Drake Callender Q&A: ‘A Potion for Something Great’ at Inter Miami

The 25-year-old goalkeeper talks about a whirlwind 18 months that saw him go from back-up to undisputed club number-one, become teammates with Lionel Messi and earn three calls up to the USMNT.
By: Jonah Fontela

A lot’s happened to Inter Miami goalkeeper Drake Callender in a year and a half. Usopencup.com sat down for a chat with the outstanding young goalkeeper to talk about going from back-up-to the back-up at his South Florida MLS club to winning trophies and sharing a locker room with Lionel Messi on the eve of the 2023 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final.

You’ve been called in for your first three USMNT camps this year. How’s that feel?

Drake Callender: You’re wearing the crest. You’re playing with the best players in your country and you’re competing against some of the best competition in the world. There’s just something special that comes with representing your country. Club is great and it’s very competitive and you’re representing your team and your organization and your community. But the national team is another level. I’m learning from guys who’ve been to World Cups, who’ve played in different competitions around the world and represented our nation plenty of times. I’m learning from their mentality. Their approach to the game has really helped me become a more competitive player.

You were the third-choice goalkeeper at Inter Miami at the start of last season. Now you’re winning trophies, the undisputed starter, a national team player and into an Open Cup Final. That’s a lot.

DC: Yeah, it’s been a fast ascension. I ended up playing 24 games last season [For Inter Miami CF]. I felt like that was a good introduction to first-team soccer. And this year I played in a lot of competitive games, in the Open Cup and the Leagues Cup. And I got my first call-up [to the National Team]. There’s been a lot in those two seasons. A lot of experiences and a lot of firsts for me. At this stage of my career, at 25 years old, I’ve been a part of the Nations League team [USMNT] that won a trophy, played a role in the Leagues Cup and lifted that trophy – and played games where it’s win or go home.

You’ve called the Open Cup your launching pad. Tell us how the tournament helped you move forward?

DC: It’s a great opportunity for players to just compete. You play against teams from different leagues and for me it was a huge confidence builder in my play. To get into the starting team and to play against good opponents. To potentially go to shootouts. Last year we made it to the Quarterfinal and now here we are in the Final – so we’ve made some progress in the tournament. In the Open Cup, you know there’s that trophy to be won. And any time you’re competing for a trophy, any time you have that potential to lift some hardware, you're going to compete as hard as you can. And we’re one game away from making it two trophies this year.  

What does the Open Cup mean to you on a personal level?

DC: It means a lot. I feel like I found my footing [in 2022] and I was able to grow up a little bit in the sense of just getting first-team minutes. It’s an opportunity not only for players in our league [MLS], but players in other leagues to show their skills. To compete and develop and grow. I feel like the tournament was an important landmark for me in my career in getting to where I am today. If I hadn’t played in that Open Cup [in 2022] who knows where I’d be right now.

Your fate is intertwined with Lionel Messi. What was THAT day like, when you heard he was coming to be your teammate in Miami?

DC: It was an interesting day. Me and my teammates were in Birmingham, Alabama. They [Open Cup Quarterfinal opponents Birmingham Legion] were one of the best USL Championship sides at that time. We knew we had a tough game ahead of us that night. A challenging Quarterfinal. And we were trying to get ready for that type of game – away from home and on turf. And we heard the news [Messi’s intention to play for Inter Miami] between lunch and the pre-game meal. I remember guys coming up to me with these little smiles on their faces, like ‘is this actually happening? Is it real? Is it true?’.

Did the big news influence that night’s game?

DC: I think it was kind of more motivating and exciting to go out there and get a result that night because we kind of knew what was coming and we wanted to, you know, just start performing better than we had in the past. We knew that each game now, whether it was in the league or not, was super important for us to get prepared. So I think getting the news where and how we did actually helped us.

What kind of teammate is Messi?

DC: He’s a great teammate. He’s kind of shy and, you know, soft-spoken. I always have to think that this guy is coming to a whole new league, a whole new country. He’s probably trying to get settled. Everything is new for him, you know? So I just did my best to help him feel welcome. I tried not to fanboy or anything and I think we’ve developed your pretty average standard teammate relationship.

Your teammates have commented about how passionate Messi still is about the game. And about winning…

DC: I see his dedication to the sport and to this team. In the short time he’s been with us, he’s really bought into what we’re trying to do and he’s made some great contributions on the field and off. He just wants to be one of the guys, you know? He wants to be one of our teammates and he’s very humble and that’s something that I respect a lot. And so seeing how he operates on the training field, like the importance that he puts on training and in games, you can still see the fire in his eyes when he competes and it shows me what kind of level we need to compete at if we’re to be ambitious and want to win games.

You mentioned Inter Miami’s poor start to the season. And now here you are having won Leagues Cup and one win away from the Open Cup – and pushing for the MLS playoffs too. What’s that all feel like?

DC: We’ve had a little bit of everything. We started the season with two wins against great teams in our conference and then we didn’t take the best route forward. Losing games by one goal, not scoring, not getting results. Conceding too many goals. I think that kind of started a fire in everyone’s bellies because we felt like we knew we were better than the results that we were getting. You have a team that’s extremely hungry and wants to prove something in a sink-or-swim situation – and you add in some of the best competitors in the world like we did in the summer. I felt like that was a potion for something great.

And now the Final of another Cup – the U.S. Open Cup – will be at home in Fort Lauderdale on September 27th. How will being at home influence this game against an impressive Houston Dynamo?

DK: Our home games have been great. Throughout the season we’ve always had good energy at our stadium. And recently we’ve been getting good crowds and good support from our fans. The atmosphere has been electric. And so having a home-field advantage will definitely help us out. If we keep performing the way we’ve been performing at home, we’ll be okay.

Fontela is editor-in-chief of usopencup.com. Follow him at @jonahfontela on X/Twitter.