Having two players still in the mix for the United States' first Hexagonal match of World Cup qualifying is a point of pride, to be sure. But for Sporting Kansas City, the benefits could be more tangible come summer.
The more experience his players get in contentious matches in Central America, manager Peter Vermes said, the more prepared they'll be when Sporting open CONCACAF Champions League play.
“You can't replicate that here, right? No matter how much you try, it's a different world when you go to those countries – how they treat you and how they deal with things,” Vermes told reporters on Monday. “So we need to be ready, able and street smart in a lot of those situations. Some of that stuff, I think a lot of guys are going to learn on the fly.”
Midfielder/winger Graham Zusi, one of the two players kept on by U.S. coach Juergen Klinsmann for Wednesday's match in Honduras, would seem to have proven himself a quick study in that area.
Last January, in only his second match for the Nats, he scored his first international goal in a 1-0 friendly at Panama. Then, in the summer, he was on the pitch when the U.S. picked up their first win ever on Mexican soil, another 1-0 friendly victory at previously-impregnable Estadio Azteca.
“You get it quickly. You're thrown in to the wolves,” Vermes said. “There's no other way to do it. Soas soon as you play your first game, that's major experience. So I think for him, that's been good.”
Central defender Matt Besler, who is coming off a solid showing in his first cap – last week's scoreless draw against Canada – was in the 18 for the Mexico match but did not play.
The difference this time out, though, is that there's something more than pride on the line. The U.S. face a tough road in the Hex stage, especially starting out against a Honduran team eager to prove it belongs on the same level as the Nats and El Tri.
It's the sort of test every player hoping for success in regional competition has to take, Vermes said, and he's glad to see Besler and Zusi making the trip.
“All of those experiences hopefully will help us in all of the competitions we're going into,” Vermes said. “The other thing is, it's good for their confidence and it's good for their game. The speed of play is quick. They're already in the competitive mindset to win games.”
That said, having players get extensive duty with the national team is not an unmixed blessing.
“The key with those guys is how much do they actually play,” Vermes said, “and then – I don't mean just that game, I mean as they go forward – and then being able to give them the right time off to make sure that they're recovering not just physically but also mentally – that they're not just 'oversoccered.' I want them to remain hungry when they come back here.”