He’s the newest member of the U.S. Men’s National Team but if you have been following the upper echelons of domestic soccer in recent weeks, Tristan Blackmon’s name already may seem familiar.
He has gone from Bishop Gorman to the University of Pacific to the Los Angeles Football Club of Major League Soccer in rapid succession, and last week was the only newcomer summoned to training camp in Orlando, Florida, by U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter and his staff.
The 24-year-old defender’s climb up the ladder has been swift and literally unflinching.
Three days before Christmas, Blackmon and LAFC were beaten 2-1 by Tigres UANL of Mexico in the CONCACAF Champions League Final also played in Orlando, in a bubble, amid the COVID-19 crisis. CONCACAF is the acronym for the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football, one of six continental governing bodies for association football.
The CONCACAF championship is contested among 41 leagues. The 2020 final, as these things often are, was a contentious affair. One of its lasting images was a confrontation in front of the Tigres’ goal pitting Blackmon against Nahuel Guzman, the Mexican side’s keeper.
Guzman advanced on Blackmon, repeatedly thrusting the soccer ball toward the Las Vegan’s face. Blackmon did not flinch. By so doing he invoked comparisons to a similar incident in an NBA game played in the same city a decade ago, when the Magic’s Matt Barnes faked throwing the basketball at Kobe Bryant’s face at point-blank range, and the Lakers’ star didn’t bat an eyelash.
Looks can be deceiving
Video clips were shown side by side. But Blackmon said his Black Mamba moment was more harmless than it may have appeared.
Bob Bradley, the LAFC coach and former coach of the U.S. national team, had cautioned the LAFC players about letting Tigres get a fast break going in transition.
“We just had a set piece or a corner (kick) and I was trying to get in front of the keeper to prevent him from playing quick,” Blackmon said from USMNT training headquarters. “I just stood my ground, and we kind of laughed it off in the end. It was a little different, but being mentioned in the same sentence (as Bryant) was quite an honor.”
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So now Blackmon finds himself competing for a spot on the national team, which is quite an honor, too.
“One of the most important things you can do is play for your country. I still have a lot of learn as a player but the fact this opportunity has come is really exciting,” he said.
Song sung Elvis?
As indicated, there’s still much work to be done before the U.S. roster for the 2022 World Cup in Quatar is submitted. The national team played just four times in 2020, but that won’t be the case in 2021 when it will compete in the first CONCACAF Nations League semifinals, the biennial Gold Cup and 2022 World Cup qualifying matches.
Blackmon is one of 38 players from whom Berhalter will choose and the only new one added to the senior roster of World Cup eligibles.
“I cannot even fathom what it would be like,” Blackmon said about representing his country in the world’s largest sporting event. “Hopefully down the road an opportunity presents itself. That would be incredible.”
After appearing in 42 games for LAFC since making his MLS debut in 2018, he’s content for now just lacing up his boots alongside players he idolized growing up. He’s soaking up knowledge like a sponge. He also hopes the senior team veterans will cut him slack when it’s his turn to sing in front of the group.
“That’s the most terrifying part,” he said of the time-honored training camp ritual.
Blackmon summoned a laugh when it was suggested he might sing an Elvis Presley song to honor his hometown. But you could tell he was trying again not to flinch.
U.S. National soccer team roster
(Club and international appearances in parentheses.)
Goalkeepers: Sean Johnson (New York City FC, 9), Matt Turner (New England Revolution, 0)
Defenders: Tristan Blackmon (LAFC, 0), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls, 18), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC, 13)
Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta (Colorado Rapids, 24), Sebastian Lletget (Galaxy, 17), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders FC, 19)
Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC, 115), Paul Arriola (D.C. United, 34), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC, 39), Chris Mueller (Orlando City SC, 1)
Goalkeepers: JT Marcinkowski (San Jose Earthquakes), David Ochoa (Real Salt Lake), Brady Scott (Austin FC)
Defenders: Julian Araujo (Galaxy), George Bello (Atlanta United FC), Chris Gloster (PSV Eindhoven/Netherlands), Aaron Herrera (Real Salt Lake), Aboubacar Keita (Columbus Crew SC), Henry Kessler (New England Revolution), Mauricio Pineda (Chicago Fire), Bryan Reynolds (FC Dallas), Miles Robinson (Atlanta United FC), Sam Vines (Colorado Rapids)
Midfielders: Hassani Dotson (Minnesota United FC), Bryang Kayo (Wolfsburg/Germany), Andrés Perea, (Orlando City SC), Tanner Tessmann (FC Dallas), Eryk Williamson (Portland Timbers), Jackson Yueill (San Jose Earthquakes)
Forwards: Cade Cowell (San Jose Earthquakes), Daryl Dike (Orlando City SC), Jeremy Ebobisse (Portland Timbers), Jesús Ferreira (FC Dallas), Jonathan Lewis (Colorado Rapids), Benji Michel (Orlando City SC), Djordje Mihailovic (Montreal Impact)