In the aftermath of the U.S. national team failing to qualify for the World Cup, fans are somewhere in the stages of grief.
Past that is a chance to look ahead to the future. The U.S. men don’t play a competitive game at the senior level until the 2019 Gold Cup. There’s always a long gap after a World Cup, but add another eight months to that by missing out on the World Cup and that becomes a very long time between truly meaningful matches.
What that gap should provide is an opportunity for younger players newer to the national team setup to get more chances in the coming months. Two players that may be given those chances are Fire fullbacks Brandon Vincent, 23, and Matt Polster, 24.
Vincent, the Fire’s second-year left back who has shown notable improvement from his rookie season, has already been capped with the senior national team. He appeared as a substitute against Canada in a friendly in February 2016. He was a part of the annual January camps where a group of mostly MLS players in their offseasons join the national team while the European-based players remain with their clubs while those seasons hit the midway point.
Polster has moved between a central defensive midfield role and right back in his three seasons with the Fire. He was a part of the failed Olympic qualifying team in 2016 and also took part in that same January camp as Vincent, but did not play. Polster was included in the preliminary roster for this summer’s Gold Cup, but was not selected to the final group.
Both have been key to the Fire’s success this year with the Fire’s streak of six losses in seven matches happening when both were out injured.
Vincent’s reaction to the American failure was more from the fan’s perspective than a player's.
“I don’t know if I’m even close to being in the conversation so it’s more of a fan type view for me,” Vincent said. “It’s gonna be weird not watching them.”
Polster related to some of the younger players on the team he has played with.
“I think the biggest thing is it’s just disappointing for all the guys,” Polster said. “They put a lot of effort in and obviously it didn’t go in their favor. To go through the entire hex and not qualify is disappointing, especially for the young guys like (Christian) Pulisic, (Kellyn) Acosta, (Paul) Arriola…. To not get that experience at a young age is disappointing.”
Polster played right back in Olympic qualifying, but was still playing midfield with the Fire at the time. This season, he has moved to right back and looked better at that spot than he did when he played there as a rookie. Fullbacks have always been hard to come by for the U.S. so Polster could at least be in the conversation going forward. He even had his own ambitions for trying to squeeze into this World Cup roster.
“The ultimate goal was that they’d qualify and hopefully I could make January camp and then I could turn some heads,” Polster said. “That was my thought process and I really wanted to give it a go. Hopefully I can do what I can to maybe help and be a part of it one day.”
If Polster has extra value for playing right back, Vincent may get double points for being a left-footed left back. His national team prospects may be greater than Polster’s for that reason.
“I’ll do everything I can to play as well as I can and improve as much as I can, but getting in that group is out of my hands,” Vincent said. “It’s not really my thing to worry about as long as I produce on the field here in Chicago, that’s all I can focus on.”