Yanks Abroad caught up with former Philadelphia Union and current USA international defender Mark McKenzie in the Belgian capital on Sunday, directly after his Genk side faced Pro League leaders, Union St Gilloise.

The New Yorker was just about to head back to the USA in order to report to the USMNT training camp, and was happy to talk about the three games that the team have ahead of them as they look to qualify for the FIFA World Cup in Qatar later this year.

“They’re important games for us,” McKenzie said. “We want to put ourselves in the best position possible to qualify but it’s going to be one game at a time.”

When reflecting on the opposition, he was quick to point out that the three teams that they’ll face over the next few days are very different and have to be treated as such as they begin their preparations stateside.

“Each opponent is going to require different tactics, different understanding, be it playing at home, playing away, and [considering] the conditions,” he explained. “All these things play a factor but at the end of the day, we just have to control our mentality of not getting ahead of ourselves and thinking, “oh we have Canada next.”” 

His mentality, and that of his teammates, does support the necessity to take their task “one game at a time,” as the overused old saying goes, however he sees a real validity in this approach in the coming days.

“We have to say, “first we play El Salvador,” and we need to handle business there. And then we build from that.” 

“I think it’s important for us to get started on the right note and really start this window the right way.”

There has been some talk on social media regarding the venues chosen by US Soccer, especially up in frigid Minnesota against Honduras, where temperatures were averaging in the single digits or worse during the cold winter months.

“It’s going to be cold in all three games, to be honest with you,” the CONCACAF Nations League winner continued. “At the end of the day you just handle the conditions and remember that both teams have to play through it, so you try and use it in your favor.”

One player not on a plane from Europe is AS Roma defender Bryan Reynolds, who has just arrived in Belgium as he was loaned out to KV Kortrijk of the Belgian Pro League for the remainder of the 2021-22; a move which was confirmed hours before speaking with McKenzie.

“Yes, he’s at Kortrijk,” McKenzie recognized. “He’s been in a tough position playing at a top club like Roma. He’s a young player though and I think he’ll have his opportunity on this loan spell to get the minutes and show his real quality because he’s a good player.”

Looking ahead to the meeting of their teams in late-February, McKenzie is relishing the opportunity to play against his international compatriot, as well as have a bit of fun on the field.

 “I’m excited to see him play here in Belgium,” he optimistically pointed out, continuing with a grin, “[When we play] I can talk some smack against him as well, but he’s a good player and he’ll get his opportunities.”

Reynolds becomes the seventh American to play in Belgium this season, while McKenzie heads to the USA to do his part in assuring that we American fans have our team to cheer for in Qatar come November when the World Cup kicks off.

By Michael Adubato

The old man of Yanks-Abroad, having been around since the very beginning in 2004, Known as the resident Belgian expert since that’s where he has lived for a couple of decades. Over the years he has interviewed Nats such as Kasey Keller, Brian McBride, Oguchi Onyewu, Jozy Altidore and Tim Weah, to name a few. When not working the day job, he can often be found in stadiums around Europe, watching games from the top flight to the lower leagues. To prove that he is not just a pretty face, Mike received a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Maryland and a Masters from the University of Oklahoma. Boomer Sooner! On a non-soccer note, Adubato has just released a book of poetry from his travels, Missing the Exit, published by Broken Keys Publishing in Ottawa, Canada. So that must make him the YA poet laureate! You can grab your copy on Amazon.com, order online and pick it up and Barnes & Noble or get an e-copy at various outlets.

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