It’s been eight years since Sunderland last embarked on a pre-season tour of the United States.
Jack Rodwell, Steven Fletcher and Emanuele Giaccherini were just some of the players who made the trip across the pond ahead of the 2015/2016 Premier League season.
On that occasion, however, it was a miserable trip to the States.
Despite a Jermain Defoe brace helping us to victory over Toronto, defeats to USL Championship side Sacramento Republic and Mexican side CF Pachuca compounded Dick Advocaat’s pre-season troubles.
Eight years on, however, the difference between 2015 and 2023 couldn’t be much starker.
On this tour, the team remained unbeaten as victories over San Antonio, New Mexico and North Carolina gave Tony Mowbray plenty of food for thought ahead of the journey home, but the trip was about a lot more than what happened on the pitch.
The bond between the players that make up this current group, illustrated by some of the club’s social media clips, shouldn’t be underestimated.
Whether it was Anthony Patterson vs Dan Ballard in the boxing ring or Trai Hume giving supporters an insight into a day in his life on the tour, or even Pierre Ekwah’s camerawork in training, the camaraderie between the players is something that was largely non-existent in 2015.
On the pitch, this really shone through during three entertaining matches.
Of course, pre-season is all about building up match fitness and giving chances to players on the fringes, but despite playing in often ferocious heat, a sense of momentum is continuing to build, with five wins from five.
From all three of the games played in America, there were many positives to take.
Hemir continued to impress with a clinical header against New Mexico, whilst Chris Rigg and Jobe Bellingham look set to excite the supporters in midfield. Elsewhere, Patrick Roberts and Jack Clarke are looking to pick up where they left off at the end of last season with their forward runs and neat trickery.
However, there’s also plenty for Mowbray and the team to work on ahead of our two remaining friendlies against Real Mallorca and Hartlepool.
Defensively, we need to tighten up.
In all five pre-season friendlies, a total of ten goals have been conceded, but during the USA trip – where half of those goals were let in – four were conceded in the second half, where fatigue, largely due to the conditions, was possibly setting in.
During at least one of the remaining two matches, we’ll almost certainly see Mowbray field what he believes to be our strongest eleven to kick off the campaign.
Right across the pitch, you could make a case for many of the players that made the trip to the States to feature on August 6th, as Mowbray faces decisions as to who’ll make the cut for the first game.
And so, in two weeks’ time, it’ll all begin.
The visit of Ipswich to the Stadium of Light will kick off the 2023/2024 season for Mowbray’s men, and this tour has set them in good stead with that date in mind.
Unlike our 2015/2016 side, excitement is brewing, and what this tour has demonstrated is that Sunderland are more than up for the fight this season.