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Monday, May 17, 2010
After four years, final prep begins

PRINCETON, N.J. -- It's taken four years, 60 matches and 91 different players, but, finally, the United States men's national team has gathered once again to begin formal preparations for the World Cup.

It has been 1,454 days since the Americans' 2-1 loss to Ghana officially eliminated them from the opening round of the 2006 World Cup. And every one of those days has been pointing toward this tournament, pointing toward redemption. From CONCACAF qualifying to matches against world powers England, Argentina, Brazil and Spain to last summer's Confederations Cup, everything has been designed in hopes of achieving success in the summer of 2010.

And now it's here.

"It's exciting, it really is," goalkeeper Tim Howard said. "You know there's a lot of hard work ahead, but it's also fun to have your boys with you to take that journey."

Though the team will bleed red, white and blue, it has gathered in New Jersey from all over the world. Team captain Carlos Bocanegra was the first to arrive Saturday afternoon and center back Oguchi Onyewu will be the last to arrive on Tuesday. Collectively, the group has traveled from eight countries and through 12 different U.S. airports to arrive in New Jersey. While some, such as Eddie Johnson, came from as far away as Greece, Michael Bradley needed nothing more than a ride from the northern half of the Garden State to join his teammates.

Sunday was a day of physical examinations -- a head-to-toe probing that included everything from an echocardiogram and a vision test to a visit with an orthopedic surgeon to a complete dental examination. Yes, a dental examination. The players who were in town already traveled by bus from Princeton to Philadelphia's Pennsylvania Hospital on Sunday, where a series of doctors were awaiting their arrival. Still, giving physicals to some 25 world-class athletes is no easy task.

"A whole lot of waiting around," Howard said. "They have the system perfected about as well as you can. But you still just sit there and wait. And then wait some more. And, of course, we give each other a hard time about what's taking so long."

On Monday, the team finally took the field. Just after 10 a.m. ET manager Bob Bradley stood on Princeton's Myslik Field and gathered the group that will face England on June 12. There were no inspirational speeches. No carefully chosen words of wisdom. At least not yet.

"We talked about the honor of coming out for a national team," Bradley said. "They should all be excited, they should all be proud and ready to get to work."

Unlike 2006, when then-manager Bruce Arena began his North Carolina-based camp with a pretty good handle on the 23 members of his World Cup roster, this camp has several spots up for grabs.

Bradley said Monday that he hopes to narrow his roster down to the 23 players who will make the trip to South Africa before the May 29 friendly against Turkey in Philadelphia. That puts added emphasis on each of this week's training sessions in New Jersey as well as the May 25 friendly against the Czech Republic in East Hartford, Conn. The competition to be one of the final 23 will undoubtedly raise the intensity during training sessions, a fact evident in Monday's first session.

"From the very beginning, it was pretty intense out there today," Bocanegra said. "But you've got a lot of guys fighting for their World Cup lives, so you expect that. And I think competition brings out the best in everyone, so that's a good thing to have in camp."

Bocanegra, Howard, Johnson, Jay DeMerit and Chad Marshall didn't train with the team on Monday due to their various bumps and bruises. Bocanegra is recovering from a mild strain in his abdominal muscles and said he planned to return to training by Wednesday or Thursday. Howard, coach Bradley said, has a slight strain of the quadriceps muscle that affects his kicking of the ball. Bradley said at this point, none of the injuries are of significant concern.

Beyond putting together his final roster for South Africa, picking a starting 11 to face England and keeping his players healthy, Bradley's other goals during camp include getting the team in peak physical condition and blending the styles of 23 individual soccer personalities into one cohesive group with one common goal: advance past the tournament's opening round.

"Anything less than advancing out of the group would be a failure," Clint Dempsey said. "So we are preparing so that, when it's our time, we are ready to stand up and be counted."