Clint Dempsey, Jordan Morris and Cristian Roldan have returned to the Seattle Sounders following their stint with the United States national team for CONCACAF 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, and for the latter two, each U.S. camp is another rewarding sign in their budding young careers.
Dempsey is arguably the best field player this country has ever produced and is tied with Landon Donovan for the U.S. men’s record with 57 goals in 140 caps. When Dempsey made his international debut in 2004, Morris and Roldan were in fourth grade.
For the duo of 22-year-olds to be a part of U.S. Head Coach Bruce Arena’s 26-man roster for pivotal WCQs is something neither takes lightly.
“It’s extremely positive to be even mentioned and to be brought into World Cup Qualifying, even if you don’t play, as a 22-year-old with one cap,” said Roldan, who just missed out on the 23-man matchday roster for both the Costa Rica and Honduras matches. “That says a lot.”
Added Morris: “[I’m] definitely not a veteran, but it’s great getting back with those guys. I know I’m a little bit better now which is awesome and that helps just feeling more comfortable going back into camp and helps you play with a little more confidence when you’re on the field. For me, it’s been good. I feel like the last year I’ve gotten more confidence with the national team.”
Morris flicked a header in the box to Bobby Wood in the 85th minute to salvage a valuable point in Honduras as the U.S. continue to scrap and fight their way to a World Cup berth. They are in fourth place in the Hexagonal — if it ended today, they would compete in a home-and-home playoff against the fifth-place team in the Asian Confederation, either Syria or Australia — with just two matches to go. There’s no room for error.
“I gained a lot of experience,” said Roldan. “There’s a lot of pressure in World Cup Qualifying, much more than I anticipated. I saw the conditions in Honduras. I saw how difficult it could be to qualify for a World Cup in the CONCACAF region.
“Mentally, you have to be tuned in, you have to be sharp,” he continued. “The speed of thought is honestly the fastest thing [about the international level]. Your touch has to be a little better, but the speed of thought is the game-changer.”
Roldan acknowledged that players who return from international duty tend to come back more focused and better technically. He certainly did following his first cap during this past summer’s Gold Cup, scoring three goals in his first two club matches afterward. He’s hoping the nine returning Sounders internationals can use their heightened training to earn all three points on Sunday against the LA Galaxy (6 p.m. PT; FS1, 107.7 The End, El Rey 1360 AM | TICKETS) and buoy them the rest of the season.
“The last two [club] games, we felt we were the better team,” Roldan said. “Now we actually have to show it with a result.”