As Gregg Berhalter's first camp as U.S. Men's National Team manager shifted from Chula Visa to Glendale this week, rumblings began to emerge in the media that 20-year-old Fire Homegrown midfielder Djordje Mihailović had been one of the top performers in camp to date, not only among the youngsters but of all players in the squad.
On Sunday, Mihailović put on display the skillset that likely sparked that chatter, confidently taking the field for his first senior U.S. cap and start and delivering a 40th-minute goal in the USMNT's 3-0 international friendly win over Concacaf foe Panama. In addition to becoming the 52nd player in U.S. Men's National Team history to score on his debut -- and doing so exactly two years to the day that he signed his Homegrown contract with the Fire on Jan. 27, 2017 -- Mihailović was active on and off the ball in his 62-minute shift, facilitating the U.S. attack from his spot on the left wing.
"When we talked in San Diego, I was telling you all how impressed I was with Djordje all camp," Berhalter told media after the match in Glendale. "He's a smart soccer player. If you slow it down and look at some of the small things he does, you can understand how intelligent of a soccer player he is."
The Chicago Fire Academy product found himself with space in dangerous areas on multiple occasions on the night, but never more so than late in the first half following a Panama turnover near midfield. With Gyasi Zardes and Corey Baird leading the U.S. line, Mihailović perfectly timed his delayed run through the defense and was an unmarked target for Baird's simple service across the box. A low, one-timed shot by Mihailović took a slight deflection and caromed past Panama GK Eddie Roberts for the game's first goal.
“It’s definitely a dream," Mihailović said. "I owe a lot to my team for getting me involved in that goal, Corey Baird played me a great ball. I think I’m just more excited about the first win of 2019 and getting things going."
The moment was surely a sweet one for Mihailović, who still is just 15 months removed from an ACL tear that brought an otherwise promising rookie season in MLS to a devastating end. After an arduous rehab period that sidelined him for most of the 2018 MLS regular season, Mihailović returned to match action last August, and by mid-September had begun to again show the attacking flair and confidence that had long made him a regular in U.S. youth national team camps.
Still, there was no guarantee that his late-season efforts would be enough to warrant a place in Berhalter's inaugural January camp. But when that call came in December, Mihailović made clear his intention to make it just the first of many senior team call-ups.
Now, with the possibility of regular international duty being added to the high expectations held for Mihailović at the club level with the Fire, expect the Lemont native to work doubly hard in proving that Sunday's goal in Glendale was only the beginning for his USMNT career.
"It’s a great time for me, working very hard the past 12 to 14 months from my injury," he said. "I think this is the end product but there’s much more to be coming."