wanted to play the way I was capable of playing and not try to do too much. I felt like I played well. It’s good to get that under your belt.” Not only your first start, but also your first goal that turns out to be the game-winner. Take us through the play …
“It was a great individual effort by Ralston to beat his guy on the right side. The chip he tried on the goalkeeper was pretty classy. I was hoping it went in, but once I saw it hit the crossbar I just followed it up and tried to bury it.” Does getting that first game and first goal give you a bit of confidence, and perhaps a greater motivation to continue to perform?
“It’s definitely motivation. Once you’ve experienced it, you want to do it again and again. It’s difficult to get into the starting XI for this team because we have so many great players, but once you get the opportunity you want to do what you can to get back out there.” What was the first thing going through your mind when you scored?
“Finding Ralston and thanking him for the gift. I think I owe him something.” When you’re standing out on the field before the game, hearing your name called and listening to the national anthem, does it bring into focus what it really means to play for the national team?
“You definitely get chills a little bit. Hearing the anthem and the sound of the crowd is pretty cool. Then you come into the team huddle and you hear ‘USA on three,’ and it’s a great feeling.”

BRIAN MULLAN (First Start) Even though you had already got your first cap as a sub, describe what it was like getting your first start for the national team.
“It’s a great honor to start for your country. I know it’s something that everyone says, but you can’t really describe it until you go through it. I was just trying to be focused on my responsibilities on the field and getting accustomed to the environment.” You also had to deal with starting at right back, a position you have never played before. Did that make the challenge of starting even that much harder for you?
“To tell you the truth, I think it made it easier. I didn’t know what to expect, and I think playing the new position helped relieve some of the pressure that was on me. I enjoyed it. I didn’t feel as much pressure as I do in the midfield when you have to attack and defend.” Does getting a taste of success at the international level give you a bit of confidence and perhaps a greater motivation to continue to perform?
“Definitely. I remember seeing the game tape against Poland [his first appearance, July 11, 2004]. I looked like a deer in headlights. I was so nervous I couldn’t perform. Getting the first start under your belt and getting a victory, I proved to myself that I could play at the international level. I think the confidence for everyone who got their first start is going to grow.” When you’re standing out on the field before the game, hearing your name called and listening to the national anthem, does it bring into focus what it really means to play for the national team?
“Obviously the same thing happens at every club game, but when you’re wearing the U.S. uniform and listening to the national anthem, it’s special. It’s something every kid looks forward to.  Listening to the anthem, I was just thinking about what an honor it was to be there, and trying to put everything into perspective. Not many people get to do this.”

NAT BORCHERS (First Cap) What was going through your mind when the coaches told you that you were going in?
“It was funny how it happened. I was warming up, and Chad [Marshall] wound up having a collision and being down for a while. The coaches called me up, I get my jersey on, and then Chad goes back on the field. Then I was just sitting on bench, nervous as hell. Everyone around me was giving me advice, telling me to relax and enjoy myself. Then Mooch tells me I’m going into to replace Pablo in center midfield, which was surprising since I obviously don’t play that spot.” Do you think that getting thrown into a new position like that at the last-minute helped take your mind off the nerves?
“I do think it was easier. Bruce and Mooch told me to just sit in front of the defense and win balls. They didn’t ask too much of me. I just had to sit in front of Chad and Ritchie, and they did a great job of telling me where to go.” The coaching staff continually stresses that players have to be ready to contribute to the team, whether they are a starter, a reserve, or just cheering on their teammates. In your case, you got 10 minutes for your first cap where you’re asked to help kill off the game. Do you think it’s that kind of attitude that helps make this team so successful?
“The fact that I can go in and play a position I haven’t played in 3-4 years speaks volumes for the guys on the field, the coaching staff, and U.S. Soccer. Every guy works hard for every other guy on the field. There’s no question that the reason this team has been so successful is because of that mentality of working for each other and not letting the next guy down.” Having spent the last 10 days in training with the full team, and now getting your first cap, are there things that you have learned about being a better professional that you will take back to your club environment?
“Every time that Pablo and Joe come back from national team, they are that much sharper, that much better on the ball. It’s about doing the little things that are necessary to play at this level. I’ve seen what other guys do that make them successful, whether it’s eating habits, training regimen, how to spend your down time, etc. I’m hoping to bring what I’ve learned back to the Rapids.” Did you feel any additional pressure or responsibility?
“It’s amazing. As I was walking out, I didn‘t feel any different. A big part of my game is to be vocal and give directions out on the field, so it was like second nature to me. It’s part of my personality, so it’s not that big a transition.”

CHAD MARSHALL (First Cap, First Start, First Goal) What was going through your mind when you first found out you were starting?
“Bruce told us at training the day before. I tossed and turned a little bit the night before. I was definitely nervous about it being my first experience in an official game, and having it be against such a good opponent.” How long did it take for the nerves to settle?
“As soon as the whistle blew. I knew I needed to focus on the game. Frankie [Hejduk] told me in the locker room to just play how I always play, and that was comforting.” You certainly made it special with that header  …
“Yeah, it was awesome to get a goal. I didn’t get one goal in 35 games with Columbus, so to get it done with this team was cool. My parents were there and a bunch of family so it was pretty special.” Take us through the play …
“It was a corner kick that got hit back out. Steve Ralston and Clint Mathis played a nice little one- two that sprung Ralston down the flank. He whipped in a nice cross, and I was fortunate to make a nice run and get my head on it.” With the January camp under your belt, and now your first game and first goal, do you feel your confidence building?
“I definitely feel more confident and comfortable with the guys around me. Now it’s just a process of continuing to improve my communication with the guy next to me on the backline, and helping organize the people in front of me. Hopefully I’ll continue to get the opportunities.”

JON BUSCH (First Cap, First Start, First Shutout) What was going through your mind when you first found out you were starting?
“I was excited obviously. Most importantly I just wanted to have a good game and get a win for the team. It was a nice reward from the coaching staff. They like what I’ve been doing the last few camps.” When you’re standing out on the field before the game, hearing your name called and listening to the national anthem, does it bring into focus what it really means to play for the national team?
“It definitely all hits home. All the hard work I’ve put in over the last ten years: this is my reward for it. The biggest thing was helping the team. For whatever reason, I wasn’t really nervous. I tried to think of it as just another game.” Things started getting a little hectic for you early in the second half. As a goalkeeper, do you prefer to be busy to help maintain focus? 
“In the middle of the second half, they started to put some pressure on us, with a few free kicks around the box and a couple close-range headers. For me, it’s kind of a catch-22. You want to stay attached to the game, but you don’t want to get pummeled with so much time on the clock. You give up a goal, then it’s a game again.” Not only did you get your first start, but a victory and a shutout to boot …
“It was tremendous. The most important thing was the win, not just for me but for the team. We produced a good result against a good team. Shutouts are always nice, but for me, the biggest thing was it proved that all my hard work – from the A-League to MLS to the national team - is paying off.” It has been a remarkable journey for you, from five years in the A-League to backup MLS goalkeeper, and now a member of the national team pool. Tough to write that script …
“When you think about it, it’s amazing. It’s definitely a dream come true. I’ve thought about this goal ever since I played on the youth national teams, and to get the chance is very special.”

PABLO MASTROENI (First Time as Team Captain) Last night you became part of a small fraternity of players to wear the captain’s armband for their country. Describe what it was like for you …
“It was a great privilege to captain the team against Colombia. It was honor to be a part of a group that worked so hard for each other. You never know what to expect with so many guys you haven’t played in a match with before, and it was incredible what the response was and the level at which we were able to perform. Overall, it was a tremendous experience. We got a victory with a relatively inexperienced group of MLS players against a quality team. It speaks volumes about where this national team is going.” Did you feel any additional pressure having the responsibilities of being captain?

”As I was walking out onto the field, I really didn’t feel any different. It’s part of my game to be a vocal leader and to help organize out on the field, so it felt like second nature to me.”