It's been nearly four years since a Wisconsin player took the field for the U.S. national team. But on Wednesday, coach and technical director Jurgen Klinsmann called two players with state ties into the team's first training camp of 2016 – one who was born in Wisconsin and another who spent his high school years here.
Columbus Crew forward Ethan Finlay (Marshfield) and Chicago Fire defender-midfielder Matt Polster (Milwaukee) were among the 23 players named to the roster for the U.S. team's January camp. The camp opens Monday in Carson, Calif., and includes friendlies against Iceland on Jan. 31 and Canada on Feb. 5.
It's the first national team call-up for both players; they're among 10 players on the roster who are looking for their first international caps. Center back Jay DeMerit (Green Bay/Bay Port) was the most recent Wisconsin player to feature for the U.S. on March 29, 2011, when he earned his 25th and final cap in a 1-0 loss to Paraguay.
The 25-year-old Finlay has been among the top attacking players in Major League Soccer the past two years, and the fourth-year pro was named to the MLS Best XI following his stellar 2015 season. He had 12 goals and 13 assists, which ranked fifth in the league, in 34 appearances (all starts) as the Crew advanced to MLS Cup.
Finlay, who was born in Duluth, Minn., and grew up in North Carolina before his family moved to Marshfield, told MLSSoccer.com he was on the way to Wisconsin for the holidays when Columbus coach Gregg Berhalter called him Dec. 23 and told him of the impending call-up.
"It's definitely exciting," Finlay said in the interview. (Read full article or listen to interview below) "We say it's a long-awaited thing, obviously every kid wants to play international soccer for their country and represent the Red, White and Blue, so this is just another step in that direction."
With the call-up coming during the MLS offseason, Finlay said he's been staying in game shape and is looking forward to the experience.
"Coming in and being fit is extremely important for me and starting out on a good foot," he said. "And then from there, it's just doing what fits me best: Using my strengths and my attributes of speed and movement to try to affect the game and make an impact on the game, whether it be in training or during actual games.
"I'm going to be playing with better players, it's a higher level and I think if I find the right connection with a couple guys, they're going to be able to make some passes that maybe I didn't think I could get, so it'll be fun."
Polster, who was born in Milwaukee but grew up in Las Vegas, had a solid rookie year for the Fire in 2015. The 22-year-old made 30 appearances (27 starts) and was one of the few bright spots in a season that saw Chicago finish an MLS-worst 8-20-6. He's also been playing with the U.S. Under-23 national team, which will face Colombia in a home-and-home series in March for a berth in the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.
On Twitter: @EthanFinlay13