USMNT convenes first camp of 2021 'at a low point' for country after Capitol riots

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The United States men’s national team’s first camp of 2021 kicked off on Saturday in Bradenton, Florida, just three days after a deadly breach of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. by supporters of President Trump ended with the deaths of five people, including an on-duty Capitol police officer.

And as they have been for Americans everywhere else, the surreal and frightening events of Jan. 6 have remained on the minds of the USMNT’s players as they returned to work this week.

“We all realize how horrific those events were, and we all understand that there’s a need for change in this country in a lot of ways,” said forward Jordan Morris, who is back with the national team for the first time since 2019 after the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out all but four games from last year’s schedule. “I think the big thing for us, and what I’ve talked to guys about a little bit — our goal as a national team is to be a positive representation of what that change can be, and how we need to move forward in these hard times. We hope as a team to be a positive light.”

Gregg Berhalter called last week's President Trump-incited Capitol riots a "low point" for the country. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Gregg Berhalter called last week's President Trump-incited Capitol riots a "low point" for the country. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

U.S. players joined fellow athletes from across sports by speaking out regularly on social issues in 2020 after the May death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man whose killing while in the custody of police in Minnesota was recorded by bystanders, sparked worldwide outrage. When the American squad finally took the field in November against Wales following its unplanned nine-month hiatus, they wore part of Mahatma Gandhi’s famous quote “Be the change you want to see in the world” emblazoned on the front of their warmup jackets.

Coach Gregg Berhalter said that the team hadn’t spoken about any specific response to last week’s insurrection, during which the members of the mob were heard openly threatening House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Trump’s own vice president, Mike Pence. But he added that “there is a conversation to be had within the group.”

“Like with anything, our efforts don’t stop when the year ticks over,” Berhalter said. “The way I see this is, this is a low point for us — there’s a lot of room to improve as a country. And it’s something where we can all be better examples, we can all be better citizens. And when you’re watching [Wednesday’s violence] , It doesn’t jive at all with what we know as America to be. It’s not who we are as a country, and it’s disappointing to see. But all we can do is be good examples and continue our efforts in trying to make change. I think that’s important message to the team.”

In spite of the ongoing health crisis, the U.S. men have been on a clear upward trajectory lately after failing spectacularly to qualify for a FIFA World Cup for the first time in 32 years back in 2017. A new generation of exciting young players has emerged and is performing well for some of Europe’s most successful and important clubs, including Sergino Dest at Barcelona, Weston McKennie with Juventus and Christian Pulisic of Chelsea.

But Dest, McKennie, Pulisic and most of the other overseas-based members of the player pool aren’t available for this camp, as it falls during their club seasons. Berhalter summoned just 12 players this month, all of them from MLS. Veterans Jozy Altidore, Paul Arriola, Aaron Long and Sebastian Lletget are among the veterans who joined Morris on the roster.

The group is training with the 26 players selected by U.S. under-23 national team coach Jason Kreis, who is hoping to qualify the U.S. men in March for its first Olympic appearance since 2008. A combined U-23/senior team is expected to face Serbia in a TBA exhibition at the end of the month.

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