TAMPA, Fla. — As a mass of Colombian fans cheered Radamel Falcao’s go-ahead goal, New York City FC defender Ben Sweat was quietly absorbing the moment and preparing for one of the biggest milestones of his career.
Sweat made his US national team debut Thursday night at Raymond James Stadium, earning his first cap in his hometown in front of the largest crowd Tampa has ever seen for a national-team game: 38,631 fans.
“I have a ton of passion when I play for my club and I think it’s even a step more when you’re representing your entire nation,” Sweat said. “It was a special moment.”
Sweat entered the match at a tricky time. The US had rallied from a halftime deficit to take a surprising lead, but Colombia replied almost immediately and were beginning to really assert themselves.
In the 74th minute, with the match tied at 2-2, starting USMNT left back Antonee Robinson let Cafeteros forward Carlos Bacca get around him into open space after an American set piece.
Bacca slid the ball to Juan Fernando Quintero, who then threaded it to Falcao for a silky goal, showing Sweat, who was already waiting with the fourth official to replace Robinson, just how precarious his cameo could be against such an attacking powerhouse. Colombia would go on to win 4-2.
“He didn’t get a lot of minutes, but I thought there were some good moments and some moments where he was maybe a little indecisive,” interim coach Dave Sarachan said. “Let’s face it, that’s a hard game to come into in any position, but as a defender with the players they have, you’re thrown right into it. You get out of a little Volkswagen and you get into a Ferrari pretty quick, and I think that was Ben’s case.”
Ahead of Tuesday’s friendly against Peru, Sarachan now faces an interesting choice between Robinson, who was a defensive liability against Colombia but also notched his third assist for the national team this year, and Sweat, who has only played 14 minutes at the international level.
For his part, Sweat, 27, is confident in his ability to make a difference.
“It’s a big step forward,” he said. “I’m at a critical age where I’m nearing some prime years, and this is only going to benefit me and my development and help me contribute, not only to my club but to my national team as well.”