RSL defenders Herrera, Powder make debuts for senior national teams

Herrera earned his first cap for the USMNT, while Powder got his first with Trinidad and Tobago.

(Phelan M. Ebenhack | AP) United States defender Aaron Herrera (2) heads the ball in front of Trinidad and Tobago forward Jabari Mitchell (11) during the second half of an international friendly soccer match, Sunday, Jan. 31, 2021, in Orlando, Fla.

Aaron Herrera on Tuesday scrolled through old photos on his phone and happened upon one that included himself and several members of his family. He had barely turned 15 in the photo, and had just moved to the Real Salt Lake Academy in Arizona.

That photo marks the start of a journey that culminated over the weekend with what is arguably the high point of Herrera’s young career so far: a starting nod with the senior U.S. Men’s National Team. In Sunday’s 7-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago, Herrera played 78 minutes and recorded two shots on goal.

It was Herrera’s first-ever appearance for the senior team and an experience he said hasn’t yet completely sunk in.

“Finally being able to get that opportunity with the full team I think was extremely important for me,” Herrera said. “It’s just extremely valuable experience just proving to yourself that you belong there and you can hang with these guys.”

RSL newcomer and fellow defender Noah Powder also earned his first cap with the Trinidad and Tobago senior team after several years captaining its Under-17 and Under-20 teams. Powder has spent the last two seasons with the Real Monarchs, winning a USL Championship title in 2019.

Powder played the final eight minutes of Sunday’s game. He said that as he waited to sub in to a game that was already decided, what went through his mind was “don’t mess up,” as well as wanting to just play as cleanly as possible and help his team’s defense.

As he gets ready his first year at the Major League Soccer level, the chance to play for his country couldn’t have come at a better time, Powder said.

“It’s definitely a big confidence booster going ahead of my first MLS season as I’m looking to get a least a chance in with the Real Salt Lake players and prove what I can do and bring all my attributes to the club,” Powder said.

(Photo courtesy of Real Salt Lake) Noah Powder, a two-time USL champion, will join Real Salt Lake in 2021. He helped the Real Monarchs win their first USL title in franchise history in 2019.

Herrera, who plays right back, got into the attack on multiple occasions for the USMNT — a tactic RSL fans see on a regular basis. He said he was somewhat disappointed that one of his well-played crosses into the box didn’t result in a goal for his team and, thus, an assist for him.

After the game, USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter had some high praise for Herrera.

“I thought Aaron did an outstanding job,” Berhalter said. “It was nice to see him build his confidence throughout camp. It was nice to see just his whole progression throughout camp and he capped it off with a very, very strong performance.

“I mean, really dynamic right back who came forward with a lot of momentum, created a lot of problems for Trinidad. And we didn’t want to take him out of the game. Unfortunately he was cramping a little bit because of all the work he did. Absolute excellent performance by Aaron tonight.”

Kyle Beckerman, who retired at end of the 2020 season, said during the MLS tournament in Orlando that Herrera was playing “national team-level soccer.” RSL coach Freddy Juarez said Tuesday that with the right mindset, Herrera could see more caps.

“If you handle it right and you handle it mature, there’s hopefully more to come,” Juarez said.