When the final whistle blew at Trinidad & Tobago’s Ato Boldon Stadium last month, there was no one more disappointed than the 23 players that constituted the U.S. roster. A grueling two-year qualifying run came up achingly short.
But the world didn’t stop turning when the whistle blew in Trinidad, and the MNT is back in action this month for the first time since the defeat. Now, on a training field in Lisbon, several young players are set to take the first steps in their journey with the National Team while the previous cycle has transformed fresh faces into capable veterans ready for the challenge ahead.
“Not qualifying for the World Cup is not going to break us,” MNT midfielder Kellyn Acosta said. “It’s important for us to bounce back and show that to ourselves, the fans of the U.S. and the world. We need to get back into the groove of things and transition to a new group of guys. For now, we’ll take it a game at a time, but definitely try to re-establish ourselves.”
At 22, Acosta is a prime example of a player ready to step up and set an example for his teammates. He earned his first cap in a January 2016 friendly and has never looked back, becoming a contributor for the MNT throughout the Semifinal and Final Rounds of World Cup Qualifying. Having just finished his fifth professional season, the FC Dallas product has made an impact on nearly every level of the Youth National Team program, and is now poised to take a bigger leadership role with the MNT.
“I’m just trying to keep growing and keep improving,” the Plano, Texas native said. “From the start of the cycle I was one of the younger guys, but now you can look at me as a veteran. I’m trying to play that role of a leader, helping the younger guys any way that I can. I want to use my experiences to help benefit them as best as possible.”
Having earned his first MNT cap in 2010, 30-year-old Alejandro Bedoya is suddenly the senior-most member of the squad ahead of the MNT’s upcoming friendly against Portugal (3:45 p.m. ET; FS1, UniMás, UDN). As the team forges ahead with its future, Bedoya understands the important role he has to play in a camp with 12 players under 24 and three first-time call-ups.
“As the old guy now on the team, it’s crucial for me to step up in a leadership role,” Bedoya said. “Coming in here, it’s a breath of fresh air. You recover. It’s nice to see some new faces, some young guys. I need to put my arm on their shoulders and try to lead them, get them to know what it means to play for the National Team.”
The match against Portugal represents the first steps forward for the MNT after last month’s disappointment. This camp is a chance to keep moving forward with a group of young, hungry players at the ready to shape the USA’s future.
“It’s an opportunity,” Bedoya said. “This is another opportunity for myself, for young guys, for new guys, for guys that maybe didn’t get a chance to go through qualifying. It’s promising, with this transition that we’re going through, to see some fresh faces, young blood. They’re going to try their best to make a statement.”