When the U.S. arrived for training today the last thing they expected to see someone with an old MNT training jersey waiting outside the stadium. But there was Bruce W., a U.S. citizen who now lives in South Africa, anxiously anticipating the players to get off the bus. He was invited to watch practice, and his only fee? He was politely asked to write about his experience. He happily obliged, providing fans across the world with some insight into how the team is preparing for South Africa.
As far as I know, I’m the standard bearer for U.S. soccer fanaticism in South Africa. Perhaps that’s a small ambition, as my main competitor may be my own wife. Still, I have the week off, our team is here, and I am bent on getting the most out of it. So, I’ve organized a group to go to the game on Saturday. And I was fortunate to get to watch the team practice today.
It felt good to offer the team some welcoming encouragement as they got off the bus. Bob Bradley was first off the bus and came over to shake my hand, followed by Peter Nowak. I have been a fan of theirs since the first days of the Chicago Fire, when I was a season ticket holder. As practice started, I enjoyed listening to the press officer patiently inform the South African press about the team and its players. They were interested to know about various players, and wanted interviews with some of them after practice. They didn’t really know much about our team. Some were surprised to learn that Freddy Adu has only just started getting minutes with the senior team. I told one SA reporter to write that the U.S. allows all its fans to watch practices from the sidelines.
From yesterday’s blog report on the practice, you might think it was light-hearted. Guess that was just for the first day, as today was very much down to business. If, like me, you’ve never seen the team practice, you might be surprised how short it is. I was struck by how little time the team has to come together for the game. They played maybe 60 minutes of 9-on-9 (Mike Sorber filling the last spot). Considering they may have only three one-hour sessions of play, I would be amazed if a new guy like Jozy Altidore could get enough time to understand the finer points of his role. Surely, he’d need a more substantial “camp” before he’ll be ready for full game. I suspect that’s why the players rarely get more than a handful of minutes for the first games they’re called-up.
I couldn’t hear much, but got the sense that Bob Bradley was stressing quick passes and ball movement. With some of the newer players, he made a point of stressing positioning. I looked for clues on who might be in the starting line-up based on who played with whom, but the sides were mixed up evenly. For the red team it was Deuce, Adu, Feilhaber, Edu, Pearce, Gooch, Califf, Spector and Howard. For the blue team: Jozy, Beasley, Kljestan, Bradley, Bornstein, Boca, Sorber, Dolo and Guzan. Jozy scored the lone goal, heading a nice cross from Steve Cherundolo into the corner past Howard.
As practice wound down, I had a chance to tell the guys good luck, and that there would be some support in the stands. All the guys were friendly and approachable. I wouldn’t single anyone out, but I could tell Danny Califf has been interested in South Africa for a while, but that’s
all about the surfing.
I appreciated the time and opportunity to observe. I have a greater appreciation for how these guys can show up and play like they’ve been working together all year. In reality, they have very little time, and they get about it very professionally. They’re supported by a small group of coaches and staff that makes sure things run smoothly on and off the field.
So, that’s my impression from 90 minutes observing a practice. Have to admit, I was mostly just excited to have such a unique experience. But of course this is my small pond, and I may not have it to myself when the team comes back in 2009 and 2010.