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Upcoming Friendlies Almost Too Much

It seems the US Soccer Federation is eager to prove some of the critics of the game in this country wrong thanks to upcoming friendlies against Spain and potential friendlies against England and Argentina. Those critics who rightfully pointed out that between 2003 and 2006 we didn’t play many tough friendlies on the road have no recollection of the type of scheduling that the US undertook before and after the 1998 World Cup disaster and the scheduling that almost killed the team in qualifying for the 2002 World Cup. They do not recall the US beating Mexico on a Wednesday night in Columbus in an epic qualifier (at least in the eyes of US supporters) with Josh Wolff and Earnie Stewart scoring goals and then flying across two time zones to L.A. to nationally televised (on ABC) Saturday afternoon friendly against Brazil. That whole scheduling debacle took a toll on the team as we subsequently collapsed in qualifying, going as far as losing to Honduras at RFK Stadium. The temptation of Bruce Arena as it will be for Bob Bradley was to put his “A” team in against Brazil and thus wear them down for upcoming qualifiers.
In those days the majority of National Team players were in MLS and the ones that weren’t were generally in Germany. The toll the aggressive scheduling had was to put the US in jeopardy of missing the World Cup. In 1999, the U.S. played Germany, Chile (at that time a respectable footballing power), Mexico and Argentina shortly before playing Brazil, Germany and Mexico in the Confederations Cup. (An event some of the very same critics write off as meaningless, but how can playing Brazil, Germany and Mexico on foreign soil be meaningless? Does an event these days need Real Madrid or Manchester United to mean something?)

These same critics don’t recall the U.S. playing Argentina in Miami before flying off to France for the Confederations Cup in 2003 and then flying back to start Gold Cup play right away, where we’d be eliminated by Brazil in extra time on a golden goal. (The Brazil game was interesting- I was at the match and the number of Argentines and Colombians who turned out to cheer AGAINST Brazil was shocking) The same happened in 1998 you could argue when the U.S. played an ambitious schedule after qualifying, and then ended up flat for its three pre World Cup friendlies against inferior sides in May. By playing Holland, @ Belgium, Paraguay, and @ Austria in a four week period we ran down our players and allowed internal dissension to mount, something Steve Sampson was never able to deal with. The scheduling looked good at the time, but it was obvious in hindsight the decision by Sampson to begin yanking some veterans and playing youngsters or newcomers to the national team created a dynamic which in some ways still haunts US Soccer. ( Sampson made the decision to insert Chad Deering and Brian Maisoniueve altogether, as well as Frankie Hedjuk and Brain McBride in more prominent roles during these friendlies casting aside the very players who had been the core of the US team in 1994 and the successful qualification for the 1998.)

The problem is fixture congestion on the club level has led national teams to be less and less flexible in its scheduling. This isn’t the early 1990s when Bora was able to demand any American that wasn’t playing for a respectable club abroad, stay in residency with the National Team, and thus have a full team available for any friendly. These days you get released by your club 48 hours before a match and often times the players are weary from the travel and condensed club fixture schedule. In the case of Major League Soccer they aren’t even given a break during internationals. I am all for tough scheduling especially on the road but a balance must be struck so we don’t endanger our qualification to World Cup 2010 simply to satisfy some loudmouth critics of game in this country.

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  1. bzygo

    February 14, 2008 at 9:10 am

    The key is scheduling good teams for friendlies, without overscheduling. Hopefully they’ve learned from the past and are smart enough to schedule the friendlies in a manner that helps to prepare for the games that count, not wear the team down. Thankfully, I think the pool of players for the U.S. team to pull from is growing nicely, so that should also help in using the friendlies as a means to give guys experience and Bradley the chance to tinker with line-ups.

  2. YankeeRam

    February 13, 2008 at 9:41 pm

    Ignore the WSD board part, not the same Three Lions thankfully.

  3. YankeeRam

    February 13, 2008 at 7:20 pm

    Nice to see the US taking on quaility opponents after that dry spell. Looking forward to it very much.

    Three Lions: Don’t bring your England uber alles crap here man, the WSD boards are enough.

  4. football detective

    February 13, 2008 at 2:52 am

    The only way for USA to get better is by playing better opponents.

    No more friendlies against CONCACAF teams (except the USSF cash-cows v. MEX, of course).

  5. brittkamp

    February 12, 2008 at 10:00 pm

    I understand your concern but it is 2008. If you were ever going to play tough opponents it is now. We will beat Barbados/Dominica in qualifying (God Willing) but it will be good to see where we are at before we start seriously qualifying

  6. bandeeto

    February 12, 2008 at 2:52 pm

    I’m fine with the schedule. I want our boys to be so used to the highest level of international competition that it becomes common place. Unlike past world cups I believe our depth truly is enough to compensate for a busy schedule. I don’t see any positoin on the field where we don’t have at least two servicable players available.

    3 Lions:
    So how is it that Germany and Argentina have any players after the group stage of the WC finals available play. If all they do is cheat, hand ball, and commit violent fouls then it sounds like they should all be red carded and fined by FIFA. Perhaps all refs are payed off. I understand that some level of undesirable play occures in EVERY game, but you are completely exagerating.

  7. Three Lions

    February 12, 2008 at 11:39 am

    Playing Gewrmany and Argentina are not tests. They are simply trips to the acting school. Germany with the brute force of ten tall blokes who simply try and intimidate the opposition and Argentina with the diving, cheating and hand balls. When you play England at Wembley you’ll learn about a real footballing nation who does not resort to rough play, obvious cheating or buying the officials to suceed internationally.

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