CARSON, Calif. — For interim United States men’s national team coach Anthony Hudson, there is no hiding the obvious. After a successful run to the round of 16 at the World Cup, the hope was to build off — and celebrate — that performance to begin the new cycle.
Instead, after a bizarre set of circumstances that contributed to the expiration of coach Gregg Berhalter’s contract, Hudson admitted there is a sense of sadness hanging over the team, which was eliminated by the Netherlands in Qatar.
“It’s a shame for everyone who’s involved: players, staff, Gregg, everyone is affected by it,” Hudson said. “It’s not a nice situation.”
But, Hudson said, that’s professional sports. Adversity comes with the territory and it’s up to him and the blend of mostly high-potential young players and World Cup veterans to make the most of its annual January camp and a pair of friendlies against Serbia and Colombia on Jan. 25 and 28, respectively.
“It’s been a dream for so many of them — so many of us, but mainly the players,” said Hudson, who was on Berhalter’s staff as an assistant in Qatar. “They set out with a big, lofty ambition, not just to go [to the World Cup], but to go there and represent themselves in a way that people would sit up and take notice of the team.”
“So when all this happened, I think it was [a feeling] of shame. It’s sadness because all the attention has gone away from that. All the good work and it’s been shifted in another direction.”
Until U.S. Soccer hires a permanent coach, it will be difficult for everyone to move on completely without acknowledging the state of flux. Especially with an ongoing external investigation into a 1991 domestic violence incident involving Berhalter, which was brought to the attention of USSF general manager Earnie Stewart by Danielle Reyna, the mother of star winger Giovanni Reyna.
“I’ve said yes to doing it for now and then my next huge responsibility is to the players,” Hudson said. “Because we can’t get all our players from overseas because they’re not available, historically, this camp opens up a space for new players to come in.
“We’ve seen there’s 30-odd plus players that have made their first or second cap in this window in the past and gone on to represent [us] in the World Cup.”
Among the players that could fit that profile is goalkeeper Gaga Slonina. The 18-year-old recently completely a move to Chelsea from the Chicago Fire FC and has pledged his international future to the U.S. despite being eligible for Poland, where both his parents are from.
“It’s an honor to be here,” Slonina said. “I’m using this opportunity to show what I can do as a player for the national team, I think that’s very important. The move has been great. The training and level there is something that I think every player dreams of.
“Coming out here and showing what I’ve learned out there for the short time I’ve been there, I think that’s something I can use to my advantage.”
Slonina is one of the few European-based players who received club approval to take part in this camp, which is not in a designated FIFA international window.
“[Chelsea is] super proud,” Slonina said. “A club like that, I think, gives you the most resources to be successful. When you get an opportunity like this, yeah, they’re super happy. Told me to enjoy the moment and hopefully get my first cap with the national team.”
Hudson said the group was designed to blend high-potential, Olympic-age players with dual nationals and players with World Cup experience. The idea being the Qatar veterans — Walker Zimmerman, Kellyn Acosta, DeAndre Yedlin, Aaron Long, Sean Johnson and Jesus Ferreira — would be able to take on larger leadership roles and impart the developed culture with the new faces.
“They’ve responded really, really well as I’d expect them,” Hudson said. “I mean, that’s why we chose them to come in because we know the character of these guys.”
Following the two games, Hudson doesn’t have a clear expectation for what’s next for the team or himself.
“I have no idea,” he said. “I think we play these two games and I’m going to go home and see what comes after that.”