One week after being named to the U.S. U-18 Men’s National Team roster for the Copa del Atlantico, JT Marcinkowski found himself halfway across the globe in the Canary Islands of Spain.
Marcinkowski was one of five players representing four MLS Academies on the 18-man roster, 14 of which were with the squad in Limoges, France last October. “It’s a huge honor to be selected to represent not just my country, but my family, my hometown and my club,” he said.
The U.S. contingent, making its first appearance in the prestigious international tournament, was the youngest group in the competition, having 8 players born in 1997.
“The feeling you get when you hear the National Anthem and see your flag waving is indescribable; it gives you that extra boost to play to your fullest potential.” Marcinkowski said. “You feel like you’re a part of something bigger than just a soccer match; it’s very humbling.”
Marcinkowski and his teammates were accompanied by their coaches, trainers, and support staff and had plenty of time for training early in the trip before their matches. “The support staff takes complete care of us on the road; anything we need, they make sure we have it so we can just focus on playing soccer,” he said.
On most off days, there were training sessions, sometimes two, but the team had plenty of time to relax and recover as well. “It was nice to get our legs underneath us those first few days; we were able to get some quality training and good rest before game day.” No family members made the trip, which allowed the players the opportunity to spend some quality time with their teammates from across the country, a true team building experience. “We took a few trips to the beach, took a drive to the other side of the island to explore; there was definitely some time for fun in between matches and practice.”
Marcinkowski was one of two goalkeepers selected for the tournament team and played the duration of each of the first two matches. He was one of five players for the U.S. to play the full 180+ minutes in those first two; both of them hard-fought, 1-0 losses. “Those were both really tough,” he said. “We had a handful of opportunities to score in each match but we just weren’t able to capitalize on them.”
Their first match pitted them against a powerful Spanish team with a roster laced with pro-level players at the Municipal Maspalomas in San Bartolome de Tirajana. Marcinkowski got the starting nod from head coach Javier Perez and he did not disappoint, allowing just a single goal. The United States played aggressive and determined soccer, at times controlling the play for extended stretches, and held the powerful Spanish offense scoreless for 87 minutes. Spain had the same number of shots on goal and lost the corner kick tally 4-0, but Yelko Pino Caride snuck a ball past Marcinkowski late for the difference.
The next day, the U.S. squared off against the Argentinean U-20 team and, again, Marcinkowski was up to the task, shutting out the older and more experienced team through the first half of play.
“They were a very talented group with a lot of professional talent,” he said, “but we went toe to toe with them for a full 90 minutes.” As his teammates matched the level of play from line to line, Marcinkowski was right behind them turning away all attackers. The U.S. team had more shots on goal and more corners than their Argentine opposition, but in the 66th minute, Rodrigo Contreras slid a shot past Marcinkowski to give his squad a lead they’d never relinquish. “Any other weekend we might have won all of those matches,” he said. “We just weren’t able to take advantage of our scoring chances.”
Their final match, on Friday the 7th, saw them take on the host team representing the Canary Islands. After getting down 2-0 in the first half the U.S. battled back to tie the match in the 77th minute after some fine play by their captain, Rubio Rubin. With less than a minute to go, the hometown team found some late heroics and put the Americans down for good at 3-2.
Despite going 0-3, the U.S. matched its three opponents in all facets of the game, with the exception of the final score, including an Argentine squad with two years of age and experience on them. They played so well that even with a winless trip, the Player of the Tournament was one of Marcinkowski’s teammates, Mukwelle Akale of the Minnesota Thunder.
The trip didn’t produce any wins over top-level international competition, but it did build and strengthen some friendships between some of our nation’s elite footballers.
“Playing with the U.S. U-18 Men’s National Team is such an amazing experience,” Marcinkowski said. “Everybody on the team is extremely talented and there are some really cool guys as well. It’s fun to get together with mostly the same group every few months and play against the best the world has to offer; they’re special trips.”
Marcinkowski will continue to be a member of the pool of around 35 players that the team is selected from. Marcinkowski speculates their next opportunity will likely be at the Lisbon International Tournament in Portugal this May, where last year’s team went 1-1-1. “I hope to be a part of the National Team’s success, not just in Portugal this year, but for years to come,” said Marcinkowski. “It’s a tremendous honor and I love to be a part of it.”
- Richter Media