I spent about an hour at US National Team training yesterday at Barry University in Miami Shores. I was completely alone watching the practice as the college had a baseball game and people were coming in and out of the complex preparing for the game. I could not find the USSF’s press officer, who is always very good at helping with interviews, but that was fine because I was simply there to watch training and get a feel for Coach Bradley’s thinking going into the next set of qualifiers.
What amazed me the most about the training session is how well European based players deal with long flights and are able to train at full speed immediately. Obviously a number of national team members had big weekends: most notably Clint Dempsey whose Fulham team shocked Man U at Craven Cottage.
Brad Guzan at times was practicing shot stopping at the other end and I must say for a guy who got surprise action at Anfield on Sunday afternoon, he looked incredibly good just 50 hours later. This brings me to a very serious point about David Beckham. The English press and Three Lions fans have repeatedly said he cannot perform when flying great distances for national team training or matches. Yet the American footballer seems more than capable of doing this. Brazilians do it all the time. Argentines also. Today, I am stopping in on the Honduran team which is training in Fort Lauderdale, and they have been forced to cope with the situation more and more.
So what makes England so special and so extraordinary that they can horde lots of the talent in club football, yet cannot get with the times when it comes to international football? Why do the English feel they must always dictate the rules to the rest of the world? I respect the fact that they invented this game and exported it throughout the globe. I really do. Some of my previous writing and discussions on radio shows backs up that point. I’ve even been accessed of being an Anglophile by a number of readers/listeners. But again on this issue they have no idea what other nations go through to prepare for a World Cup Qualifier.
The simple fact that Americans are used to flying several hours from point to point, while domestic flights within the UK are becoming rarer and rarer (British Airways Super Shuttle service has gone by the wayside, and BMI has cut several long time routes from Heathrow to the Midlands and other points north) and train/coach travel continues to be preferred. So the idea of flying for ten hours and then training that afternoon or evening seems very foreign and somewhat risky for the body to the average insulated English footy pundit.
Their ignorance in furthered by a lack of available world football on British TV. For example, you cannot even watch Serie A in the UK? Not to mention key internationals between nations outside Europe. To a certain extent Setanta has helped to alleviate this problem, but many homes don’t have Setanta and still a huge gap exists on what matches are on TV in Britain.
When it comes to the United States, the English base many of their negative perceptions about the US National Team on watching MLS highlights. Again, they have taken very little time to decipher the fact that fewer regular call ups to Bob Bradley’s squad are in MLS than are in continental European leagues that they never watch or hardly ever track.
While the US performance at Wembley was disappointing last May, I was in attendance and tried to explain to the Three Lions Supporters that Josh Wolff, Rico Clark and Nate Jaqua weren’t exactly the top American players while Landon Donovan, injured earlier in the week training in Watford, and Pablo Mastroeni left behind in deference to MLS’ desire to play right through international breaks were. (Pablo in particular would have been useful in that match) But when you have seldom few chances to shape a perception it tends to linger. English perceptions have been shaped by this unfortunate performance with a virtual B team and an even more distressing match in Chicago back in 2005 where the US with a full lineup was humbled by an English B- team.
The US will likely give two credible performances this week. Bob Bradley knows how to manage his team in these situations. With only six North American based players (MLS and FMF) the other sixteen players have all arrived from Europe. Yet the US is always ready for these qualifiers. It seems to me management is more than tactics and Coach Bradley understands his team, the American player and how to push the right buttons to maintain fitness and get results. Perhaps he deserves more credit for what is really not an easy job, especially by the established standard of English football.