Some players may have walked onto the training field with wide eyes this week as the US national team kicked off January camp at StubHub Center, but Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez certainly weren’t among them.
At this point, it's all just a routine part of the job.
Besler, one of five Sporting Kansas City members in camp, had never appeared for the US until he and Gonzalez manned the central defense in the scoreless draw against Mexico at Estadio Azteca last March. He became only the second player in US history to start a World Cup qualifier with fewer than two caps, and now he’s an elder statesman of sorts as nine others still seek their first cap.
“It’s a weird feeling for me,” Besler told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday. “It’s only a year ago when I came in without any experience. Now the feeling coming in is that I am one of the older guys. A lot of the new guys might be looking at some of us for guidance and leadership, so it’s definitely different.
"Experience always helps. It’s one of the biggest things in soccer and I’m going to try to use it but, at the same time, it’s important to understand that you have to push yourself to the next level.”
Gonzalez, meanwhile, made eight appearances during qualifying, the second-highest total among those called up to the current camp. The 25-year-old credited last year’s camp under Jurgen Klinsmann for a strong 2013 showing.
“I’m approaching this camp the same way,” Gonzalez told reporters. “I don’t think I have to change it at all. The approach I had last year was the right one -- that was to put my head down, work hard, put everything into every training session and not look too much into the future.”
Gonzalez admitted he’s not yet 100 percent healthy as he continues to battle a “couple nicks.” Interestingly enough, the pace in training -- which Gonzalez pegged as “200 miles per hour” -- might not allow for much healing, but he said that should not slow him down.
“Last year’s [camp] was fun with a lot of good football,” Gonzalez said. “I’m looking forward to a good start to the year because last year was a great one for me. It all started with this January camp, so I’m looking forward to that again.”
“I can’t be content with where we’re at now,” Besler said. “Guys are fighting for spots. We all know what’s at stake, so we’re all competing. It’s friendly competition because we’re a team, but it’s going to be intense.”