The theme of the U.S. MNT training camp in Carson this week has been opportunity: opportunity for new players to impress, opportunity for the coaching staff to evaluate prospects, and opportunity for a unique group of individuals who normally wear opposing colors to spend time together both on and off the training field.
Eight of the 18 players in camp are getting their first sniff under the watchful eye of U.S. Manager Bruce Arena, and ussoccer.com spent time with several of the rookie class to find out what the experience has been like in their first opportunity with the U.S. national team.
ussoccer.com: How did you find out you were receiving your first invitation to a national team training camp?
Chris Carrieri (Colorado Rapids): "[U.S. MNT General Manager] Pam Perkins called me. I thought it was a joke, since a lot of my buddies play pranks on me. Then I talked to Rick Dressel, our team administrator, and he told me they had requested me. So, I called Pam back and apologized for being rude, but she said there were a couple other players who said the same thing."
Orlando Perez (Chicago Fire): "It was in the locker room after our playoff game against New England. Bruce was there, and he called me over and said they were having a training camp in December, and would I be interested in going. I said 'of course'. It was a shock and a surprise. It came out of nowhere, and I was pretty happy about it."
Jonny Walker (MetroStars): "Pam called me. I knew late in the season that there was a possibility that I might be brought in, so it was a wonderful opportunity to finally come out and get to train with the national team."
Brian Mullan (San Jose Earthquakes): After the Kansas City game, I was at the post-game party and Bruce was there. He told me that he was calling me in. Obviously it's a great honor to even get a chance to participate."
ussoccer.com: Without any previous experience at this level, what were your expectations of what training camp would be like?
Pat Noonan (New England Revolution): "I knew it was going to be a much quicker pace. I realized I had to be kind of fit coming in. You can't come into a camp like this out of shape, even if it's more of a laid back atmosphere. I expected guys to come out here and try to prove themselves, because there are a lot of new faces."
Carrieri: "I just wanted to come in and try to do my best. I'm privileged to be here. I know there are a lot of good forwards here, and hopefully I can turn some heads. Bruce is a guy to give people chances, so if you can turn his head, you have a chance."
ussoccer.com: What are the biggest differences you've noticed between training at the national team level as opposed to the club level?
John Wolyniec (MetroStars): "It's a bunch of a different guys you don't normally see on the same side of the field. It's a high quality of play, and you have to be ready to put your best effort out there."
Noonan: The pace of the training (sessions) are that much quicker and that much more competitive. It's not fun to lose. These are guys that are used to winning, and that's why they are here. Each time you go out to train, you have to be at your best. You can't take a day off out here. You've got to be ready to go."
Jim Curtin (Chicago Fire): "It's a much faster game. Everyone's out to show their best to the coaching staff. It's a lot of similar exercises that we do in Chicago. It's just intense all the time. Bruce tells you what he wants, and you have to go out there and do it."
Walker: "There's a great deal of individual freedom here in America. The coaches are quite liberal with your free time. You're on your own for some meals and preparation for training. Where I've been in the past, there a lot of meetings, you're confined to your hotel, and you're in concentration mode for the whole time. It's very different for me. I like it."
ussoccer.com: What are your first impressions of working with U.S. MNT Manager Bruce Arena?
Carrieri: "I think the number one thing is that he's an easy guy to respect. So, anything he asks, you're going to do it at 100%. Sometimes you don't have coaches who are you willing to put your heart on the line for, but Bruce is a guy you would love to play for."
John Wolyniec (MetroStars): "It's definitely a new experience, but it's exciting. He's got the prestige of being the national team coach, but he's more of a laid back guy than I expected him to be. He's pretty much just let us play so far, without stopping training and having too much to say."
Mullan: "To tell you the truth, it's a little bit intimidating. I know he's got a great sense of humor and has a great rapport with the players. Obviously, he's a very important person in U.S. Soccer, so it's a little intimidating for your first time in."
Noonan: "It's been fun. He's been laid back the whole week. Obviously he knows what he's doing, and he's confident. Everything here is very professionally done. The trainings are competitive, and you're just playing. He's trying to look for what each guy can do. "
ussoccer.com: Normally you only get to play against the players a couple times year. Now having spent time with these guys both on and off the field, who impresses you?
Curtin: "I would say Ben Olsen. I knew of him growing up. We were from the same area, and although I never got to play with him, I watched him play a lot. He's a guy you respect a lot. He's an intense guy, and he always wants to win. It's cool getting to play with him."
Wolyniec: "Definitely one guy that's impressed me has been Jim Curtin. He seems to have come out of nowhere, and each time the level has been raised, he seems to have raised his play as well. It's nice to see him at a higher level still succeeding."
Mullan: "Josh Wolff. He's had some injuries over the past couple years, but from what I've seen this week, he's a great, quality player."
Carrieri: "I think Josh Wolff is the guy who stands out for me. He's a guy who's been hurt, and been in and out at the club level, and that makes it hard sometimes hard to find a rhythm. You can see here that he is a real quick player, and he's got a good finish. I've admired him since I was in high school. It would be so fun to play with him."
ussoccer.com: Despite coming off a long break, you've now had nearly a week of rather intense training and a chance to rate the abilities of the players around you. It's time for a self-evaluation...
Perez: "I think I'm doing all right. The first couple of practices, you're sort of getting a feel for everybody. In the games and training sessions, I've been doing well. I just have to keep doing what I'm doing and take it from there."
Curtin: "All right. You have good moments and bad moments. I still have a lot to learn at this level. I think I've held my own. I don't think I've done anything to embarrass myself. As you get more comfortable, you're able to contribute a little bit more. I've learned a lot about where I stand as far as the players in our league. It's been a great experience so far."
Wolyniec: "For me, I think done okay. I usually have an adjustment period, so to be able to come out and in a few days be fairly successful looks good for me. I'm just looking to use this as a way to improve myself, and keep my game going in the right direction."
Carrieri: "I think there's times that I've shown well, times that I was not so good, and times that I was just another guy out there. I think it's gone well. I think I fit in. It takes some getting used to, and there's a lot of things I need to work on. It'll get there."