While last Tuesday’s 1-1 draw against reigning European champion Portugal marked the U.S. Men’s National Team’s final match of 2017, for a trio of young players earning their first caps it represented the first steps of what they hope will be a long journey with the MNT.
“We want to turn the page and look into the future,” said Weston McKennie, one of the three freshly-capped players. “This game was closing out 2017, but we have a bunch of new guys that came in, fresh faces and guys that want to prove that they could play at this level and represent the country well. I think tonight was a good starting point for that. “
With 12 of the 21-player roster coming in at 24 years old and under, the friendly signified an accelerated future for the MNT. Three of those young players - McKennie, Tyler Adams and Cameron Carter-Vickers - made their first appearances with the team and shone in the 1-1 draw, highlighted by McKennie’s 21st minute goal.
READ MORE: First Cap, First Goal for Weston McKennie
“The quality is here,” Adams said. “A lot of young guys put in a lot of solid performances and there’s even more guys that aren’t in this group right now. Going forward, we have to be patient, but the future is bright.”
While it was these players’ first time wearing the crest at the senior level, they immediately showed promise. In addition to earning consistent minutes for their clubs, they’ve grown up playing with the roster’s other young players as part of the Youth National Team programs and the U.S. Soccer Development Academy. McKennie, now plying his trade at Bundesliga-side Schalke 04, paired in the midfield with Kellyn Acosta, who he’s known and played with since he was 11-years-old at the FC Dallas Academy.
“I feel like I fit right in,” McKennie said. “I didn’t feel like I wasn’t prepared for it. I’ve played in the Bundesliga and it’s a high level there also. I could hold my own against Portugal and take chances.”
Adams and McKennie played together on Youth National Teams, building even more chemistry in the midfield. When Carter-Vickers entered the match after halftime, it represented a reunion on the back-line with Matt Miazga, his partner in anchoring the USA’s defense at the 2015 U-20 World Cup in New Zealand. The pair’s return for the red, white and blue smoothed the path for Carter-Vickers’ dream night.
“It’s quite hard when you come on in the middle of the game, but to come on playing with someone that you’ve played with so many times, it definitely helps,” Carter-Vickers said. “It’s a dream come true, it’s what every young player wants to do growing up. You always want to represent your country at full level.”
An away draw against the defending European champions was a solid return for a group seeking to test themselves against high-quality competition. The on-field product showed a glimpse of what’s to come from the MNT moving forward.
“This group is full of energy,” McKennie said. “We went out there from the very first whistle and fought to the end. There’s a lot of opportunities for guys. We want to show the U.S. what the future holds.”
While it’s a promising start, it’s just the beginning. The trio of newly-capped players, as well as the rest of a young, exciting player pool, now heads into 2018 continuing to forge ahead in defining the future of the MNT.
“We haven’t done anything yet,” Carter-Vickers said. “All the players that are in there, they’re all hungry. We all want to achieve. A lot of us are young. We all want to push on, try and do things and try and win.”