As the United States Men’s National Team prepares to take on Trinidad & Tobago at Exploria Stadium on Sunday, three of the four Orlando City players in camp have been excitedly waiting to see if they’ll get their first cap. They hope to follow fellow USMNT Lion Chris Mueller, who got his first cap in December.
We told you earlier today about what striker Daryl Dike had to say yesterday, and today Benji Michel and Andres Perea spoke via Zoom about their experiences.
Both young players seemed excited at the prospect of getting on their home field in their first USMNT match and are pleased that they got to go through this camp with their Orlando City teammates.
“The first thing we need to do is recognize the hard work and the achievements that Oscar (Pareja) and the technical staff have made because if it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t have four players here in camp, and having four players in one national team camp is just an incredible achievement,” Perea said through a club interpreter. “I think it’s just a beautiful thing to be able to be here with my three teammates and friends and see them accomplishing their dreams right alongside me.”
“I’m going into this camp. with guys that I’ve been playing with this whole year, so that I had that bit of comfort,” Michel said. “I wasn’t so nervous because I knew I had guys that were going to be there. Us four getting called into camp — I wasn’t shocked because we’ve all been putting in the work, countless hours, even after training. We’ve all been doing well in games, just making an impact, trying to be that spark that gets the game going for Orlando City. So it’s not a shock or anything for us. We’re just glad that the work we’re putting in is showing.”
Both Lions said they have tried to soak up as much as possible from this January camp, working with coaches and more experienced international players to learn whatever they can so they can show well and remain in the national team pool of players.
“It took me a while to get used to learning a new system, the way they want to do things. It took me a while to adjust, but now that I got it, I feel like I’m good and I’m fine,” Michel said. “I’m not nervous anymore. Day by day my confidence is getting higher and higher, so Gregg (Berhalter) and (U-23 coach) Jason (Kreis), they’ve both been really good to me at this camp, helped me with my confidence, telling me the good things and also telling me the bad things and what I need to work on, and sending me films to help my game and adjust to what I need to adjust to.”
“I’m a young player, and I’ve got a lot of things to work on,” Perea said. “So far, while I’ve been here, working on profile, the shape of my body, creating a first touch that’s more beneficial for the team, and transitioning to attack. I think I’ve been able to learn a lot from Gregg and Jason and the entire technical staff here in camp and really continue to improve and make strides in that while I’ve been down here. I think that’s something that I look forward to continuing to improve as I advance through my career.”
Michel pointed to two players in particular who have helped mentor him during this camp — Toronto FC striker Jozy Altidore and D.C. United winger Paul Arriola.
“Ever since growing up, I always thought Jozy was like the guy,” Michel said. “Like, he’s just a presence on the field and you know I’ve always enjoyed his game. He’s been taking me under his wing, just being that bigger brother, you know, giving us the confidence.”
“In terms of Paul Arriola, we play the same position. So, I’ve been trying to, you know, watch how he does things and learn from him because his movements are just crisp. He’s been in the system for a while. So, I’m just learning from Paul as much as I can.”
Perea also mentioned learning from Altidore and, surprisingly, a couple of center backs — Aaron Long and Walker Zimmerman.
“I think for being a young player and to be able to come in here and learn from so many players that have had these experiences and have already gone through what we’ve gone through, it’s just a great scenario,” Perea said. Cristian (Roldan) is just a great person and a great player that has achieved a lot so far and he’s been really helpful so far with all the players, and to be able to learn from guys like Walker, Sebastian Lletget, is just really a big advantage for young players in this camp. And I think it’s not so much just one person, it’s taking from everyone’s experience and combining it together.”
Perea has the added emotions entering his first cap of changing his national team association recently. It’s something that he’s not taking lightly and he’s always quick to point out that he has great love and respect for both Colombia and the United States.
“It was a big decision, and it’s no secret that I spent my first few years playing for the youth system in Colombia and representing them,” he said. “And, you know, the fact is that Colombia is my country, but I was always proud to represent them and I’m proud to be able to do the same here with the United States. There’s a lot of emotions going on — a lot of emotions that are arising — as I approach this first game for the United States, but it’s a big moment that I have to remind myself to enjoy. I’m proud to be able to enjoy it in the city of Orlando in a stadium that’s given me so much joy and great memories from this past year.”
Michel’s extra bit of emotion comes from being a hometown kid from here in Orlando. The Homegrown Player said it would be special to get his first cap in the City Beautiful.
“Being able to participate in this game is just a dream come true,” Michel said. “Where else would I rather play my first U.S. National Team game, or make my debut? Being able to wear the crest in front of my family, my friends and just to be a part of this is a really good feeling for me.”
Michel said that he had “at least 50 ticket requests” from family and friends — some going back to his middle school days — for Sunday’s match.
The U.S. and Trinidad & Tobago are set to battle at Exploria Stadium on Sunday at 7 p.m. (FS1, UniMas, TUDN).