It won't be easy to break into the USA's World Cup team.
That's true whether FIFA allows teams to bring 23 players or, as U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter hopes, that number is increased to 26.
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He has called 27 players into camp for four matches in June. In addition, players such as Sergino Dest, Gio Reyna and Chris Richards are out with injuries. When healthy and in form, all three would be considered locks to make the team and probably start.
That doesn't leave a lot of room for Djordje Mihailovic, just one of four call-ups who weren't with the national team for any of the five World Cup qualifying windows.
Mihailovic is no stranger to the national team, having earned eight caps in 2019-20. Indeed, he scored the first U.S. goal of the Berhalter era in a 3-0 win over Panama in 2019. That he was in the team, then out of the picture, makes his recall so much sweeter.
"It’s almost like when I was younger, I didn't really know what it was worth to wear the colors of your country," he said in Montreal a day after the roster was announced. "And when it’s been a long time, it’s a dream again and it’s an honor. I’m grateful for this opportunity again.”
How did Mihailovic celebrate the news?
On Sunday, he needed all of 43 seconds to score for CF Montreal in its match against Real Salt Lake. Montreal ended up losing the match, 2-1, but it still sits in fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
A big reason for Montreal's success -- it won the Canadian championship in 2021 to qualify for the Concacaf Champions League -- is Mihailovic, who was acquired from his hometown Chicago Fire in a trade for up to $1 million in GAM in December 2020.
Mihailovic broke Nacho Piatti's club record with 16 assists in 2021 and also scored four goals. in 2022, he has scored seven goals -- as many as he scored in four seasons with the Fire -- and added four assists. In 2022, he's been involved in almost 46 percent of Montreal's goal, up from 43 percent a year ago.
He knows making the World Cup involves controlling what he can control and that's producing for Montreal.
"That’s all I have to focus on – is to keep playing well, to keep doing what they’re asking of me and also what the coach here is asking of me as well,” he said. “That’s going to be my best chance to make it in the World Cup team.”
Proud Chicago product. Mihailovic's father, Aleks, was an All-American at Jacksonville University and played for the Washington Diplomats and the Jacksonville Tea Men in the NASL. After retiring as a player, he went to coaching and started the Chicago Blast.
Djordje grew up in the Chicago suburb of Lemont, left his father's club at the age of 14 to join the Fire academy and beginning train with Fire first team in 2015. He was set to play for the University of North Carolina, but the Fire made him an offer to turn pro and he signed a Homegrown deal in January 2017.
"It was a privilege to grow up in the city and watch the team play all though my childhood," he told Soccer America in early 2019.
Not many academy Homegrown signings in MLS were then being fast-tracked into the first team, but Mihailovic showed a lot of promise and was part of the last Fire team to make the playoffs, where disaster struck. Chicago lost to the New York Red Bulls, 4-0, and Mihailovic was injured. He thought he had injured his hamstring. The next day, he got bad news: he had ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament.
But Mihailovic came back in mid-August 2018 and played well enough to get called into Berhalter's first camp. He played well enough that he was picked for the 2019 Gold Cup. He is just one of eight players from Berhalter's original camp roster of 28 players who will be in Cincinnati for the start of camp. For many like Mihailovic, it has been a battle. Kellyn Acosta, a regular in qualifying, was dropped midway through the first camp in Chula Vista. Aaron Long and Paul Arriola had to come back from long injury layoffs.
Mihailovic endured a rough 2020 campaign, and his exit was controversial. He told the Chicago Tribune that he was told by management that there was no place for him in the team. Fire sporting director Georg Heitz responded by telling the web site Hot Time in Old Town that young players like Mihailovic have "all the rights to make a mistake, but they should nevertheless speak to the truth."
The breakup was hard, but Mihailovic now says moving to Montreal was the best thing for him.
“I’m not going to look back and have any regrets," he said, "because I’m putting all my effort and energy into making the most out of this opportunity.”
Photo: Andrew Katsampes/ISI Photos
I've always like his game. Sees the game positionally, technical, the type of player that can help evolve our style. But, do we have enough that can play with him?
Ships, not familiar with him but just finished watching some highlights....What I like about him is the'touch' on the ball for very short passes in the penalty area....I think what makes him different is that he actually places the ball with forethought for his teammate to not have make extra effort to control the ball while in movement and also he is not a turbo player...and he has an "ic" at the end of is name. I tend to look at him as a good offensive feeder for the last past to the goal...
Agreed Frank. Balance, soft feet, keeps it simple, composed under pressure and does play it where it needs to be. Yes, Yugoslav descent.
He has a tremendous work rate, and a sense of the game that allows him to anticipate the movement of everyone on the field leading to some impeccable passing. But for his game to succeed he needs field chemistry with teammates which I hope he gets time again to establish with the national team.
Jim, I guess we can call it chemistry but I feel it's more. I've used the expression,"seeing the game faster" for players that just have a better, more intuitive feel during the run of play. Luca has that too, our forwards need to be more intelligent for the more skilled mids to find success with our Nats.
He looked pretty good against Charlotte as he scored the first goal. You know, speed isn't a bad thing as it can't be taught and needs to be utilized...so as Americans we need to take the advantages we have. If that is speed then so be it just combine it with the tactical. No countries produce the athletese we have, and we should use the advantages (like speed) to our advantage. At the last World Cup, the announcers would not shut up about how fast Mbappe was...and he certainly was not the technical player he is now. Let's embrace speed or turbo or whatever we call it, but it is up to the coaches here to get these young men up to "speed" technically.