Cremaschi hopes his amazing journey and growth in 2023 leads to the Olympics in 2024
October 17, 2023
IT’S FAIR TO SAY that very few teenage American players have ever had a year quite like the one Benja Cremaschi is having in 2023. For both club and country, it has been a wild ride. Of course, not everything has been a high point, but the journey itself has been amazing.
At the start of the year, he was in the midst of an offseason where he played for both the U-20 national teams of the United States and Argentina while also signing his first professional contract with his hometown Inter Miami. Then he went into his first professional preseason and made his way into Inter Miami's first team where he made his pro debut, began earning minutes, and was learning the game well despite his club struggling.
Then in July, the team finally signed Lionel Messi along with Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba. This allowed Cremaschi, who grew up in a pro Argentina household in Florida, a chance to play alongside his idol. The club went on a terrific run to win the Leagues Cup and Cremaschi finished with a goal, two assists, the winning shootout penalty in a quarterfinal victory over Dallas, and a start in the final against Nashville. By virtue of winning that tournament, the club qualified for the CONCACAF Champions League.
For the ensuing weeks, it was an uphill for Inter Miami who dealt with injuries and fell short in making the playoffs and then again in the U.S. Open Cup final, which Cremaschi also started.
But in September, Cremaschi earned his first U.S. national team call-up and cap in a 4-0 friendly win over Oman. Now in the October window, he is playing for the U.S. U-23 team up a cycle as that team is beginning its preparations for the 2024 Olympics. Cremaschi came in off the bench in the team’s 2-1 win over Mexico last week.
For a player who only turned 18 in March, it has been a lot to take in. But for now, he is completely focused on the U.S. U-23 team.
“It's been going pretty well,” Cremaschi told ASN from the U-23 camp in Phoenix. “The group that is being formed is honestly pretty strong - and we came together pretty quick. It's honestly amazing to be here and the Mexico game was our first game together, but we looked really good. We know that we have things to improve but I was happy with the team's performance.”
On Tuesday night, the team will host a good Japan team which beat the same Mexican team 4-1. But U.S. head coach Marko Mitrovic is still trying to evaluate players in his first camp in charge of the team and make decisions over who he wants on the team moving forward.
For Cremaschi, making the 2024 Olympic team will be difficult for a variety of reasons. First, he is playing up a cycle and is one of three players (along with Esmir Bajraktarevic and Obed Vargas) on the current roster who is age-eligible for both the U.S. U-23 team at the 2028 Olympics as well as the 2025 U-20 World Cup team. Second, the team is naturally difficult to make given its small roster size of just 18 players for the entire tournament.
“I think as a soccer event, the Olympics might be the second biggest thing after the World Cup, obviously,” Cremaschi said. “I'm just very happy that I could be in this process. I'm sure all of us have grown up watching the Olympics and watching and rooting for maybe other sports – and just rooting for one's country. It's amazing that right now I could be in the process of going to the Olympics.”
But despite the specific challenges of making the Olympic team this cycle, Cremaschi has the advantage of having worked with Mitrovic before when he was the U.S. U-19 coach. During 2022, Cremaschi was a regular and solid contributor for the U.S. team at that age level.
“I've been in a couple of times with Marko and every time I'm with him, I enjoy his playstyle, what type of soccer he wants to play and what he believes,” Cremaschi said. “I'm looking forward to keep on being able to come here and train with him. He's a great coach and I know that he could do great things with this group of players.”
Cremaschi is also highly valued by the federation as a key prospect. U.S. national team coach Gregg Berhalter admits he has been impressed with Cremaschi dating to 2022 before he became a professional, and says the expectations are high for Cremaschi.
“We had Ben in camp in October prior to the World Cup,” Berhalter said in September. “He was with the U-20 group and he immediately caught my eye for his just tenacity and his relentlessness. He's a kid that was playing out of position in that camp, playing winger or sometimes forward, but he never quit. He kept running. I mean, he was running himself silly. It really showed me what his mindset was like. I was really impressed with that.”
“Now watching his progress with Inter Miami, he's done a great job,” he added. “It's not only post-Messi. Even pre-Messi you see that he had some ability. He had a great assist in the game against D.C. United early in the year and he's just a dynamic player and a guy who gives everything on the pitch… We have high expectations for him at such a young age.”
It is still too early to predict the international pathway for Cremaschi yet because of his youth and dual nationality. It seems likely he will focus on the U.S. U-23 team in the months ahead. But if he comes up short in making the Olympic team, will he instead focus on the U.S. U-20 team or possibly Argentina’s U-20 team for the 2025 U-20 cycle? The U-20 level is a possibility even if he makes the Olympic team.
Messi --> Cremaschi --> MESSI— Major League Soccer (@MLS) August 27, 2023
OUT. OF. THIS. WORLD. pic.twitter.com/NzBKniNExm
Berhalter has also said that he hopes the pool of players for the U-23 team and the USMNT team will merge following the 2024 Olympics and form a collective unit. That could then open the door for a return to the USMNT. If not, there is always the following Olympics in Los Angeles.
Cremaschi is still focused on one camp at a time but looking back, he was very positive regarding his first U.S. national team call-up.
“These players have played at the highest level,” Cremaschi said. “They are at the highest level. It was just nice to compare myself with them and see what I can improve and learn from these players and just absorb everything that they try to teach me or what Gregg says. So just being there as well is obviously an honor.”
But whatever steps forward he makes internationally will also be determined by the steps he takes at the club level. Inter Miami gained a global audience midway through the season and Cremaschi thrived in the spotlight and had an important chemistry with Messi – most notably when the two linked up for Messi’s goal in a 2-0 win over the New York Red Bulls in August.
Cremaschi began earning headlines playing with this legendary group of players and was earning the trust of new manager Tata Martino. But in this environment, Cremaschi believed he improved quickly.
“With these three world class players coming in and Tata, a very experienced coach coming in, I feel like I've improved a lot,” Cremaschi said. “I've grown a lot as a player and understand the game a little bit more. Not only me but just the team. The big change in the locker room that there was and just these players just bring out different competitiveness and it's great to have these players in the group that they want to keep on winning when they've already won everything in their lives. That just sticks with us, and it is contagious for us to want to do better.”
2023 has been an intense journey for Cremaschi, but all it does is set the stage for bigger steps in 2024. Internationally, he should get more opportunities as the Olympics approach. At the club level, Inter Miami flexed its muscle this season but was too deep in the standings to climb once the influx of players happened. But in 2024, the team should be a contender. For Cremaschi, he doesn’t simply want to go far in the playoffs, he also has his eyes set on the CONCACAF Cup.
“I'm excited for next year,” Cremaschi said. “I feel like we're going to have more time to prepare as a group… This year, we didn't really have time to train and focus on certain things. But I feel like with a pre-season and a couple of games before the Champions League to prepare, I feel like we're going to be a big powerhouse in that tournament. I'm just excited.”