Ulysses Llanez went into his U.S. Men’s National Team debut hoping to make a good impression, but by the time he left the field in Saturday’s 1- win against Costa Rica, the 18-year-old had accomplished his mission, and then some.
Playing in front of dozens of family and friends, the Los Angeles-area native showed off the speed, quickness and technical skill that have helped him thrive for Wolfsburg’s U-19 team. He also stepped up to take the eventual match-winning penalty, earning SBI USMNT Man of the Match honors in the process.
“”It’s a dream come true, to play and score in a stadium that I know very well,” Llanez said. “It’s just an unbelievable feeling for me.”
Operating on the left wing n Gregg Berhalter’s young starting lineup on Saturday, Llanez showed off his quick moves, keen passing eye and creativity on a day when the Americans outplayed a more experienced Costa Rican side.
Llanez was a surprise option for the second-half penalty kick drawn by Reggie Cannon, but the young winger revealed that it was veteran USMNT midfielder Paul Arriola who asked Llanez if he wanted to take the kick.
“Reggie got the foul and I wanted to score a goal with all of my family here,” Llanez said. “Paul has been here for a while now and I thought he was going to take the ball from me. He came up to me and asked if I wanted the penalty and I said yes I was confident and I have my family here. He gave me the ball and I ended up scoring.”
Llanez’s first USMNT experience was a memorable one, not only for his outstanding performance on Saturday, but also because of the month-long camp he went through as one of just two European-based players in the squad, and the second-youngest player in the group.
“It’s been a long and hard month, the first two weeks was tough for us with fitness, but overall I think we did an amazing job in the camp,” Llanez said. “It’s like a brotherhood here and they made me feel welcome. I feel that it should be this way for everyone who comes in for the first time.”
Llanez is still waiting for his first-team debut for Bundesliga side Wolfsburg, but he now returns to Germany with confidence after a successful USMNT camp, and after boosting his standing in the stacked U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team player pool vying for places in the March Olympic qualifying tournament.
“I’m going to go back and use these tools that I’ve learned from camp at Wolfsburg,” Llanez said. “The coaching staff here has helped me become a better winger and now I need to do that at club and international level going forward.”