Print and Go Back ESPN.com: DeMerit [Print without images]

Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Crunch time in the Championship


This is no time for the weak. This is a test of will and to see who's got the biggest hearts and brightest heads. This is the promotion push in the Championship race. I've been in one before, and let me tell you, its a quite an experience. The pressure is inescapable. It's everywhere, from on the training field, to the fans and especially the media. Three games left,and at least six teams still capable of taking the top two automatic promotion spots.

Unfortunately, I'm in a bit of a strange place right now because I'm not in the starting team. Since I've come back from injury, my manager hasn't wanted to change the central defense pairing. I've dabbled at right back, just enough to realize that I need to be in the center! I can do a job there, but it's not my strongest position. But this is no time for selfishness. I know that there are so many things that can influence the team besides just being a starter.

Of course I would much rather be out on the field from the beginning, but there are times during the season where that doesn't happen. Whether it's because the manager has decided he wants to change tactics, or because the person -- who is filling in for you because of suspensions or injuries -- has come in and played very well. Things like this happen to every player, but it's the ones who deal with that adversity the best that find themselves back in the team time and time again, and that's hopefully where I'll find myself soon enough.

I must admit that my pride is a little bit hurt because when you are given a role to play and have played that role most of the season, to have it taken away right in the middle of crunch time, makes me want to scream. (I will now think positively and channel those screams into cheers for my teammates on the field.) But that is nature of the game, and if we are to get promoted as a team, we need everyone on the same page and everyone together as a unit. I have to be there when I'm needed, whether that's coming on as sub, or getting the boys ready before the game. All of those things could be crucial in the final few games.

On a brighter note, going to Poland in March for the U.S. team camp was a fantastic trip. It was a snowy week in Krakow, but I was enjoying it. Living in London I don't get to see much snow, but I love snow! Obviously growing up in Wisconsin I've been used to being up to my ears in it, but in my view, if it's cold, it might as well snow. So when the guys were all shivering in their hats and gloves, I was diving around making snow angels ... kids these days eh?

Also, speaking of Wisconsin, I had some friends from home make the trip out there. They had gotten married in the summer and my gift to them was a ticket to London to visit. Of course when they booked their tickets, the Poland game wasn't scheduled yet, so imagine their surprise when I told them that from Sunday to Thursday of the week they were supposed to be exploring London, I would be in Poland!

Of course, they were more than happy to detour to Poland for a few days and also catch a game. It worked out great in the end, and since there weren't too many U.S. fans there, they even got the VIP treatment for the game. Krakow itself was a wonderful city filled with old churches and a ton of history.

History lesson one: Krakow was one of the only cities in Poland that wasn't destroyed by war. History lesson two: Auschwitz, the famous German concentration camp is located only 30 miles away and is one of the country's most visited sites. I was sorely disappointed that I didn't' get a chance to go and visit there. I can only image how dark and disturbing a place like that must be. History lesson three: Its been 10 years since Poland last played a game in Krakow, and the game sold out in four hours. The people of Poland were extremely nice and they even cheered for us during our national anthem which shows the kind of people they are. Most places even in the States we get booed!

The game itself I thought was a huge step in the right direction for U.S. soccer. From the tunnel all the way to the final whistle we seemed to be in control. The defense was solid and gave away very few chances. We knew from the scouting reports in our meetings leading up to the game that they weren't the best at marking on free kicks and corners, so with a good delivery we would have a good chance at scoring. All throughout the game, Landon (Donovan) and Eddie Lewis later in the game whipped in perfect balls. We scored two with Gooch (Onyewu) and Carlos (Bocanegra) getting their heads on the ball into the back of the net. I almost got my first goal as well when I just missed the post on a near post header.

We joked with Carlos after the game because he always seems to score with his shoulder or a deflection off his head or some other part of his body! His response is always with a nod and a smile, saying at least it ended up in the goal, which is very true. The locker room was buzzing after the game and everyone was happy to come away with a well deserved victory. I was happy to get the last half hour of the game on the field. Its hard coming on sub as a defender, but with the other guys around me, I was able to settle in quickly and help see out the game.

To go into a place like Poland and come away with a 3-0 victory is something to be said. Poland is no slouch, and they look to be one of the stronger teams in this summer's Euro 2008. It was a huge statement that on our day, we can play with anyone, much like we showed against Brazil last October. I think with the games coming up this summer against England, Spain and Argentina, we can really test ourselves to see how much more the bar can be raised. I know we are all looking forward to the challenge.