2021 is projected to be an important year for American soccer, and JT Marcinkowski and Jackson Yueill will face a major challenge with the U.S. Men’s National Team as they look to quality for this year’s Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Quakes’ Homegrown goalkeeper Marcinkowski and former SuperDraft selection Yueill were called to participate in the U.S. U-23 preparatory camp before joining the senior national team ahead of a friendly against Trinidad and Tobago on Jan. 31.
The camp is not Marcinkowski’s first. In fact, he has been a part of every U-23 camp this cycle and attended a similar winter camp last January in preparation for the 2020 Olympics before it was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, he continues to learn from his peers at both the U-23 and senior levels, claiming that there is always room to improve on top of his MLS experience.
“Being able to see the first team in the way they work and also having a group of U-23s was great,” Marcinkowski said. “Being able to play some MLS games last year is huge for my confidence and just seeing the game at a different level. Whenever you’re training with someone new, you’re always trying to take bits and pieces of whatever they do and try to apply it to your own game. Being able to learn from each other and having a very good training environment is really important.”
Yueill, who joined Marcinkowski from the U-23 camp to the senior team and also participated in last year’s camp, is also aware of the importance that these sessions provide for players across all national team levels and realizes how every camp elevates their quality and performance even more.
“It’s important that all the national team levels play under a similar system and its good to see the younger guys come in and get the experience,” Yueill added. “A lot of the younger guys are starting to get bigger roles within their clubs. You can see their growth and the maturity on and off the field that this last year gave everyone. With the improvement of everyone being able to be in camp, getting that confidence, gaining regular game minutes, and more time of seeing the field, I think everyone improves and raises the level of the group higher.”
Both players also got to train alongside 17-year-old Homegrown forward Cade Cowell for the first time at a U-23 national team camp. Despite Cowell’s young age, Marcinkowski recognized his potential to participate at that national team level more often in the near future.
“It was really cool to see him there. I think he is obviously a massive talent for the club, but I think he’s going to be a massive talent for the U.S. Men’s National Team too,” the Quakes goalkeeper shared. “I think it was a great experience for him to be in this camp and be a part of this roster of guys. I told him right before he left the camp how proud I was of him. I think coming into a new environment and just having a really open mind was really important for him and was a really good steppingstone for him to have a really good year.”
Yueill also reiterated his excitement after seeing Cowell join them at the U-23 camp for the first time.
“Having someone new from the club is always special. I think Cade has a really high ceiling that he’s going to be able to reach,” Yueill stated. “I think he had a really good camp. With the help of the coaching staff, JT and I helped a little bit as well, hopefully he gets a lot more call-ups, more confidence this year, and more game time because I think his ceiling is really high and I think he has the potential to do really good things with San Jose and with the national team.”
Both at only 23 years old, Marcinkowski and Yueill know that these national team call-ups are something that every player dreams about. While it fills them with pride, both continue to work during every call-up as they strive to become regulars at the national level in the near future.
“Playing for the national team is a massive honor and a huge opportunity to try to succeed at the international level. It’s really something that’s kind of surreal still,” Marcinkowski explained. “But I try to take it day by day and training session by training session and just hope that things work out by themselves as long as I put myself in a really good position. I do that by training hard, being a good teammate, trying to compete as much as I can and hope that things will kind of fall the way that they should. On a grand scale, it’s definitely my dream that’s coming true before my eyes.”
“This is a sweet dream,” Yueill confirmed. “Every time you get called up is special, and it doesn’t happen often. When you are in these camps and in these tournaments, you have to make the most out of them. That’s us being aware of the present moment and taking it day by day.”
Quickly approaching the USMNT’s first game of the year, Marcinkowski knows that every step gets them closer to the main goal: qualifying for the Olympics. And that starts with their friendly this Sunday.
“You definitely want to start the year on a strong note, which [Trinidad and Tobago] is a really tough opponent to show and executive all the things that we’ve been working on throughout the camp,” Marcinkowski declared. “The mindset is to try to perform as best as we can and take all that we’ve learned and apply it to an actual game. With this one and more to come, I think it’ll be a great steppingstone for the [Olympic] qualifiers.”
“This is a big year for U.S. Soccer, and it starts with this camp and this game,” Yueill said. “Even though it’s a friendly, it does [require us to] start the year off right. We’re taking this game very seriously and I think the preparation has been excellent from everyone. We’re excited to get back to games and start this year off with hopefully a good result.”
The USMNT will face Trinidad and Tobago in their first match of the year on January 31 in Orlando, Fla. The match kicks off from Exploria Stadium at 4 p.m. PT on FS1, UniMás and TUDN.