Gooch eager to make U.S. debut vs. New Zealand
ALEXANDRIA, Va. - If there were any lingering doubts about which national team Lynden Gooch wants to represent at the international level, the Sunderland forward/midfielder extinguished them on Sunday.
The 20-year-old Santa Cruz, California native, who started the Black Cats first four games of the Premier League season, remains eligible for play for England (through his father) and the Republic of Ireland (through his mother). But Gooch, who suited up mostly for the U.S. but also Ireland at youth level, is hoping to make his senior debut for the Americans in Tuesday's exhibition against New Zealand. And he left no doubt that his allegiance lies with the USA.
"I'm definitely committed" to the red, white and blue, the soft-spoken Gooch told reporters before the U.S. trained in suburban Washington, D.C. ahead of the match at RFK Stadium (8 p.m. ET, ESPN/WatchESPN).
"I just want to play in this friendly and I want to play next month in the qualifiers, hopefully, if I do well. I'm committed to playing for this team. That's why am here." Gooch was referring to November's World Cup qualifying games against Mexico and Costa Rica. He would be permanently tied to the U.S. should he appear in either.
Gooch's declaration isn't a huge surprise; he's said as much when asked in the past. But for a country that doesn't exactly have Prem players falling from trees -- Stoke City defender Geoff Cameron is the only American earning regular minutes in England's top flight this season -- it's still a significant coup.
Now comes the match against the Kiwis. Gooch didn't get off the bench for Jurgen Klinsmann's side in Friday's 2-0 victory versus Cuba. But with nine players -- including six starters -- released to their clubs following the win in Havana, Gooch is expected to see his first action at the top level.
"I'm looking forward to it," he said. "Obviously I wanted to play a little bit in the Cuba game, but it didn't happen. But hopefully I'll get my first cap."
The versatile Gooch has played on the wing and as a deep-lying midfielder for Sunderland, but is hoping to occupy a more advanced role under Klinsmann. With attackers Jordan Morris, Christian Pulisic, Chris Wondolowski and Bobby Wood among those released between matches, he might get his wish and possibly from the first whistle.
A strong performance would go a long way toward earning a recall from the coach next month. But both his immediate and long-term future with the U.S. is more likely dependent on how -- and how much -- he plays for his club.
After those season-opening starts, Gooch was an unused substitute in Sunderland's 1-0 loss at Tottenham and didn't make the 18 for 3-2 defeat against Crystal Palace. He came off the bench for the final minutes of the Black Cats most recent game, a 1-1 tie with West Bromwich Albion on Oct. 1.
"I think that's normal for young players -- you're not gonna be able to play every game," Gooch said when asked about the highs and lows so far. "I started four games straight off the bounce. I think that was a surprise, but they manage players well. "I think you'll get burned out if you play every second after making that jump,
"I've got an experienced manager, David Moyes. He knows how to handle young players...he said that at times, 'I have to take pressure off you as well.'"
Speaking of pressure, he did get a little ribbing from his family when it came time to choosing which country's colors to defend, even though it wasn't a difficult decision. "I've got an Irish mother and an English dad, but I was born and raised in California," Gooch said. "My mom, she's always saying 'Ireland, Ireland.' But she's happy."
U.S. fans ought to be, too.
Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN.