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Jet Lag and American Footballers


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.

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  1. Sticky

    March 27, 2009 at 9:41 pm

    It’s funny that the Brits have been caught and even passed in the sports they invented – cricket, rugby, SOCCER, there are probably more. It’s tough when the world then comes back and talks about a sport that you think you own using terms you don’t. Then you become like a schoolmarm running around smacking kids knuckles – when the kids grow up, they’re just going to laugh when she starts blabbering on in a senile froth about the right words to use.

  2. LI Matt

    March 27, 2009 at 5:49 pm

    When you go to church, do you call God “that guy”?

    I generally don’t go to churches, and when I address God I use a Hebrew word. ‘Cause that’s how we roll.

    Americans have used the word “football” the way they do since 1870. We aren’t changing that for you. Get over it.

  3. PZ

    March 27, 2009 at 11:12 am

    It’s called football, the day you stop calling a cell phone a mobile phone, or a truck a lorry, or a trunk a boot, or an elevator a lift…..(and so on) I’ll think about calling soccer football. err, no I won’t.

    English is a living language. There are several versions of it. In this country, the sport you call football is soccer. Get over it.

  4. It's called football

    March 27, 2009 at 5:55 am

    I hate to admit, but the USMNT is a force to reckon with. England is indeed getting mega frustrated at its own ineptitude. If the USA does better than England in South Africa, heads will roll.

    As far as calling football football… Americans, it’s not too much to ask. It’s not going to kill you to call the sport by its proper name. When you go to church, do you call God “that guy”? Same principle.

    And for those who would say that football is not religion: you’re wrong, it is.

    I’ve seen many here do rightfully acknowledge the beautiful game by its 600 year old name. Good on you. Cheers.

  5. Felix

    March 27, 2009 at 1:39 am

    MLS rubbish eh? Did you happen to watch the highlights of the Houston vs Columbus Crew game? It was great attacking football and you have to also remember that this is only week 1. I thought the past week’s footie action was superb!!!

  6. LI Matt

    March 26, 2009 at 5:18 pm

    All this talk about the “standard of play” is just boring me to death.

    As far as I’m concerned, the “standard” is only relevant to the extent that it is helping or hurting the development of players for the national team. Aside from that … I’m from New York, the Red Bulls are New York’s team, I support my local team, end of story.

    To the English readers: do you go onto boards for, say, the Welsh league and tell them how “rubbish” they are? Or is it just us?

  7. PZ

    March 26, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    It’s funny. It’s almost as if the English want to have an excuse in place for what happens when things go south. I lived in England for 13 years. I remember in ’78 (I was very young) and ’86 all the moaning about how hot it was (oh wait, it was Scotland in ’78) and how football couldn’t be played in that heat. Of course, that’s because the matches were played in the afternoon because evening matches would have been too late for the views in Europe and we all read the moaning about how unjust the timing of matches were in ’02 from those on the other side of the pond. (can’t speak for the timing of matches in ’94 cuz I was here and England wasn’t but I didn’t care for all the matches in the afternoon)

    Anyway, my point being is that the English (warning, generalization ahead) are a nation of moaners. Beckham having to fly back and forth creating potential health issues? Remember when that came out, after he’d been recalled to the England squad and when it looked like then might have a chance of qualifying for the Euro’s (oops). The thing is Becks doesn’t fly steerage in the back of the plane like the rest of us. He’s up front so he won’t be bothered and can be waiting on and given everything he needs. Oh, and he’s a world class athlete who takes create care of himself drinking water and sports drinks and stuff like that not drinking the plane out of lager during the flight like the rest of us. Heck when he arrives at LAX or LHR, I’m betting–though I don’t know it as fact–that he doesn’t have to stand in the mile-long queue like the rest of us to get through immigration. There’s probably some special, “I paid a shit-load of money so I don’t have to wait like the commoners” section for him. So, I’m in agreement, I don’t buy that whole argument.

    Now, about MLS being rubbish Terry. Yes it is. But it’s our rubbish and we love it. Just like supporters of clubs not one of the Big 4 (down through the non-league levels) love their clubs. No one is saying that MLS is the greatest league in the world, but at least every club has a realistic shot at the title at the start of every season. Compare that to the EPL where if you pick one of 4 clubs you have a 25% chance of selecting the Champion. The other 80% are hoping for scraps like a spot in the UEFA Cup or just hope to be clear of the relegation zone well before May.

    Yes, Soccer (another moan of the Brits) has a lot of work to do developing players. However, if you look at how far that has come in the last 20 years, I’d say we are on the right track. Compare that to what’s happened in England. Premiership clubs are buying more and more Foreign players. There doesn’t seem to be nearly as many English players being developed. Reserve competition has become a joke so more clubs are having to loan their players to lower division clubs to give them regular matches. And during this period, England’s disappointments at the national level have gotten greater. So great in fact that you are desperate to have a player you’d written off 2 years ago come back so he can be playing at the top level in the hopes that at 36 he can guide England to World Cup glory.

  8. Frank

    March 26, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    Well, the MLS is all we got and that’s what I’m going to watch. I don’t care about the EPL and anglophile tendencies of American soccer supporters and especially TV commentators. I have no connection to that league. I do however follow the Bundesliga, the soccer league in my native country. But nothing beats the experience of going to a live match. I’ll keep supporting the MLS even if I don’t care about the structure or rules of of the league. It’s not perfect, but we still love it.

  9. Kartik

    March 26, 2009 at 8:52 am

    Very good comment, Project USA at Attacking 90 which I recommend everyone bookmarks! (the Proj. 90 page @ Attacking 90 that is)

  10. Project USA at Attacking90

    March 25, 2009 at 11:59 pm

    It is a bit embarrassing that every football league in the world seems to know about international break except for the MLS. Maybe the MLS had a built in assumption that no one in the league would get a call up? Obviously not true.

    We do get Serie A on cable in the US, as well as La Liga, EPL, Bundesliga, etc., so serious US soccer fans of which there are a substantial number do know what good football looks like. Do we play it in the MLS? Well, we’re trying… lots of issues there, much to do with the build up of the soccer business in the USA. Give me Chelsea’s budget, and the MLS’ permission to spend that much on players, and you could really see some terrific stuff here. It would be a terrible business enterprise though, not even in the same universe as profitable.

    Many US soccer fans stick to watching cable where they can see the beautiful game played by millionaires rather than a bunch of MLS thousandaires a fair number of whom have college degrees. There is probably some footballing potential lost in pursuing a university education, and maybe our Roonies end up becoming Dempseys in the process. Different culture and value systems, we might prefer the bargain, though we still long to field a squad full of Maradonas and Bests.

    Some of our boys, university educated or not, go to and play in Europe where the food seems funny, the language is different (“rubbish”?), and the folks they need to impress are not predisposed to expect US footballers to have the characteristics and quality they are looking for. When and if some of these boys get a call up to take a long, long flight back to the US, the hardship is hardly anything to complain about. They may not be Robinho or Cristiano, but be assured they are psyched to be playing for their country. Sleeping on the plane, perhaps, with a slight grin, dreaming.

    For while the US still lags behind the best footballing nations, the US still excels at being who we are. As footballers we have some who are better than the world thinks, and perhaps “enough” quality, if they bond and play seamlessly as one. I’d bet on a tight team of good players over a collection of 11 stars any day.

    This being football, you never know: anything can happen. An underdog is sometimes the best thing to be. May our players dream of the beautiful game on the flights home and endure the bit of jet lag with pride.

  11. eplnfl

    March 25, 2009 at 11:42 pm

    Terry, love to beat Sven for you again.

    Can MLS fairly be called basic. Yes, but that does not mean it’s bad in itself. Has the EPL almost imploded with a an obsession with tactics, fairly it can be said yes, and does it lead to English football being somewhat lesser then it should? Yes! With all the great talent in the EPL, or should I say the Big 4 we should be seeing a feast of goals each week but we still have to live through a ocean of 1-1 or nil-nil draws. When a Man U gets shut out by Fulham with talent that is not much better then an MLS team you have to wonder what is wrong with English football.

    Thanks for the nice words about the National team and things are looking up but any USA fan will tell you we are still capable of laying a rather large egg in the upcoming matches!

  12. Sticky

    March 25, 2009 at 10:32 pm

    “Don’t stereotype. We think MLS is rubbish.”

    Uh, ok. Maybe you’re also stereotyping British fans. In your following posts you cleared up what you think a little bit, but I would say that you have a penchant for very broad generalization – “accepted standards” and “unwatchable” are very poor metrics. Whose standards? Who’s watching, and for what reasons?

    By the way, when you say “rubbish” do you mean “crap?” In American English, “rubbish” is generally not used. N’kay?

  13. Terry

    March 25, 2009 at 4:59 pm


    Footballers have to be tactically flexible. Do you think Theirry Henry is a natural winger or Wayne Rooney a natural out and out striker. Manager in Europe play members of their squad in different positions. The thing that strikes me about MLS is how basic the tactics most managers use are. I like the New York manager Osorio but beyond that the teams all are set up similarly and look the same and players bunch up on the pitch and don’t keep their spacing proper. USL-1 has less talented players but it appears from my vantage point better managers. I watched a match between the Rochester Rhinos and the Puerto Rico team last year and the tactics were sophisticated. The football was decent, but the tactics were much more evolved than MLS.

    Americans who come from MLS to Europe are at a disadvantage. The tactics in MLS are poor and the training in MLS and USL-1 are below the accepted standard. Americans who come directly to England or Europe like Jonathan Spector are far more flexible than the typical American. I saw the article Kartik posted a few weeks back on Spector: I agree completely with his analysis, but have to say that has to do with the coaching and training in England which has made him versatile. Same for Michael Bradley who has come to Holland at 18.

    I’m not trying to insult your league, I’m just pointing out the obvious from a trained eye. I think your national team is becoming quite good but has come this far largely inspite of the tactics and training in your domestic league not because of it.

    Do us a favor. Beat Sven again, all of England will rejoice like we did when you crushed him last month.

  14. Tommy

    March 25, 2009 at 4:28 pm

    Look it’s not MLS’ fault that Bradley and the US scheduled these matches the same weekend as MLS games. The MLS schedule is released months ago, I don’t know why the US scheduled these games.

    Thus he’s put himself in the position to only pick guys from Europe whose teams don’t need them or whose season is basically over and so they release them.

    Why were these games scheduled? Look at all the guys missing from MLS this weekend. The national teams have to respect the league and not do this.

  15. eplnfl

    March 25, 2009 at 4:28 pm


    Thanks for visiting, come to Chicago in the summer or early fall and take in a Fire game you will have a great time.

    You ask a good question about American’s in Europe and it has appeared to me that despite the great raw talent that American’s bring to their clubs that except for rare managers like a David Moyes at Everton the American player is never let to play at his natural position and therefore is given time on the bench to adjust to the European league and style of play. In my opinion this is the reason you see many Yanks waste time on the bench in various European leagues. It’s a real waste.

  16. Terry

    March 25, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    Stereotyping is bad Kartik.

    I’m English and am currently on holiday in the states. I holiday stateside twice a year

    I think MLS is rubbish. Total rubbish. It is unwatchable to the trained football eye. Your second division USL-1 is more watchable but is played on turf too often and in facilities built for American “handball.”

    But I know your national team is not rubbish. Much of this has to do with the number of footballers you have in European leagues. While they do not feature for the top clubs they do get regular first team football, a must to develop a strong national team. As more and more of your players have left Major League Soccer your national team’s quality and results have improved.

    Don’t stereotype. We think MLS is rubbish but not all Brits think the US is rubbish. We saw you beat Portugal and draw Italy in World Cup action. Many of us think our league is top shelf brilliant stuff while our national team rubbish. You probably think the same thing. Should I say Kartik and all Americans thinks English football is rubbish because he thinks the three lions are not very good?

  17. Cavan

    March 25, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    Once again, who cares what they think? Let them think what they want. It won’t change how well our team plays. In fact if they think our team isn’t good, it’ll be a good motivational tool for our players.

  18. joel es latest soccer news

    March 25, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    Great post!!! Bradley received substantial criticism in his first year. However, many have acknowleged that he manages the team well.
    Inthe case of the England game, the US central midfield played horrible in that game. It is shame that other countries view us as an inferior opponent. The USMNT must prove themselves during the Gold and Confederations Cup. Playing well in the Confederations Cup will bolster other countries’ opinions of the US on the international level.

  19. Ian

    March 25, 2009 at 12:54 pm

    Bradley has no choice but to adjust his training techniques because right now only a handful of MLS guys can make this team. The league is falling further and further behind in developing the talent needed for us to compete internationally and we have no option other than to adjust training to jet lagged and weary players.

    Sad, but true.

  20. Cavan

    March 25, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    I’d rather have England control the rules over Sepp Blatter. They’re much more trustworthy in comparision.

    Kartik, your observations about U.S. National team travelling are spot on. I the English soccer pundit’s views have as much to with looking for a reason to make fun of someone else in the hopes that it sells with their jingoistic target market as much as them being insular. The English and European sporting press is looking for reasons to make fun of all levels of U.S. soccer just because 1)it’s much easier than actuall finding out the subleties and 2)that just what they do. The longer we continue to even bother to pay attention to what they say about our game is the longer we keep our inferiority complex. I’ve said in the past and will say again that our National Team could win the World Cup, the Crew could win the Club World Cup and our U-20’s could win their U-20 World Cup and the European sporting press would still talk about how awful we are for calling the game “soccer” or how awful we are for having a salary cap in MLS or any other illogical reason.

    I don’t get why any U.S. soccer fan even reads them anymore. It’s bordering self-loathing to read that drivel.

  21. eplnfl

    March 25, 2009 at 11:41 am

    Well done Kartik. Great piece.

    I took in the 2005 game in Chicago and the US seemed to lack desire that day in my opinion due to the fact that they were going to have two qualification matches shortly thereafter. The England team had several players hoping to land a spot on England’s 2006 WC squad and played hard to impress the coach(Sven!) and no further matches that summer.

    The US played a very conservative game and their main tactic was to break Donovan up the middle. England with a well formed defense simply knocked Donovan off the ball. The US seemed to be content with the exercise. I was not.

    Any way very good piece and why should England set the rules. Why is it that we should not call their sport English Football instead of the better known soccer!

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