Union midfielder Alejandro Bedoya and striker C.J. Sapong spoke with reporters Wednesday at the U.S. national team’s training camp in Portugal, ahead of next Tuesday’s game there. Here’s a transcript of their remarks, distributed by the U.S. Soccer Federation:
On the state of the national team program right now:
I think now, we’re kind of entering a transitional phase of older players getting phased out a little bit, and then introducing some young, newer talent to the team. So I think this camp is very important for those reasons.
I think Dave [Sarachan, the interim head coach] said it last night: From the beginning, this is an opportunity for a lot of people. Even for older guys like myself to show that we can continue in the program and give something back.
But also for the young guys and the new players to come in, get a feel for what it’s like to play for the national team, to represent your country and see what the setup is all about. To gain some confidence, and for everybody to see the talent that’s coming through the ranks.
On being an elder statesman on this roster:
For me personally, I think, as one of the older, more experienced guys, I think I just try to talk to the younger players, show them the way around the national team and kind of guide them through the whole process.
For me, whenever I get a chance to be called up, I always take it. It’s a privilege to play for the national team. It’s a great honor. It’s always a blessing. So I just take it in stride and continue to do the things that I’ve always done that have kept me coming into these camps, and playing as a professional.
But at the same time now, also, taking on kind of that leadership role, and extending it out to the young guys and making them feel comfortable, in a good transition, and keeping them confident.
On whether he was surprised to be called onto the national team for this game:
A little bit. I’m not going to lie. Honestly, I thought there would probably be wholesale changes throughout the whole team. But at the same time, you go through a transitional phase, you expect some guys like myself who have been around for a while to be here to get that experience going.
I’m not totally surprised, either — some guys aren’t here because of the [MLS] playoffs or other reasons, injuries and stuff. Like I said, now I just take my experience and take it as a leadership role, and help these young guys out and hopefully make it a good camp.
On what it takes to get over not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup:
Yeah, that was a big gut punch. Obviously, you deal with it. The first few days were very tough. It’s hard to get over.
Returning to my family, seeing my son at the airport, my young newborn baby there – that puts perspective to a lot of things. But at the same time, the World Cup is the pinnacle of a soccer career, so it definitely hurt.
But it felt nice to get right back out on the field and play at my club, and now with this camp I think you can only dwell so much on the past. It doesn’t change anything. So now the only thing you can do is come into another camp.
This is a great opportunity to face a great team. For some of the young kids, take this opportunity and make the most of it. Life, and soccer, goes on.
On returning to the national team for the first time in many years:
I think my first time around, being a first-year pro, I didn’t really know how to approach it. I wasn’t mentally in a place where I felt like I could give my all and actually have an impact. This time around, I feel very confident in my form and my mentality. So it’s good. Also, seeing familiar faces and being able to come in on the first day and feel comfortable.
My philosophy has always been: Just have an impact. For the national team to see that and give me an opportunity is definitely a blessing. It’s also even more motivation to work even harder and take my game to the next level.
On being part of the first national team squad since the World Cup qualifying failure:
The biggest thing with adversity is the way you respond, and we have an opportunity to kind of shape the direction of the national team moving forward. I’m very excited to be part of that opportunity, and I know the guys are as well. And like I said, it’s the response. I think we’re up to the challenge. You’ve [also] got to enjoy the experience and understand that it is a privilege to be able to wear these colors.