Representing your country is one of the highest honors in sports.
Matt Polster had that chance while training with the U.S. National Team during the annual January camp. Now the Fire’s second-year midfielder is hoping to improve upon his positive debut season.
Polster didn’t get to play during the two friendlies the U.S. played to conclude the training camp, but he still figures to be a part of the U-23 squad that hopes to qualify for the Olympics via a two-leg playoff against Colombia in March.
“It was a great experience being with all those players,” Polster said. “I think the caliber of coaches made the experience very good obviously. I was able to learn a lot. I picked up some things from veteran players like Michael Bradley and how they prepare themselves before training and games.
“I picked up some things on how they prepared, how they work during training and how mentally engaged they were through everything.”
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Polster initially received an email saying he was being considered for the camp. He later got the call from manager Jurgen Klinsmann to make it official that he would be a part of the group. Polster said he immediately called his parents and some friends to share the news.
Despite not playing in a match, training with a select group of players was something that Polster, who had not represented the U.S. at any other youth level, was honored by.
“That’s the highest thing you can do is play for your national team so to get that opportunity to play for the national team and put the shirt on and represent the country I think is a huge step for my career,” Polster said. “I think I did well in camp, which is a little bit of a confidence booster as well. I think each part of camp was slowly building confidence, getting a rhythm and building up for Chicago.”
Polster was joined by Fire teammates Sean Johnson and Brandon Vincent at the training camp. The trio joined the Fire midway through the club’s stay in Tampa for the preseason.
Upon arriving in Tampa, Polster noticed changes under first-year coach Veljko Paunovic.
“He’s very hands on,” Polster said of Paunovic. “He’s always engaged. He likes to stop sessions, let us know what we’re doing wrong, what we can do better or even sometimes stop and say that was good. I think he’s tactically very smart. I think we’re going to have an idea of how we want to go forward, how we want to defend, how we want to build out of the back.”
Individually, Polster admitted he has some things to sharpen up. On the team side, Polster said the returning Fire players have something to prove after a disappointing season last year.
Polster’s desire to improve is something that stood out to Paunovic.
“He is a really young guy full of potential, full of energy, which we have to channel,” Paunovic said. “We have to channel his passion, his will to give his best in every session, in every game, which is very, very important. At the same time we have to put that under control and that control has to come from him. That’s what we are working on from him. We really think he has potential and a big value in our club and our league.”