At the start of January, it appeared rather likely Anthony Hudson’s interim stint at the helm of the US men’s national team would be a brief one. Perhaps even as brief as the eight days and two friendly matches of this month’s winter camp in Carson, California. That could have made Saturday’s friendly vs. Colombia the final event of his tenure.
“Obviously there’s been some changes,” said Hudson during Friday’s pregame press conference at Dignity Health Sports Park.
With sporting director Earnie Stewart’s departure for PSV Eindhoven revealed on Thursday, on top of the non-renewal of USMNT general manager Brian McBride’s contract, there’s presently no one on hand at U.S. Soccer to pick Hudson’s successor, let alone install them. So the Englishman will keep charting a course forward for the program, quite possibly all the way through this summer’s Gold Cup title defense.
“My focus is just to keep preparing the team for as long as I'm asked to do it,” said Hudson, who served as Gregg Berhalter’s first assistant for most of the 2022 World Cup cycle following Josh Wolff’s departure for Austin FC, and thus “feel[s] very much connected” to the squad. “I feel incredibly proud to have been asked to do this. It's not like I'm coming into this situation cold.
“I wasn't really expecting any of this, how this has evolved. But my focus is purely on, when we get back, I'm going to focus on the next window. And if I'm still asked to do the one after that, I'm going to prepare for that one. And I'll continue doing all I can. This is a really, really special team. I know how important this national team is and I want to do all I can to make sure it's in a good place for whoever comes in, whenever that is.”
Lineup changes coming vs. Colombia
Hudson said he’s not planning any significant changes to the tactics and philosophical identity installed by Berhalter, noting there’s not enough time to do so even if he wanted to. He is content to work with what’s been put in front of him, a pragmatic mindset that also applies to his lineups for this week’s friendlies, which he says are driven more by the performance staff’s fitness data than his own preferences.
That means a litany of changes from the XI that lost 2-1 to Serbia in Los Angeles Wednesday night.
“Everyone having played in these two games,” he said. “That's the objective. We want to see new players; can we add depth to the squad? And also by doing that, we need to make sure that we carry the players through these two games physically in the right way. Of course we want to win every game we go into, but we are led by the physical capacity of each player in these games.”
Copa América boost
With so much about the USMNT’s future up in the air, the official announcement of another joint Concacaf-Conmebol Copa América to be hosted in the United States next summer (2024) brings some welcome shape to the upcoming road towards World Cup 2026 on home soil. And the Yanks will need to take care of business in the 2023-24 Concacaf Nations League, which starts in the fall, to qualify for this 16-team Copa América.
“It's massive for us,” said veteran Nashville SC center back Walker Zimmerman. “After Qatar ended, we were, all of us, looking at the schedule going, OK, what are our pictures going to look like over the next three and a half years? We knew we had to play in big games. We had to play in big tournaments. And so the opportunity to have Copa América here in the United States, play against some of the best from Conmebol, I mean, it's huge for us.
“We do have Nations League coming up, Gold Cup coming up, which are titles that we're trying to defend. But it definitely adds that element of big games, big pressure and a great tune-up prior to 2026.”
Like the USMNT, Colombia have gathered a roster of newer and mostly younger faces for Saturday’s match, with a number of players from their domestic league as well as half a dozen based in MLS, like LAFC’s prolific finisher Chicho Arango and Portland Timbers livewire Santiago Moreno.
“They're a good team, really good team, good individuals,” said Hudson of Los Cafeteros, whose large, devoted populations of expatriate supporters in the US are fueling ticket sales for what’s projected to be a big turnout at the home of the LA Galaxy.
“They’re an aggressive team, really a lot of good one-v-one players, lot of quick players, direct players, good on the counterattack. And then within there they have a handful of really, really top individuals that obviously we're familiar with here in MLS. This is going to be a different test, and I would imagine that with the crowd that is going to come, it's going to be an intense game.”