|ESPN.com: Wayne Drehs Blog||[Print without images]|
PRINCETON, N.J. -- The U.S. men's national team returned to the field for training Saturday. Here are a few notes and observations from camp:
Just one training session remains before the team heads to Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn., on Sunday afternoon in preparation for Tuesday night's friendly against the Czech Republic (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). Though fitness and form are still high on coach Bob Bradley's list of priorities, he and his staff also are trying to figure out how to juggle preparing their starting 11 for the World Cup opener June 12 against England while determining the final list of 23 who will make the trip to South Africa.
"When you bring 30 into camp, there are pluses and minuses," Bradley said. "The pluses -- you have a chance to see everybody. If you go dip down into a group that maybe you would have viewed as alternates, they've been part of the camp and they're fit and ready to go.
"At the same time, the opportunity to play in a World Cup is so special in all players' careers that if you get close and don't quite make it, that's a huge disappointment, and we understand that and respect that."
Bradley said Saturday that barring an unforeseen injury or other surprise, he still plans on naming the final 23 after Tuesday's match. That will leave the May 29 friendly against Turkey in Philadelphia (2 p.m., ESPN2) and June 5 against Australia in South Africa to prepare his starters for England.
"We will take into account what it's been like with the team in the past, how they help the team, what their mentality is, how sharp are they, how fit are they, and from that framework decisions will be made," Bradley said.
|U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard says the forwards have looked sharp during camp.|
When asked if anyone has surprised him in camp, Bradley said, "We need games to assess that." But goalkeeper Tim Howard and defender Steve Cherundolo both noted the play of all the forwards, from Jozy Altidore and Hercules Gomez to Brian Ching, Robbie Findley and Edson Buddle.
"Coming in, I know they were the question marks that everyone wanted to know the answer to," Howard said. "But they've all come in sharp."
Said Cherundolo, "The work rate has just been great from the entire group. Every single forward has been sharp and really pushed the defenders."
Cherundolo, a veteran of three World Cups, said he has taken it upon himself to let some of the younger players know what to expect come June 12. Despite the team's familiarity with South Africa after last summer's Confederations Cup, stepping onto the world's largest sports stage is something altogether different, Cherundolo said.
"Everybody is going to be nervous -- it's good to be nervous. You can use that to your advantage. But you can't be surprised by it. You can't be in awe of everything. You just have to go out there and do everything you can to put your team in a position to win every game."
One of the biggest keys, the left back said, is handling the media attention.
"It's very easy to be distracted, whether it's the media or anything else," he said. "But it's my job to tell the guys, 'Look, this is three weeks where you have to focus, three weeks where you have to give everything you have to make the most of this amazing opportunity.
"You give everything in those three weeks and you can build a memory for the rest of your life."
This week has been a homecoming of sorts for several players and coaches who grew up in New Jersey. But none more so than Bradley, who played and later coached at Princeton. In addition, Bradley's younger brother Scott is the Princeton baseball coach. And the university's men's soccer coach, Jimmy Barlow, is one Bradley's closest confidants.
Princeton athletic director Gary Walters spoke to the team Thursday and passed out Princeton baseball caps. And on Friday, basketball coaching legend Pete Carril, one of Bradley's coaching role models, visited training.
The end-of-training fitness sessions I wrote about earlier this week aren't fun to participate in or watch. But Saturday's series of 16 sprints proved quite entertaining -- at least to those of us observing -- as groups of players slowly jogged around the field like a stalled choo-choo train before the whistle of trainer Pierre Barrieu sent them criss-crossing the pitch in multiple directions. Watch this video to see what I'm talking about.