While veteran U.S. striker Jozy Altidore collected his milestone 100th cap Sunday, three of his teammates earned their MNT debuts in the 0-0 draw against Serbia.
Midfielders Sebastian Lletget, Chris Pontius and Jorge Villafaña were handed their first caps by U.S. head coach Bruce Arena during the second half in San Diego, and the trio didn’t disappoint along the way.
A former U.S. youth international, Lletget had been gunning for a call-up since his debut season with the LA Galaxy in 2015. Invited to January Camp by his former club coach, the San Francisco native said he realized a dream from the moment the MNT arrived at Qualcomm Stadium.
“It was a bit surreal just walking into the stadium,” he told ussoccer.com. “Walking into the locker room and having the shirt hung up there with your name on the back, it was just amazing."
Lletget was the first of the three to enter the game, replacing new Galaxy teammate Jermaine Jones at halftime to partner with captain Michael Bradley in the heart of the U.S. midfield.
The 24-year-old provided a spark, forcing the attack in the second half and providing a pinpoint cross to Sacha Kljestan, whose header trailed just wide in the 58th minute.
“I thought I did alright,” Lletget said of his performance. “I think we’re all going to get sharper in the final third and we have other things to work on, but I think I kept it simple. I made a couple things happen and I thought we should have won the game at the end.”
As the U.S. continued to push the match, Alejandro Bedoya made way for his Philadelphia Union teammate Chris Pontius. Like Lletget, the appearance was the fulfillment of a dream for the 29-year-old, who had been to previous MNT camps without earning a cap.
“There was a lot of hard work to get to that point,” Pontius said. “It was incredible stepping on the field, putting the jersey on and I’m just grateful for the opportunity.”
Four minutes after Pontius entered, Jorge Villafaña replaced Greg Garza at left back. Another former U.S. youth international whose entire career grew from a dream start via Major League Soccer’s Sueño competition in 2007, the Santos Laguna defender admitted he had about a minute to collect himself between the time Arena told him he was going in and entering the field.
“I’m really happy and excited to make my debut,” he told ussoccer.com. “It was something that I was always dreaming of and it came true. I’m just really happy I got my first game with the National Team. I hope it’s not my only one and that there are many to come.”
That hope is the same for all three players and as January Camp comes to a close with Friday’s friendly against Jamaica in Chattanooga, they know a strong showing can help lead to future call-ups.
“It’s all about leaving a good impression on the coaches,” Pontius said. “There are a lot of training sessions, but the games are where you’re going to make or break it, so you have to step on the field and perform. We have one more game for that.”