There are no off days in the life of a professional athlete, no time to rest on laurels, no time to reflect on the past season. When partaking in something at the highest level, you have to keep making progress, because if you aren’t, someone else is. Select members of the Quakes academy are no exception - off days have gone the way of the pet rock and Atari; they’re obsolete.
Amir Bashti and J.T. Marcinkowski were two of 64 players invited to the Nike World Headquarters in Portland, OR, to participate in the U.S. National Soccer Combine. They made up one third of the Northern California contingent that was selected to represent the region at this year’s camp. “It is always a massive honor getting invited to a National Team camp,” said Marcinkowski. “This one was even more special because I got to spend it with a friend and teammate like Amir.”
Needless to say, the feeling is mutual. “J.T. and I have been playing together for a couple of years now and always have each other’s backs.,” said Bashti. “He has quite a presence in the net and that gives me even more confidence when I play in front of him.”
The player pool was selected by U.S. Soccer scouts, led by scouting director Tony Lepore. They have evaluated these young men through assessment at training centers and local combines, development academy events and other youth soccer programs over the past year. This National Combine is a premier opportunity for the nation’s top high school-aged players to be evaluated by National Team staff and scouts from around the country. Bashti and Marcinkowski have obviously been tracked and followed for the past few years, but they got their chance to shine at the local San Francisco regional tryout July 26-28.
Each year, U.S. Soccer holds more than 200 Training Center sessions, which are one-day National Team player identification programs that connect the top local players with Youth National Team scouts. The combine is free to attend, but players must be invited to participate, and of the 64 young men this year, 28 have affiliations to MLS club academies. Most of the current members of the CONCACAF U-17 Championships team were left off the list as they have already been tagged for probable roster spots moving forward.
For Marcinkowski, the invite alone was not lost on him. “This was an awesome experience, one that I will never forget,” he said. “Just being at the Nike world headquarters and getting to use world class facilities was a special experience on its own.”
Said Bashti, reflecting on the positive vibes surrounding the combine, “It doesn’t just feel like a group of players put together to form a team; it feels much more like a family.”
The U-18 national team does not compete in world championship level tournaments; it is intended as a bridge from the U-17 to U-20 levels. This makes it highly possible that several members of Lepore's player pool will go on to be featured in U-20 national team action in the future.
Bashti is no stranger to this scene and truly values the experiences he’s had, saying, “The high level of expectation from the National Team staff and playing with top level players helps push me to continue to strive to be a better player and person, on and off the field.”
Bashti and Marcinkowski weren’t the only Quakes representatives at the combine; franchise player, home-grown talent, and soccer superstar Chris Wondolowski stopped by to drop some knowledge on a very receptive group of young men. “Wondo” stood in front of them and shared his wisdom and experiences with the hope of showing them a path to reach and exceed their goals.
Said Marcinkowski: “I really got a lot out of it. He (Wondolowski) has been in my shoes and had to work hard for everything he has achieved.”
Marcinkowski’s biggest takeaway from the five-day camp was that “success doesn’t come unless you’re willing to work hard for it.”
These are savvy words coming from a young man who has only been eligible to drive for a little over five months. Marcinkowski, along with Bashti, are not strangers to this level of competition, as they have both been members of the U.S. Men’s National Team program going on three years. It is plain to see that the future is bright, not just for the Quakes academy, but for both of these young men as well.
- Richter Media