'You wouldn't believe the amount of calls' - How the USMNT is handling the pressure of a make-or-break 2021

Paul Arriola USMNT 2020
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Players such as Aaron Long and Paul Arriola may be on the move come Monday, just 24 hours after the United States kickstarts a busy year

Sunday is a big day for the players currently in Orlando with the U.S. men's national team, with the culmination of a gruelling three-week camp, one which ends with a friendly against a team that has now become a rival: Trinidad and Tobago.

However, for several players in the squad, there's reason to look beyond the T&T friendly. It's transfer season and, with deadline day looming, several USMNT regulars see themselves as the centre of lingering rumors.

Because of that, there's a balance to be struck, and players such as Aaron Long and Paul Arriola are in for a big week. On Sunday, they'll look to make their case with the national team to begin a busy 2021 campaign. On Monday, their lives could very well change as their club careers are decided.

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"Throughout the last three weeks, you wouldn't believe the amount of calls I've been getting from clubs about different players," USMNT boss Gregg Berhalter said. "You [journalists] are part of that speculation but you see it as well and you hear it, so you know we've gotten calls about a ton of players."

One such player at the center of transfer rumors is Long, the New York Red Bulls defender that has certainly been at the center of discussions like this before.

The 2018 MLS Defender of the Year had previously been linked with a move to West Ham, only to be priced out of a transfer. In the years since, he's stated his wish to go to Europe and, at age 28, there's only so much time left to make that wish a reality.

At the moment, there's a chance. With MLS still in talks with the players over a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, there is a chance that the start of the season is impacted by a potential lockout. Even if all does go to plan and both sides do agree to a new deal, the MLS season does not begin until April , a relatively late start date impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

With that, MLS clubs have been open to sending players out on loan in an effort to get their stars more playing time while also easing some costs amid the global pandemic. Jordan Morris is one such example, with the USMNT winger heading to Swansea, although the Swans do have an option to buy.

Then there's Long, a player that has been linked to Reading for over a week. This week, though, it emerged that Long was reportedly a potential Liverpool target, with the Reds seeing the Red Bulls defender as a potential short-term solution to their defensive crisis.

Aaron Long New York Red Bulls USMNT GFX

"I've been in these situations before," Long said. "It's kind of easy for me to leave most of that stuff to my agent and just work on being here with the national team and doing business and training hard and getting the best out of myself and my teammates looking forward to Trinidad. 

"That part, I think, a little bit experience comes in. Just kind of pushing that to the side and not really looking at it and not dwelling on it too much."

Another player linked with a move is Arriola, who has also been reported to be a target of Swansea. The D.C. United winger is now fully healthy having torn his ACL last year, and could certainly use games as he looks to regain form.

D.C. United majority owner Jason Levien is also a co-owner of Swansea, and Arriola seems a perfect fit for a wingback role in their 3-5-2. Like Long, though, Arriola's move looks like it could go down to the wire.

"I'm a player, first and foremost, and I'm here with a national team and, wherever I am, my main goal is in the moment, in the present," he said.  "That's kind of the way that I'm trying to keep my mentality.

"There's obviously been a lot of talk about me potentially going over to Europe on loan, and right now I can't really do much and a lot of it is out of my control. All I can focus on is playing on the field, leave it up to my agent, leave it up to the clubs to try and figure that out."

"We don't we don't talk about it too much," he added. "Obviously, table conversation and while we're walking to training or on the bus or something like that, but really whenwe're here, we try and just get after it.

"We talk a lot about anything, you have to imagine we're here together for three weeks, and so all conversations kind of pass through the table and when when we're passing each other walking into training.

"Obviously we support each other and we're happy for for everyone. We have to understand that everyone is is in a different situation, and we're just here to help each other manage it to the best of our abilities."

Altidore 2019

The interest in Arriola and Long isn't new, nor was the interest in Morris or Bryan Reynolds, who is set to sign with Roma after a prolonged transfer saga throughout his time in camp. What is new is a potential move for Jozy Altidore, with Berhalter revealing interest in the Toronto FC forward on Saturday.

Altidore is set to miss Sunday's game after picking up a slight injury in training. Berhalter says that the injury is minor but, amid potential transfer interest, he wasn't willing to risk the forward. Since Berhalter's revealtion, ESPN has reported that Altidore wants to leave Toronto FC.

"With the transfer window looming and, and the game being [Sunday], you know it's a chance we didn't want to take with Jozy so he will not be participating," Berhalter said. "Other than that we're fit and ready to go and excited to play Trinidad."

"I don't think it's my place to go into details of that," he added. "I think that's a place for for his club and for Jozy, but there have been a number of clubs interested in Jozy, as well as other players in camp."

While Altidore will not be participating, Berhalter did confirm that Long would get the start alongside Atlanta United up-and-comer Miles Robinson with New England Revolution goalkeeper Matt Turner in net. For Long, it's a chance to prove himself as the USMNT's centerback battle heats up.

"First, it's taking nothing for granted. It's another chance for me to prove myself every day to my teammates and my coaching staff. That's a big one for me. 

"Being a veteran guy and an older guy here, it's helping the younger guys to come along, helping a lot of these guys that are going to feature in the Olympics, making sure we're all on the same page and have the same style of play, and making sure we're ready to compete when it comes to Trinidad".

So Long and the USMNT begin their big week on Sunday with a clash with Trinidad and Tobago. What happens after that is anyone's guess.

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