Monday, December 11, 2017
Sports

Captain America: U.S. men's national soccer team counts on its leaders

TAMPA — Six months into his debut season at Danish soccer side Brondby, U.S. Men's National Team player Clarence Goodson was selected by his team, arguably, the most well-known in Scandinavia, to wear the captain's armband for the remainder of the season.

What's even more impressive? Goodson doesn't even speak Danish.

At least not yet.

A 6-foot-4, 180-pound defender from Alexandria, Va., Goodson signed a three-year deal with Brondby before the 2011-12 club season after a two-year stint at IK Start in Norway, where he helped the club earn promotion into the Norwegian Premier League in his first season. Brondby needed a leader, and Goodson was looking for a club where he could take on more responsibility.

"That was one of the big things with Brondby in Denmark that they discussed with me, that they were looking for a leader/captain-type player, one that they felt going forward would be able to fill a leadership role for the team," Goodson said. "I came in, played six months, and after that they asked me to fill that role. … It was something that they saw in my character and my play."

Goodson represents a growing number of American soccer players earning respect worldwide not only with their tactical acumen but also their ability to unite a locker room. Jurgen Klinsmann, closing in on a full year as national team coach, said upon settling into his post that he challenged his players to expand their club-team roles.

Four players on the 23-man U.S. roster captain their club side: Goodson (Brondby), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96), Landon Donovan (L.A. Galaxy) and Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake).

"That's what I asked them for at the beginning of the year. I said, 'You know, you're a national team player, I expect you to become leaders,' " Klinsmann said. "… It's a good sign for American players that they're saying, 'We're ready for the next level.' "

Goodson, 30, is fighting for a regular starting role on the national team's backline foursome. He started all six games in the United States' run to the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup final and put in a full 90-minute shift Sunday against Canada, a match that ended in a 0-0 draw.

The United States went 1-1-1 in three international friendly matches leading up to the team's 2014 FIFA World Cup opening-round qualifier against Antigua and Barbuda at 7 Friday at Raymond James Stadium.

"I think that when you have a national team, you have a wide variety of players coming together to try to obviously do the best we can for our country," Goodson said. "The more players that you have in leadership roles, the better that is for the U.S. moving forward. When you have guys that are used to being locker room leaders, giving team talks, when you have those guys in the national team, it helps the younger players grow."

The U.S. team is developing an ever-expanding talent pool to choose from, and a player with a "C" next to his name might have a leg up on the competition when it comes to choosing a starting 11.

"I think the players understand that they're in charge of their destiny," Klinsmann said. "If they understand that with more work, the more they put into it, the more they get out of their own careers."

For Goodson, he's honored his club team would take a chance on a foreigner, one that is just beginning his tenure with the team.

To replay his club, he spends most of his free time trying to assimilate into the Danish culture.

"My wife and I take Danish lessons every week," he said. "I'm not fluent yet by any means."

Note: The national team will open its training session Thursday to the public. The hourlong practice will be held at Raymond James Stadium and starts at 7 p.m. Admission and parking are free.

Tickets

$22 to $199; ticketmaster.com, toll-free 1-800-745-3000 or RJS box office (10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday).

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Published: 12/10/17