Tuesday, October 23, 2018
Sports

Palm Harbor’s Ben Sweat makes national team debut in hometown

TAMPA — For those planning on following the men's U.S. national team in its exhibition match against Colombia, it might be wise to buy a program. As the American begin the long journey of trying to qualify for the 2022 World Cup, the roster is very different from the one that failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

There are 15 players who have earned their first caps (national team appearances) in 2018 and 18 overall since November of last year. Four other players are hoping to get their first playing time with the national team.

One of those is Palm Harbor's Ben Sweat.

Sweat, 27, was called up to the national team for the first time. He will be part of the team's October camp, which not only includes Thursday's match at Raymond James Stadium, but a match against Peru on Tuesday in Hartford, Conn.

Sweat, a left back, currently plays for the MLS' New York City FC. Prior to that, he played for the Rowdies from 2015-16.

As an amateur, he was a standout for the Clearwater Chargers club team and Palm Harbor University High School. He spent four years at USF and made 78 appearances, which is a school record.

Sweat is the local kid in this match. National team coach Dave Sarachan will not set his lineup until game day, but Sweat is a good bet to get playing time in his hometown. The fact that his first appearance with the national team is in Tampa is not lost on him.

"Surreal would be a good word," he said. "It's kind of funny to me that it's in Tampa but it's exciting as well."

Sarachan said defense is a position of need, which is why Sweat and Reggie Cannon of FC Dallas were added to the roster.

Sweat has played in 27 games this season for New York and he is considered one of the better left backs in MLS. This will be his first chance to impress Sarachan in what he admits is a whirlwind week.

"There's been a lot of emotion this week," Sweat said. "And not just for me but for my wife, my friends, my family. It's going to be a great opportunity for me and I'm at an age where I can make an impact and contribute as much as I can. I want to leave a positive impact. Hopefully this isn't my last time."

Sweat, Cannon, Jonathan Amon and Aaron Long are all hoping to earn their first caps on the national team. The average age of the U.S. roster is just over 24 years old. But it will not be completely void of experienced players against Colombia.

Veteran midfielder Michael Bradley and goalkeeper Brad Guzman return after taking a year off from national team play. Bradley has 140 caps and could tie the now retired Clint Dempsey for third in all-time appearances. Guzman has 58 caps.

Neither has played much with their current national team teammates. In fact, the U.S. didn't have its full 23-man squad together until Tuesday. So the learning process begins now.

"We've got a lot of young, exciting players who are just starting to make a name for themselves," Guzan said. "From a U.S. soccer standpoint the future is definitely bright. I'm excited to be part of this group."

International friendly: United States vs. Colombia

When/where: 7:30 Thursday night, Raymond James Stadium

Tickets: Call 1-800-745-3000, ussoccer.com or available at stadium ticket office (opens at noon Thursday).

TV: FS1; Unimas

About the United States: It has been a year since the U.S. lost to Trinidad & Tobago and was eliminated from playing in the World Cup. The U.S. is 2-2-1 in its past five exhibitions, including a 1-0 win over Mexico a month ago. They will be without regular starters Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams due to injury. The U.S. is 4-1-1 all-time in Tampa.

About Colombia: There will be 12 players on the roster who played on Colombia's World Cup team this past summer. The most notable is James Rodriguez, who stars for Bayern Munich and has 66 caps for Colombia. Colombia advanced to the round of 16 at the World Cup before losing to England in penalty kicks. It is ranked 16th in the world.

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