Mitja Ilenič has received a first-ever call-up to the senior Slovenia national team.
The NYCFC right-back has made the roster for his country’s friendly match here in the United States against the USMNT on January 20.
Ilenič has made 14 appearances for Slovenia at the youth levels, most recently appearing for his country’s Under-21 squad in a friendly vs. Turkey’s U-21s on November 17.
Now Ilenič will get a chance to prove himself to coach Matjaž Kek and the rest of Slovenia’s senior national team.
Ilenič could make his full Slovenia debut against some familiar faces. His Slovenia squad is set to face a USMNT side likely to be made up almost entirely of MLS players.
That January 20 USMNT vs. Slovenia friendly is set to take place at Toyota Field in San Antonio, Texas, and will be the culmination of the USMNT’s annual January training camp.
The January USMNT camp is colloquially known as “Camp Cupcake” since it features predominately MLS players and falls outside of a proper FIFA international break window.
It’s entirely possible we will see some NYCFC-on-NYCFC action during USMNT-Slovenia, as James Sands could be a candidate for a January camp call-up from Gregg Berhalter. Sands last played for the USMNT during the 2023 Gold Cup, when he was one of the top American performers for interim-to-the-interim manager BJ Callaghan. The USMNT is set to announce its January camp roster on Friday January 5, so we will report back if Sands makes the cut.
For Ilenič, he will now get a golden opportunity to prove himself against both his MLS peers and alongside older, more experienced Slovenian players.
It’s likely been a whirlwind year for the 19-year-old, as he left NK Domžale to sign for NYCFC exactly one year ago to the day of his first senior national team call-up—and despite competing interest in Europe from clubs like Hellas Verona, Sturm Graz, Lugano, Sparta Praha, according to a recent interview Ilenič gave to Di Marzio.
He showed promise as an attacking fullback in his first season in America, picking up 2 assists in 22 league appearances, though he was in a season-long battle for minutes with the more experienced, more defensive-minded Tayvon Gray.
Now Ilenič starts his 2024 with a career milestone of a national team call-up, which he will likely hope to parlay into a bigger year for both club and country.