The early part of the season was quite hectic. From numerous flights and bouncing around between the US Under-20 National Team and Timbers, I had little time to settle into my new home. I spent about a week with the Timbers before jetting off to Florida to prepare for World Cup Qualifying.
Unlike every other draftee, I would not have the benefit of an entire preseason to fully assimilate myself into my new team’s culture, both on and off the pitch, so I had to maximize the little time I had there. Like anyone else stepping to a new environment, I was quite nervous.
How was I going to make friends?
What was the right balance between not saying enough and saying too much?
How would I react to being the least experienced player on the field for a change?
Those questions would resolve themselves shortly thereafter.
Preseason: Welcome to MLS
The word preseason can sometimes come off with a sort of negative connotation, but I absolutely loved it. Maybe its my youth, maybe it’s the fact that it was my first (although limited) preseason, but regardless, it was the perfect introduction to my new environment. I felt right at home and vindicated for my decision to leave college early. The other Timbers players challenged me, but also guided me along the way. The two-a-days flew by and, before I knew it, we were playing our first games against New York Red Bulls and NK Istra.
It was my first taste of professional action and, though it was limited, I would remember those minutes as I went on with the US team, knowing that there was a lot waiting ahead of me when I got back.
CONCACAF U-20 Championship
Off to Costa Rica
Though we had only been apart for about a week, it definitely felt good to be back with the US U-20 team as we prepared for our journey to become the first American team to bring home a CONCACAF U-20 title.
3 games in 11 days, along with two-a-days and meetings to prepare, meant that there were no breaks. We would be ready for our opening match against Panama, and to succeed in such a major tournament.
Since January 2016, I remember the team setting the goal of winning the CONCACAF U-20 tournament. If I’m being honest with myself, I had been waiting for this opportunity since I realized I wouldn’t be a part of the U-17 cycle several years earlier. It doesn’t matter how/what path we took to make the team, what was important was that we were together, shared a common goal, and knew how to achieve it.
A 1-0 loss to Panama early on, after a couple of successful tune-up matches, had us all fearing the worst, even if we didn’t necessarily admit it to ourselves. But we all knew, deep down, that one loss was never going to be the end of our CONCACAF hopes, as we proved. It definitely wasn’t the way we wanted to start the campaign, but maybe it’s what we needed in the long run.
Despite all of the anxiety from supporters back home, and increasing media criticism, the team never gave up hope.
After a slow start against Haiti (tied 1-1 at halftime), we recuperated and bounced back, defeating Haiti 4-1. The vibe around our locker room was back…. we were ready to face anyone, and as a team, we could still improve and build on the result.
A final group game against St. Kitts was rather routine and professional (USA won 4-1), and we now had one focus: beating Mexico.
There was quite a bit of build-up heading into such an important match against our bitter rivals, but we felt prepared and ready. We were able to score the first goal that Mexico conceded all tournament early on from a corner, held on for the rest of the match and won the match 1-0.
Next up was El-Salvador, who Mexico made short work of a few days prior, beating them 6-1. We knew that our dream of making it to the Final was ever so close, and we were focused on making that dream a reality.
We won the El Salvador game 2-1, with the winner coming from (fellow DMV’er) Eryk Williamson, who could forget that goal?!
It’s a Celebration
In the Final, we were able to beat Honduras in penalties and claim the U-20 CONCACAF U-20 Championship!
The rush of emotions, the sheer joy from winning CONCACAF and making history would be something I’ll never forget. The streamers falling out of control, the victory lap with our fans, the unrelenting excitement, it was all so special. A month away from our family, friends, and clubs ended in the most spectacular of fashions.
We had done something that many great players attempted. We would go back to our clubs, carrying this piece of history with us, and taking valuable experiences to improve our game at the club level.
With one eye already on the World Cup, we knew that the next three months would be crucial, so it was straight back to work.