As an Ohio native who’s played at all levels, what’s your take on the growth of the sport here?
For those that are from Ohio and know the roots built here for the sport of soccer, it’s no surprise in terms of the quality of players that have come out of the state and played at top level colleges and the professional ranks. The strength of our state in producing good players and having a hunger for the game has always been there. Now, you’re starting to see it be respected on the national stage with the U.S. Soccer games in Cleveland, FC Cincinnati garnering tons and tons of support, and Columbus being one of the original MLS clubs.
Does the 2017 loss to Trinidad & Tobago — and missing the World Cup — add any extra motivation to this Gold Cup matchup?
It’s a big one for our federation for that exact reason. There’s going to be a lot of emotion attached to this fixture. But we’re also a new group stepping into a tournament format, so it will be an exciting game against a good team.
How important is this summer’s Gold Cup?
It’s certainly about hoisting the Gold Cup, but more important are the performances that we get leading up to that end result. Especially considering where we were at the end of 2017 with our World Cup hopes falling apart. For many of the guys that were a part of that group, it was a devastating moment. Now, we have a clean slate, a fresh start, and what better way to cement ourselves back into [World Cup] qualifying than playing well and winning the Gold Cup?
Have you ever played in Cleveland before?
Not professionally, but I lived on the west side of Cleveland at Brad Friedel’s Premier Soccer Academy when I was a freshman and sophomore in high school. I know the city decently well from that. Jimmy and Dee Haslam partnered with the Edwards family to #SaveTheCrew.
Do you think their involvement will help grow the Crew fanbase in Cleveland?
Absolutely. They are an ownership group, along with the Edwards family, that is extremely committed to the sport of soccer, the city of Columbus, and obviously the city of Cleveland. I think they saw a huge opportunity to give back to the state of Ohio and to do it in a way that’s going to grow the sport. They’re certainly committed to prolonging the Ohio soccer legacy and adding more to it.
How difficult was the 2018 season with so much relocation uncertainty hanging over Columbus Crew SC?
It was most difficult for our fanbase and the city. For us, as players, we knew that we had a job to do and that was to step on the field, block everything out, and try to win games. In doing so, I think we rallied fans behind us. There’s always going to be distractions and obviously this one was a bit heavier hanging over us, but I think we handled it well. Once we found out that the team was saved, the weight off our chest could be released and we played with a bit more freedom. It was a nice pressure release by the end.
What will new manager Gregg Berhalter bring to the national team?
You’re starting to see it already in the four games that he’s been at the helm. I’ve never been around a coach that has the same singular focus and understanding of how to formulate a game plan and teach it on the field in limited amounts of time. And then to get everyone to buy into it. There’s something about how he creates culture, both in Columbus and now with the national team, that really makes players want to step on the field and battle for him, their teammates, and their country. The results will hopefully continue to get better. The more familiar that guys are with him and his style of play, the better we’ll be.
Describe your playing style.
I’ve always been someone who tries to dictate tempo and rhythm of the game. It’s really about connecting passes, connecting dots, and putting my teammates in positions to be successful. It’s a pretty subtle type of game, I would say. More often than not, it’s the pass before the pass that creates the goal. I take a lot of joy in connecting the play, knitting the team together from back to front.
What has been the highlight of your career?
It’s hard to highlight one thing. It’s been great to work my way through the ranks here in Columbus to eventually become the captain at 24 years old and to play fifteen games for the national team. Those have been big highlights for me.
In 2018, you captained the USMNT on several occasions. What does it feel like to pull on the captain’s armband for your country on the international stage?
That one’s very difficult to articulate. First of all, I think about being a part of the national team group. You’ve been selected to represent a country of 320 million people. On top of that, you’ve been selected to start, you’re one of the eleven. On top of that, you’ve been selected to be the one that leads the team out onto the field. It’s almost this Russian nesting doll opening up smaller and smaller to get to that point. This is a massive honor. It’s something that I’ll never, ever take for granted.
Read more about USMNT's June 22 appearance in Cleveland in "Soccer Has Arrived In Cleveland."
8:00 AM EST
June 7, 2019