Christian Pulisic back; USMNT retooling to continue in friendly against Bolivia
CHESTER, Penn. -- Bill Hamid is only 27 years old, but he's still feeling his age.
The U.S. international goalkeeper is one of the elder statesmen on the current roster -- average age: 22 -- that will face Bolivia in an international friendly on Monday. There have been moments when that reality hit home.
"These young guys are looking at me, and [I'm] telling stories about Maurice Edu and Oguchi Onyewu," Hamid said before Sunday's training session. "They don't even know who these guys are. So it's a little weird. That's telling me that I'm growing up a little bit."
That isn't to say that Hamid thinks the current crop doesn't belong. There is talent among the current group, even though a considerable chunk of it is untested at the international level. But there is something more: a desire to prove that they should be part of the U.S. team going forward.
"There's so much character, there's so much energy and charisma about these young guys," Hamid said. "They have a good energy about them, and you can appreciate that. They're all driven. They all want to play for their country. There's no lack of passion or intensity. So I think that's going to bode well for the future because these guys, you can tell they're really hungry."
Monday's match is just the latest step in retooling a U.S. team that failed to qualify for the World Cup, though in this case, there's a twist. Christian Pulisic is back with the U.S. for the first time since that fateful night in Trinidad and Tobago in October. With nothing at stake at the international level over the past seven months, caretaker manager Dave Sarachan has quite logically put Pulisic's club commitments with Borussia Dortmund first while remaining mindful of his workload. Pulisic sounded grateful for respite.
"I love playing with the national team," Pulisic said Sunday. "I love being here as much as I can. Obviously, I had a season to finish up. It's not like I didn't want to go to those past few games in Europe or whatever. But I have a good relationship with Dave. We discussed, and we decided what was best for me at that time. I'm happy to be here for this game."
The match will be the first time Pulisic will share the field with Schalke midfielder Weston McKennie. The two have known each other since they attended camps for the under-14 national team, and given how the two have progressed with their clubs, the expectation is that the two will be at the heart of the U.S. midfield for years to come.
"I know him well," Pulisic said. "I've played with him since U-14 national team camp. To play with him now on the full national team is definitely an exciting time. I'm definitely looking forward to it."
Rebuilding the U.S. squad goes well beyond just two players. The center of defense looks to be coalescing around Matt Miazga and Cameron Carter-Vickers, with Erik Palmer-Brown doing what he can to push the players in front of him.
"All of those guys have come off seasons where they banked a lot of minutes against good competition," Sarachan said of the defending trio. "I think each one sort of offers something a little bit different. But I think those partnerships ... have begun forming, and I think that's a position that is showing at least on paper a little more depth than maybe there's been in the past."
The competition at goalkeeper is ongoing as well, with Hamid vying with Ethan Horvath and Alex Bono for playing time. Each keeper finds his career in a state of flux. Hamid's situation, one that saw him move to Danish side Midtjylland during the winter transfer window, has been relatively stable, though there was considerable adjustment required in terms of acclimating to a new country and a new style of soccer.
"I needed something a little bit different. I went with something a lot different," Hamid said. "I'm just taking everything in stride, learning as much as I can. It's a new style of football, a completely different style of football. The formation that we play is something you don't see in MLS. The way that we want to play is something you don't see in MLS."
Bono remains the starting keeper with reigning MLS champs Toronto FC, though the current season has seen some ups and downs. His performances in the CONCACAF Champions League were inconsistent to say the least.
Yet the biggest roller-coaster ride was endured by Horvath. He started the first 12 league games of the season for Club Brugge and then plummeted down the depth chart before recovering to play the final three games of the Belgian league playoffs, including the title-clinching 1-1 draw against Standard Liege.
"It was very gratifying because you're on the bottom, and you get kicked down all the way down to the ground," Horvath said. "Sometimes you were No. 3. Sometimes you were No. 4. Then to be able to come out on top and be on the field winning the league was a very good feeling."
It's the kind of lesson that can steel a young player to the rigors of the professional game, be it for club or country. Monday will provide a measure of how far they've come.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.