I wrote about Minnesota's own Eric Miller for Saturday's Soccer Insider column, but of course not everything that we chatted about could fit into the paper. In particular, Miller was notably focused less on the possibility of earning his first cap for the senior national team this week, and more on how the U-23 players in the USMNT camp could improve and prepare for this spring. The U-23s are facing a home-and-away series with Colombia at the end of March; the winner goes to the Olympic Games, the loser misses out on the trip to Rio. Given that the USA missed qualifying for the 2012 Games, and given the struggles of every American men's team lately, upsetting Colombia would be a big step for not just the U-23s but for the entire men's setup.
Speaking of the camp, Miller said, "It’s been a fantastic space so far to work with some of the best players that the country has to offer. It’s been a huge experience for the younger guys here, to play at a faster pace with really, really top players. For the younger guys, especially when we go to camp with the U-23s it’s fast, but when you get here it’s another level of fast. That sort of stuff is really valuable for us moving forward into MLS, and into the U-23s games that we have coming up."
Given that, I wondered how much the U-23 team was thinking about Colombia. "It’s important to keep those games in mind," he said. "Even today [at practice in camp] we talked a lot about it. If things start going poorly, what are we doing [then]? We have to make sure our reactions are proper and we’re staying in it, because down in Colombia, things are going to go poorly at some point during the game. We’re going to have to react and recover from how things are going, and right the ship. I think in the back of our mind we’re all thinking about Colombia in March and how these games [the friendlies this week] can help us with those games."
And so, for Miller and for his potential Olympic teammates, this camp was as much a bonding exercise as anything. "I think a lot of it is sort of preparing for the season, a lot is fitness," said Miller. "A lot of it is working on chemistry. For the 23s, we don’t have a lot of chances to play together. When the international breaks come we play two games, so that means two games in a week or so - so we don't have a lot of time to train and be together. But a chance like this, where we have a month to hang out together and play together, you learn a lot about players’ tendencies and that sort of thing. For everyone, younger guys or older guys, it’s really valuable. Knowing a guy better, knowing what he likes to do is super valuable in training. Those little things can make a huge difference."
That said, there's always that potential future with the senior national team in mind, and I'm sure that every U-23 player was hoping to impress Jürgen Klinsmann and the rest of the USMNT brass in January, as well. Miller, even as he thought about Colombia, was thinking about the future, as well. "We have a lot of talented guys on the 23s and a lot of guys who are looking to make a lasting impression on the coach," he said. "This is the first step in a long journey with the national team."
Miller was on the bench for Sunday's 3-2 win over Iceland, but didn't end up winning his first cap for the USMNT. His next chance comes Friday night, as the USA takes on Canada (9:15 p.m., FS1).