Except for the absence of campfires and singalongs, the week that Minnesota United teammates Mason Toye and Hassani Dotson spent near San Diego with the U.S. national Under-23 team wasn’t all that different from other summer camps in one respect.
“You exchange numbers,” Dotson said. “You make new friends.”
Together, they met new teammates and new coaches and put themselves in a new sphere and on a path potentially toward qualifying with the U-23 team for next summer’s Tokyo Olympics.
Each has distinguished himself earlier this month with his Major League Soccer play in something of a breakout season for both. Second-year pro Toye’s dedication and scoring has helped him become coach Adrian Heath’s preferred striker since he stepped forth with his U.S. Open Cup play. Rookie Dotson has shown versatility and composure not often found in a second-round pick; he was taken 31st overall last winter.
“You put yourself in those positions by having really good club form,” United veteran midfielder Ethan Finlay said, “and that’s exactly what they’ve done.”
It was the first such camp for a U.S. team that held its third camp of the year, one that ended with a closed-door 2-0 victory against Japan. Toye scored the game’s first goal in a first half in which both he and Dotson played.
“It was a good experience, different,” said Toye, who also has aspirations to be called to the U.S. national team, the World Cup-eligible team with no age restrictions, unlike the Olympics. “You were with guys you’ve never played with before, except for Hassani. You’re playing a different system than we’ve been accustomed. It was really cool, learning new stuff and learning about new guys and really getting to know guys who are pros and who are our age.”
Toye’s goal came with a run between and behind the defense’s back line and one-touch score that Heath has spent plenty of breath preaching this season. He has scored six goals in 13 MLS games after he started the season with the team’s Madison, Wis., affiliate.
“There was some stuff that has been ingrained in my mind from Adrian that carried over really well,” Toye said.
Toye, 20, and Dotson, 22, trained and played in the 24-player camp alongside MLS colleagues from teams such as Real Salt Lake, Philadelphia, FC Dallas, San Jose and New York Red Bulls.
“All the guys were good and welcoming,” Dotson said. “I felt like I’d been there and met them before.”
They played for U-23 coach Jason Kreis, a longtime MLS player who also coached three MLS teams.
“They certainly trained hard. I know that much from the data we got back,” Heath said. “It was a great opportunity to put themselves in the shop window, so to speak, and get themselves in front of the coaches who are going to be picking the Olympic [qualifying] team for next year …
“I told them before they left, that pair has nothing to fear. They can comfortably play at that level. They both did themselves a lot of good, I think.”
The U.S. team hasn’t qualified for the Olympics since 2008. It will compete come March in the eight-team CONCACAF qualifying tournament in Mexico that will send two teams from North America, Central America and the Caribbean to Japan.
“It’d mean everything,” Dotson said. “That has been a goal.”
Should they be invited back to another camp, make the qualifying-tournament team and then make it all the way to Tokyo, both players would miss a good chunk of United’s MLS season.
Step by step, for now.
“It’s part and parcel for the course,” Heath said. “I know how much it meant for me to play for my country, so I would never stop players from going. The thought of maybe playing in the Olympic Games, I know I would be incredibly excited if that opportunity comes.”