U.S. Men's National Team defender Heath Pearce has been with the team since the beginning of the summer when the team met up May 26 in Miami. Since then he's been to Costa Rica, Chicago, Pretoria, Rustenberg, Bloemfontein, Johannesburg, Seattle, Washington, D.C., Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago (again), and finally New York. Pearce has been with the team through all the ups and downs this summer (mostly ups considering he's been in both squads that have made it to finals this summer). We sat down with Pearce to ask him about the hectic summer, his experience on the road for 60+ days and what will hopefully a great ending to a busy June and July...
ussoccer.com: You've been with the team since the beginning. That's more than 60 days (not that we're counting!)...
Heath Pearce: “It's tough to remember how long it has actually been. It went by fast, and there's been a lot of games and a lot of excitement this summer. Even though it's been more than 60 days it doesn't really feel like it's been more than two months on the road because of the successes we've had starting all the way back on the 26th of May.”
ussoccer.com: People will remember this summer for a variety of reasons. We've played more than a dozen games in two tournaments on two continents and made it to two finals. What has this whirlwind of June and July been like for you?
HP: “It's been amazing. This summer has been really special for U.S. Soccer. There were the emotions of us being almost knocked out of the Confederations Cup to us then making it all the way to the final. There was us being up 2-0, and ending up losing 3-2. It was a heartbreaking finish but it was a special moment for us to reach the final and be in that position. For me, I had the chance to be able to come into the Gold Cup, which I wasn't part of in 2007, with almost a completely different team. We were able to set the bar high and the fact that we've gone after the same results we achieved with the other group has been great. I think U.S. soccer and fans in America will remember this summer as something special and a big stepping stone in our development.”
ussoccer.com: You were one of the few players to come directly from Johannesburg to Seattle to get ready for the opening match against Grenada. How was that journey and what did you need to do as a player to be able to make that transition?
HP: “Since I didn't play at all in the Confederations Cup, for me it was about getting in and trying to get my feet under me because it had been awhile since I had played a game. When you come in here, you go into the game with the same mentality whether you're playing or not, but knowing you have a better chance of playing or helping the team in a different way.”
ussoccer.com: For a player who maybe doesn't get the opportunity they would like in one tournament, how nice is it to have the chance to come play in another international tournament right after and get right back on the field?
HP: “I think most players have been through ups and downs in their career. It's all about how you bounce back and that was my main focus. You know you may get another chance and when you do you have to do well. Every game, whether you play or not, happens for a reason. I came off a long spell of not playing with my club team and that's the way it goes. At the national team it's all about what kind of form you're in and whether the coaches think you’re ready. Of course it's disappointing when you don't play, but it's great when the team is getting results and when you know that you'll have another chance to play.”
ussoccer.com: You're one of the leading cap-winners on this Gold Cup team. In a leadership or experiences sense, how is your role here different from your role earlier in the summer?
HP: “I'm not the oldest player or anything, but I think the experiences that I've had at the Confederations Cup and in some of the big international games we've played have been able to carry over to some of the guys here who maybe haven't been in that situation before. I tried to provide some knowledge and wisdom heading into this tournament at the beginning and now this game against Mexico.”
ussoccer.com: This team has developed from game to game and grown throughout the tournament. Everybody who we've talked to says that day by day, and game by game, the team is growing in confidence and familiarity. How helpful has it been to spend a month together in this tournament?
HP: “I think it's been extremely valuable to find our rhythm as a team. As you saw against Grenada we got the result but we were still really green. We weren't on the same page always and we didn't really know each others runs or maybe how we played. Over this past month we've grown a lot as a team and I think there were stretches in our last game against Honduras where we maybe weren't playing our best soccer but we all had built a strong understanding from each other of what it takes to get a result and what it takes over 90 minutes.”
ussoccer.com: This was also a new situation for you in the sense of getting to know guys. In the first part of the summer the team had a certain level of familiarity with each other but here it obviously takes some time to meet your teammates and familiarize yourself with them on and off the field...
HP: “It takes some time for everybody. At first there's a sense of competition and a sense of wanting to play. There's also shyness and people not knowing what to expect from one another. Once we got past that we've been able to have a good month together. Everybody's been getting along really well and everyone's got to know each other really well. It's helped us get better on the field too.”
ussoccer.com: You and Brian Ching played against Mexico in February. Obviously, the context and situation of that game was much different, but what did you learn about playing against Mexico that can transition into tomorrow's final?
HP: “The important thing is how we play as a group. Mexico has some good individual talent and how we stick together as a team is going to be what makes the major difference in getting a win tomorrow.”
ussoccer.com: If there is anything that you can learn from the Confederations Cup final and apply to tomorrow's game in Giants Stadium, what do you think that is?
HP: “It's understanding the dangers of a lead and the dangers of certain situations. You can't shut off for one minute because it can change the whole momentum of a game. In the final against Brazil, Luis Fabiano had a nice hit from the top of the box. Our defender was there but it's one of those things that, because it happened early in the second half, changed the whole momentum. I think going into tomorrow's final it's about doing all the small things right in terms of set pieces, in terms of movement. We need to make sure we're in it for 90 minutes and not give up anything.”
ussoccer.com: You're out of contract at the moment, having finished up two years in Germany. What's next for you on the club level?
HP: “After tomorrow's game the big decisions have to come. There's some stuff on the table that I need to assess but obviously my biggest focus is tomorrow's game. After that I'll need to come to a quick decision as to where my next club is going to be and where my next situation is going to be. I'll be flying back to Europe to sort that out.”
ussoccer.com: If there's one memory you will take away from the summer of 2009 with the Men's National Team, what is it?
HP: “Just making it to the finals and doing it with two different groups. It's special in a sense that it shows the quality of depth in American soccer. Both finals mean a lot, and I've never really been in a situation in my club career where the idea of a cup final has been the most realistic thing. To be here with this group all throughout the past 60 days and make it to the finals of two big tournaments in one summer has been really great.”
ussoccer.com: So in that case, hopefully us lifting the trophy tomorrow will be the best possible conclusion to this long summer on the road?
HP: “It would be the perfect ending.”