TAMPA, Fla. — Goalkeeper Brad Guzan isn’t too concerned with the debate regarding his inclusion in the United Staets men’s national team.
He and fellow veteran Michael Bradley are in training camp at the University of South Florida’s Corbett Stadium ahead of a Thursday friendly against Colombia. Their call-ups for a team still trying to find its way after missing out on the 2018 World Cup sparked criticism from those wanting to see younger players continue to take larger roles with the USMNT — Bradley and Guzan are 31 and 34 years old, respectively.
“In professional sports and everyday life, you’re always going to have criticism,” Guzan said. “You’re always going to have people that don’t agree with the decisions that are in your favor, that are against you, it is what it is. It’s part of the job and you get on with it. There’s a real sense of what we want to try and do as a team going forward and that’s the most important thing.”
For both Guzan and Bradley, it’s their first call-up since the U.S. failed to qualify for the World Cup last October. Bradley said for him, there were no guarantees that he’s be back in the mix. Tuesday marked nearly one year to the day since the U.S. men’s national team loss 2-1 to Trinidad and Tobago in its final Hexagonal match.
Bradley said for him, there were no guarantees he’d get another call-up.
“You enjoy every opportunity you have with the national team,” he said. “You don’t ever take it for granted. For me, the opportunity to be back now, start to get to know some of the younger guys that have been around the last nine to 10 months. … Yeah, I’m very excited.”
The duo represents veteran leadership, for sure. They have a combined 198 caps. The rest of the roster has 209 combined caps. So, the two veterans make up roughly half of the national team experience (407 caps) of the entire squad.
Guzan said his role as a veteran is important. The group has only been in Tampa for two days – one, really, since a chunk of players were traveling from overseas and arrived late Monday, after the team’s first training session.
Tuesday, the full team practiced at USF’s Corbett Stadium in preparation for a 7:30 p.m. Thursday match against Colombia at Raymond James Stadium.
“I think whenever you are bringing together a group of players and you have a bunch of young players, it’s important that you have some senior guys to help pull them along in difficult circumstances, difficult situations,” he said. “Going forward, that’s always something you’re trying to get the balance right in terms of senior players and young players.”
The 23-man roster has an average age of 24 years, 47 days, according to U.S. Soccer.
“The period after a World Cup is always … interesting,” Bradley said. “After a World Cup, it can be – in our case, after a World Cup that you don’t qualify for, you’re playing some friendly games, but it can feel like real, meaningful games are a long time away.
“These games, this period, has always been used to try to get some young guys some real experience playing in some different types of friendlies and different types of environments, and I think that part has been good. As always, some players have done very well and shown that they need to really be around it as we move into next year. In other cases, it’s not always easy when you have a team full of new players in terms of how they can all find their way in circumstances like that.”
Interim coach Dave Sarachan said he expects Guzan and Bradley to help the young group prepare for future meaningful matches in competitions such as the 2019 Gold Cup. For Sarachan, it’s about having the right mix of new players and veterans, and after calling up younger players for previous friendlies, he said the time was right to finally include the veterans.
“I know Michael personally,” he said. “I know Brad personally. I’ve got a lot of experience with them and they’re as good as a professional as you’re going to find. They understand what their role is.
“First and foremost, they’re competing for a job and they want to play. Their role isn’t to coach. Their role isn’t to mentor, but it’s part of the whole package of everything when you have experience.”