The USMNT squad for the upcoming international break includes just two players north of 30, Michael Bradley and Brad Guzan. Despite being maligned for their age and diminishing efficacy, both have a role to play in this new era of the national side.
When the U.S. Men’s National Team crashed out of the summer’s World Cup before they ever even stepped foot on a plane, the decision to start over was made.
At the time, it was an easy step to take. Many of the players that the qualification process had been rested on were nearing the end of their primes, if not careers, and there was a myriad of young, hungry talent wanting to deliver on the international stage. The point had come to shift gears and personnel.
And since the World Cup, in this new cycle for the USMNT, the gears most certainly have been shifted. Many of the old guard have been jettisoned, or just outright retired as soon as they realised Russia would happen without them, and younger players without experience but boasting great potential and desire were introduced.
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Tyler Adams, Zach Steffen, Matt Miazga and, of course, Christian Pulisic. These are the players that the future of the USMNT will be built upon. But that does not totally negate the need for the wise, old, wily head to play the guiding grandpa. Those individuals are still required, as much at international level as they are domestic.
The different pressures of playing for your country can either galvanise or attenuate an individual. There are changes to rhythm, routine, timings — there are no daily training sessions to acclimatise over a full season. Tournaments bring new challenges. Travel, time away from the family, the hopes of a nation. These are all changes that many players have not experienced before. It is important, then, to have people who can aid and guide those through these often unforeseen and overlooked difficulties.
That is something that Dave Sarachan himself concedes:
"“When you are building a team, at some point, there has to be the proper blend of youth and experience. As we head into these last four friendlies of the year, I felt the timing was right to begin that transition. I think it’s important to do it earlier than a week before the Gold Cup or a World Cup qualifier.”"
In the squad named for the present international break in which the USMNT face Colombia and Peru in successive friendlies, there are two players north of 30: Michael Bradley and Brad Guzan. Their inclusion is no coincidence, as Guzan, who almost mirrors what Sarachan says, highlights:
"“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 and situations.”"
And it’s not as if this is a role that Bradley and Guzan will not relish themselves. For Bradley, he is ‘excited’ to get to work in this new, mentor-type role:
"“For me, the opportunity to be back now and start to get to know some of the younger guys that have been around the last nine or 10 months is great. I’m very excited.”"
Similarly, Guzan has been talking up the skills of Steffen, the ostensible successor in the pipeline of great U.S. shot-stoppers. Both Bradley and Guzan want to help this next generation and partake in the revolution, on the pitch in their play and in the dressing room with their personas.
It would be easy for the USMNT to rid off all the older players and completely start afresh. It is a part of the sporting culture in the U.S. to do. But for a national team that consists of vastly inexperienced and largely unprepared players, it would be a little naive to not have at least one or two wiser heads in the squad.
That is what Guzan and Bradley are there for. They are there to play and to contribute, of course. But they are also there to guide, to encourage, to teach and to impart. It is a role that should not be overlooked.