Seven years ago, Chris Pontius and Alejandro Bedoya were young players sharing a room together during their first U.S. national team camp.
Since then, Bedoya has become a mainstay on the USMNT, while Pontius fell off the national team radar as he dealt with a rash of injuries.
But in a couple of days, both players will depart for another U.S. national team January camp together, along with their Union teammate Keegan Rosenberry, who got his first call-up.
“It’s awesome,” said Bedoya, who’s made 55 appearances for the USMNT and was a starter at the 2014 World Cup. “I think it’s great for the club. I’m very happy for Chris Pontius to get the call-up because I remember playing with him at my first January camp. Through all this time, he suffered through injuries and mishaps, so to see him fight through all that and have such a great season last year and get a call-up is well deserved and a great achievement for him.
“And with Keegan, to see a rookie play every minute, I’m very happy for him. He has great potential. … Three [Union] players representing the U.S. national team is something to be proud of and I’m looking forward to playing with them.”
Considering that Rosenberry was the MLS Rookie of the Year runner-up in 2016 while Pontius scored 12 goals in his first season in Philly, it’s not a huge surprise both got the call from U.S. head coach Bruce Arena, especially because the January camp is traditionally a time to look at new MLS players (since the USMNT players who play overseas are in the middle of their seasons).
But both are looking for a lot more than just exposure and are hoping to impress Arena (who none of them know particularly well) and use the camp as a springboard to earn their first-ever appearances in a USMNT game.
The U.S. plays Serbia in a friendly Jan. 29 and Jamaica five days later, before World Cup qualifying resumes in March in the first games since Jurgen Klinsmann was fired and replaced by Arena.
“It’s still a lot of hard work,” Pontius said. “It’s not a guarantee just getting called into the camp. There’s a lot of hard work ahead, and I’ve got to play well to prove myself.”
If anyone knows that nothing is guaranteed it's Pontius, who last got a U.S. call-up in 2012, but couldn’t go because of an injury. That’s been something of a theme for the 29-year-old winger, who looked to be one of the best American prospects in 2012 before injuries slowed his career progression.
But now that he’s healthy and enjoyed a breakout season in Philly in 2016, he feels more ready than ever to show what he can do at the international level.
“I’m less nervous, certainly,” he said. “I was very, very nervous in those first few camps and I think I’m a more confident player and more confident in my capabilities and know how to go about these camps in a different way. I think that just comes with eight-plus years of playing now as a pro. Learn your body, learn how to deal with these camps. It’s kind of like going into preseason. Like a rookie, it’s like going into camp and trying to impress.”
Rosenberry certainly knows what it’s like to impress as a rookie, locking down Philly’s right back spot after a strong preseason and leading MLS in minutes played in his first season. But going into this camp, which opens Tuesday in Carson, California and features 32 MLS players, he’s trying his best to act more like a seasoned veteran than a wide-eyed rookie — even if that means not asking too many questions to Bedoya and Pontius.
“I think when I get out there, I’ll talk to those guys a little bit,” Rosenberry said. “You don’t want to seem like too much of a young guy. You don’t want to show your ignorance, if you will. You try and play it cool as best you can until you get out there. I’m looking forward to seeing those guys.”
For what it’s worth, Pontius doesn’t think he needs much guidance.
“He doesn’t act like a rookie,” Pontius said. “He doesn’t approach things like a rookie. He’s a pretty bright kid, and if he has any questions, I’m there for him. But I’m sure Keegan will perform well.”
Still, for all three Union players, it’s fair to say that going with a couple of teammates should only make a great experience even better.
“I couldn’t be more excited,” Rosenberry said. “Having a couple of teammates out there just means the world.”
“I was ecstatic to get called back in,” Pontius added. “If anyone isn’t striving to be on the national team, then I think there’s something wrong with that. As an American player, that’s the ultimate prize for us.”