PHILADELPHIA– Alex Bono and Walker Zimmerman are the lone Major League Soccer representatives on the U.S. Men’s National Team roster for Monday’s game against Bolivia.
Zimmerman, 25, and Bono, 24, are also two of the oldest players in camp as interim manager Dave Sarachan rewards talented younger players with call-ups.
“It’s different,” Bono said. “You always you think when you go into the national team you’re going to be the younger, inexperienced guy — and then there’s some guys in their first camps and some guys with no appearances like myself and a little more experienced guys. So, I feel like I’m in the middle of the pack, and it’s a nice feeling.”
“There’s always that competitive spirit with everyone here,” Zimmerman said. “Being a little bit older at 25 is kinda weird. But I’m looking forward to embracing that challenge, embracing that role of competing, showing leadership and trying to bring all the intangibles I think I can bring to the team. And I’m looking forward to working alongside these guys and ultimately getting a win for the country.”
Although the pair are relatively inexperienced on the international stage, they’ve received plenty of advice from club teammates who have been through countless games with the USMNT.
At Toronto FC, Bono is in constant contact with Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley about the rigors of the national team program.
“They’ve been great mentors to me as I’ve been introduced to the program,” Bono said. “Obviously, those are two of the veteran guys the U.S. has to offer. Just talking to them, bouncing ideas off them and them giving advice is something I take with me. We’re always in contact; they’re asking me how it’s going and that sort of thing. I’m very grateful I have two mentors in that regard to help me through this.”
Former USMNT boss Bob Bradley instilled confidence in Zimmerman during the first part of LAFC’s expansion campaign.
“More just instilling confidence in me, letting me know how he thinks I’ve been performing recently and trusting the things we work on day and day out,” Zimmerman said. “And then it’s just about going out and playing and having confidence, being free. I think he’s been great in that regard.”
One of the other similarities the MLS players carry is the challenge for playing time in Monday’s friendly against Bolivia at Talen Energy Stadium, the home of the Philadelphia Union.
Bono is competing with former D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid and Ethan Horvath to wear the No. 1 shirt. When he was called into camp for the March friendly against Paraguay, Bono didn’t dress. Columbus goalkeeeper Zack Steffen got the start.
“It fires you up every time,” Bono said. “Being a competitor, that’s part of being a professional. For me, it fires you up every time you’re not selected to play or be on the bench at that point. It definitely lights a fire. It’s definitely something that says with me when I come into a camp like this.”
Zimmerman faces the challenge of working into the centerback rotation ahead of Tottenham product Cameron Carter-Vickers and Chelsea’s Matt Miazga, who came up with the New York Red Bulls.
Although Miazga and Carter-Vickers pose a threat to Zimmerman’s potential playing time, he had nothing but positive things to say about the European-based duo, who one day could be the USMNT’s starting centerback pairing.
“I think it was a really big step for (Miazga) leaving MLS and, obviously, he’s put together a couple of good seasons,” Zimmerman said. “I’m happy for him. I think things are really working out. He’s hitting his stride and, ultimately, when you’re a young guy getting a lot of games in a good league in Europe, that’s a great thing for him personally and for the U.S. as well.
“(Carter-Vickers) is a tank. They have good mentalities. They go about things the right way. And we’re all here to compete and try to earn a spot in the lineup come next Monday.”
The goal, as it is for any entry into national team camp, is to start in the friendly. But even if the final result doesn’t go their way, the pair of MLS representatives will go back to their respective clubs hungry to fight for an international spot once again.
“If it comes to the point where I’m fortunate to put on a jersey Monday, then fantastic,” Bono said. “If not, I’m going to go back to Toronto to keep working and keep striving to get there. I don’t really worry who’s No. 1 on the depth chart and going down the list there, but it’s just something where if it happens, it happens. If not, I’ll keep working until it does.”