Getting back to the job at hand, another season is upon us and the World Cup is now in sight. For Watford, people have been writing us off so far this season and that's not a bad place to be in some minds. As a group, we are not as big as we have been -- selling a few of our better players and the club is also up for sale -- which means we won't be spending any money to bring too many new players in to strengthen the squad. So far though after four games, we find ourselves seventh in the table and looking much stronger than pundits expected. Of course it's still early and if injuries come, our thin squad could be in trouble. At the moment though, we are looking very together and united. No real superstars, just 11 guys who all want to be at the club and work their tails off for each other. That can go a long way in achieving success.
I compare us to a team like Derby, which has a wage bill probably three times ours, a squad of about 30 guys, and still hasn't won a league game in almost a year. Derby seems to have no identity, no unity, which leads to confusion, which leads to losing. At Watford, we all know our roles and want to play them, which in the end makes us stronger. For me, my role as captain will be a challenge, but hopefully I can lead the team to a fantastic season. I just hope we can continue our form over 55 games.
As for the U.S. team, we're looking very strong in our group with wins over Cuba and T&T this past week, and a win over Guatemala away on Aug. 20. I definitely see a unity in the U.S. squad, which I think will lead to great things for the future. Every time I come into camp, there's a buzz about the players and the whole setup. I think it's really starting to show on the field as well, considering how well we have played over the past year.Guatemala was a true test for us, considering we hadn't won there in over 20 years. The Guatemalans tried everything to disrupt us. From messing up our training schedules, to the fans throwing beer bottles at the bus on the way to the stadium, and also not letting us through the entrance gate. Even two hours before the game, the stadium was packed with fans booing and whistling at us. When we checked the field to see what studs we would wear for game time, they even launched coins and other projectiles. They also had Gatorade girls positioned right next to our benches for distraction. I know I was distracted! They tried everything, but to be honest, no one was fazed and we weathered the storm as a team, seeing off a 1-0 win, and a great start to our bid for 2010. Hopefully that can continue into the later rounds and maybe I can even be there to take part in the pinnacle of my profession.
Before our games out in L.A. at the Home Depot Center, and before every game, Frankie would write a Bob Marley quote on the white board, "You are a big tree, I am a small axe, and I'm coming to cut you down." Great little things to get that energy going before big games.
Now I didn't play a whole lot during the Gold Cup, but I used the time to try and soak in as much of what tournaments like this were all about. We had a saying throughout the tournament that seemed to get everyone in the mood and it was simple, "Let's go get the cup!" We would chant that phrase in the huddles after every win, and before training sessions to keep us in the mind frame.At night, groups of us would go out together for dinners, just to get away from the hotel, and share some banter with the guys. Kasey Keller took us to some really nice restaurants in LA, exclusive ones with paparazzi outside -- although it wasn't that cool when six of us pulled up to the front of this hot spot to valet, and we all got out of a Ford Windstar rental minivan. We also got approached in Boston by a group of people that thought Pablo (Mastroeni), Frankie (Hejduk), Michael (Bradley), Landon (Donovan), Carlos (Bocanegra) and I were a boy band. We played along so well until Frankie ruined it by trying to sing. It was all just a blast, and it was good times like these off the field that made us work harder for each other on the field. The Gold Cup semis were in Chicago, so I was happy to be back there. It was fantastic to see some old faces and the U.S. team even practiced at UIC where I went to college. Of course the guys made fun of me calling me "rags to riches" and asked the coaches there why they hadn't changed the name to Jay DeMerit field. With Frankie out for the final against Mexico after picking up a yellow against Canada, he had to settle for a role as "Chief of Enthusiasm". He was buzzing around the locker room before the game making sure everyone was ready, and of course wrote his Marley quote to put it all into perspective. We had another theme throughout the tournament based on the 311 song "Amber", the refrain of which goes "Wooooah, amber is the color of my energy." So we constantly sang this to each other as well. As a bonus before the final, 311 had heard about our motivational chants in their honor, and they wrote an email to the team saying to keep the energy going and best of luck in the final. Our theory was right, positive energy spreads when at use. We needed all of it against Mexico, but we prevailed in the end and won the game. It was awesome seeing my roomie for the trip, Carlos, lift the cup as captain (albeit not too high because of his alligator arms). Frankie, who was in the stands, came onto the field with his shades on, took off his shirt and started waving it over his head as we took the victory lap. He hadn't even played, but he was happiest guy in the whole entire stadium. We celebrated all through the night, but the best part was when we were at this restaurant, and Frankie and his wife showed up with the Gold Cup. We had all talked about how if we won it, the cup was coming out to celebrate, and Frankie made it happen. He had taken the cup from the hotel and took his new best friend in a cab out for the celebration of a lifetime. It was the icing on the cake, and we all enjoyed our final night together as a winning team, taking sips out of our new prize.
After leaving the banquet room I heard Ty yell down to me that he had found something. He led me into the fitness room, around a corner, and turned with a big smile on his face -- he'd found a wooden door which led to a sauna.
There was still some leftover heat so we rested in the sauna against the wooden benches for a few more hours. Just as we were starting to get some good rest, we heard a noise coming from the fitness room. It was a woman in workout gear, turning on the tv. She apparently found her channel of choice and began to run on the treadmill.
After about 20 minutes of stressing out that she would see us, we heard the treadmill stop. Now, you can't see inside the sauna, but of course you can see out, so the lady had no idea we are in there while we watched her every move. We were hoping that the workout was over, but just as we started to calm down, she started using the Nautilus machine that was about three feet away from the sauna door.
We began to freak out at this point, mostly because we thought she'd hear us at and scream for security. We had to do something. Since we were both wearing hoodies and sweats, I figured we could pretend we had just been in the sauna trying to lose weight or something. Looking back on it, it made no sense because she could have deduced that we had to have been in there for about an hour, fully clothed, and yet not sweated a single drop. But we went for it, both giving a stretch of the arms, like we had just finished a good workout as we walked by and said good morning. She bought it and said good morning back as she continued her workout. Sweet.
By now it was 7:30 a.m. or so, and we had worked up quite an appetite with all the rolling around on wood, concrete, and leather all night. We rolled straight into the free breakfast buffet for some food. After what we had been through, we definitely considered ourselves guests for the evening and deserved a good breakfast.
After some nice scrambled eggs and a few coffees to keep us going, we went to the front desk to start calling auto part stores to get back on the road.
We also called our AAA buddy and he got on the case as well to see if we could get it done ASAP. We had nine hours to get to Indiana and it was a seven-hour drive, so we were cutting it close. We ended up finding the part and were just about to call the tow guy to take us to Pep Boys when the AAA guy called us and said that he had found the part as well.
The AAA guy seemed a little more trustworthy since he also said he loved muscle cars, so we went with his advice. He sent the tow guy and we got the Camaro loaded up and taken to a repair shop within the hour. After another short lesson in our dummies guide to muscle cars, we thanked the place with a generous tip and we were back on the road.
The rest of the trip was fairly uneventful by comparison -- we finally got to look at some of the beautiful countryside and mountain roads that make road trips so enjoyable. With a little Starting Line blaring from the iPod stereo, we cruised through the rest of the trip with smiles on our faces and made it to Depauw University, just in time for the celebration -- and of course a drink at the margarita fountain. The rest of the trip through the Midwest was a blast, and we ended at home in Green Bay with the car in one piece, until the next offseason that is!
Back on the right highway and feeling warm and fuzzy after leading our convoy to safety, we were about an hour from Harrisburg, Pa., our first stop for the night. Our plan was to get a good night's sleep in a hotel, get up early and cruise the rest of the seven hours to Indianapolis -- with enough spare time to take a late afternoon catnap.
The plan took a hit when the GEN light in the Camaro suddenly came back on. That stressed out feeling crept right back into us and we were back to needing to find out how much juice the battery had left. Just outside Harrisburg, I saw an exit with a Holiday Inn -- we decided to get off there in case we had to stay the night.
We pulled into a nearby gas station to regroup, and bought a wrench -- since we'd now become expert mechanics, we figured we could tap the alternator and get back on the road. Yeah right -- thankfully the car was already dead when I tried to restart it, so either way it was a no go. Ty got back on the phone to AAA and they sent a tow guy.
When the tow guy arrived, he said he could tow us to a Pep Boys and they could probably help in the morning. I didn't really want to leave my car in the middle of nowhere in a Pep Boys parking lot, so I asked he could just jump my car and I'd risk parking it in the Holiday Inn parking lot. It was still in the middle of nowhere, but at least it was close. So the tow guy jumpstarted my car and offered to return in the morning to take us to a repair place if needed. After thanking him, we drove across the street to find a nice bright light to park my car under. But, much to our surprise, as we pull into the parking lot, we saw that it was filled with vintage muscle cars. As we parked right in the middle of all of them, a couple of people asked, "Nice car guys, what time you going to the show tomorrow?" Apparently we had just stumbled into Harrisburg and straight into the biggest car show in the state.
So naturally we lied and said we'd make our way there in the morning after breakfast. We cruised into the lobby, thinking we were the new gear heads in town and asked for a room. The receptionist laughed and said, "Sorry boys, but because of the show, you won't find a vacant hotel room within 40 miles of here." At this point, Ty and I were starting to get tired of the "Oh my God, what are we going to do now?" look. Our only solution was to sleep in the Camaro. After finding out the seats didn't recline, we spent about 20 minutes trying to find the best sleeping position. We decided on both of us seated in the back, seats folded down forward and crisscrossing our bodies so that my feet were on the passenger seat and Ty's were under the steering wheel. By now it was 12:30 a.m. and since the lights in the parking lot were blinding, we tried sleeping with T-shirts over our heads.
After about two hours of the most uncomfortable sleep ever and barely being able to breath (the T-shirt thing), Ty starts to freak out and says, "I can't take it anymore, I can't sleep, I'm a freaking ice cube and I don't care if I have to start knocking on doors, I'm going inside!" He leaves and about 30 seconds later, he came sprinting back to the car and said that there was no one at reception, so we could sneak inside.
By now it was 3 a.m., and there we were, Thelma and Louise, sneaking into the Holiday Inn to try and find somewhere to sleep. We both started looking for hiding spots, under tables, chairs in reception - at that point they all looked like Serta Super King Mattresses to us. Finally we decided on a banquet room on the second floor. Around the corner we 'd seen some stacks of chairs and moved them out about three feet, creating a cubby hole of sorts, and a good hiding spot just in case someone walked in. A carpeted concrete floor had never felt so good until about 6 a.m. when the lights turned on. We sneaked around the stacks and saw the breakfast buffet getting set up by hotel staff. Once they turned around we snuck out of the back exit unscathed, but we were still dead tired and had two hours before we could start making calls for the new alternator.
So despite our worries about the car, thankfully we made it out of the city. Once on the freeway, Ty got on the phone to AAA. He told them what had happened and AAA advised us to get off at the next exit, and go to a repair place nearby. However, there was no guarantee it'd be open since it was 6.30 p.m. Sure enough, when we got to the repair shop it was closed. We drove past in dismay, expecting that we'd have to stay the night in Union, N.J., and would likely fail to make it in time to his sister's grad party in Indianapolis the following evening. However, just as we drove through a light, we saw a one-stall garage with an auto repair sign above it -- and it was open. We couldn't believe our luck and pulled in.
Once inside, the old guy at the computer said,"Even if we can fix it, we won't be able to get the part until tomorrow." So again Ty and I gave each other the look of despair, but a young repair guy came in and said he'd take a look if we popped the hood. He tested the battery, and confirmed it -- no juice -- and headed back into the garage. Ty and I once again gave each other the look, but then the guy came back out, this time holding a hammer.
I was more than a little apprehensive when he told me to rev up the car. But I gave it a little gas, and he started tapping the alternator with the hammer -- still nothing though. Finally he tapped it one more time, a spark went flying, and the battery started to charge.
I gave the girliest scream of delight ever, and see that the GEN light has now turned off. We gave our new best friend big handshake hugs and thanked him for keeping us on the road -- we were set to continue our journey.
So, back on the road after about another hour, we decided all this stress was making us hungry and stopped at Wendy's. After a few JBC's and pretty much half of the 99 cent menu, we went across the street to the gas station to get some fluids for the ride. As we were walking out, we saw a police car with its lights on, heading towards the intersection. The cop said something we couldn't understand on his loudspeaker, and then proceeded to get out of his car and closed off the street with road flares. As we tried to figure out what was going on, we saw that the road he just closed was our ramp to get back on the highway.
Naturally, with our positive mental attitude and adventure pumping through our veins, we looked at each other and realized we needed a map. As we tried to find our detour to get back to the highway, more and more people started coming in and asking the clerks how to get around it.
We were feeling confident and said that we were working on it. One girl came in with her boyfriend, who was wearing pink fuzzy slippers and looked like he had just woken up from a roadie nap, and said she'd follow us. So we found our route and headed to the car. As we pulled out of the gas station, it seemed the word had spread, because when we looked behind us, we were now leading a five-car convoy. They were obviously the trusting sort, because it was about 40 minutes later -- complete with a five-car U turn in front of state patrol cars when I took a wrong turn on a toll entrance -- before we got them all back on the highway safe and sound. They all drove by at that point, with flying fists and waves as they got back to their own personal journeys. On the other hand, our journey was just beginning.
It was about this time last year that my friend Ty and I discussed what we would do for my 2007 offseason. Every year, we try to plan a trip to celebrate the end of another season for me. In previous years, we have gone nuts in Spain and recorded music in the studio. This year was designed to top them all. I've always wanted a vintage car, so last summer I was talking about it and Ty suggested a road trip with the vintage across America. Of course, at the time it was a long way until the next offseason, so it sounded like a great idea, but I didn't take it that seriously.
About three months ago, Ty calls me and says his sister Katie is graduating from college in Indianapolis around the time I would be coming back to the States -- the idea being that it could be our first stop. I had only one answer, OK and that i'd start looking for the car. It was set, I would fly to New York, where Ty lives, and we would road trip it back home -- making stops in Indianapolis, Chicago, and finally Green Bay.
It took me about two months to find a suitable car, but three weeks before we were set to hit the road, I found it on Ebay. It was a 1969 Chevy Camaro convertible. Hugger orange in color and white stripes down the sides of the front -- restored white leather interior, refurbished engine, and all new rims with 20s on the back and 18s on the front. This car was a beauty, so I called the guy and we made a deal. I got them to deliver the car up to New York from Tennessee. Ty's boss Howard allowed us to store the car at his house in the suburbs until I got there and my dad took care of the important stuff -- the title, insurance, license plates, and most importantly, the AAA card -- so we would be ready to get going once I got into New York.
I arrived in New York on a Wednesday and the plan was to party there for a few days and see some sights, then get the car and get on the road on Friday. Obviously with all the partying, I didnt get to see too many sights, so to compensate, we decided to take the car around the city and see some of the things I hadn't seen yet and also play Santa.
Every year I bring home a big bag of Watford stuff such as used jerseys, practice shirts, warm-up sweatshirts, etc. -- the stuff our equipment guy gives me. The plan was to stop by the offices of our other friends in the city and hand out Watford gear. First off, I have never seen a such a reaction as the one displayed by New Yorkers towards my car. We had people following us, taking pictures and guys yelling at us to get it out of the city so it wouldn't get ruined.
One guy who was walking across the street, minding his own business listening to his Ipod, turned and saw us, and proceeded to do what we now call the "Camaro dance" in front of the car. Holding his hand over his mouth, he was busting spin moves and crazy facials until we sped away. All was going well it seemed -- we were through Times Square and some other parts of the city when all of a sudden this little red light comes on and all it says is GEN. Now we aren't exactly car people, so Ty and I were guessing all sorts of stuff, engine, generator, etc.
We were on our last stop to our friend Mike, so we told him about this light that just came on. He said that when he got back upstairs that he'd Google it and let us know. We're sitting in traffic on the New Jersey turnpike when Ty gets a call back from Mike who said, "I think you guys might be in a bit of trouble."
He proceeded to tell us that "the GEN light does mean the generator, and the generator is now called the alternator. What the alternator does is keeps your battery charged while you are driving so your car can work properly. So, if that light is correct, you guys are now driving on the juice your battery has left, which means your car could die in a minute or an hour, but sometime in the near future." Our new priority was now to try to get out of the city and the horrific traffic before the car died.
On a positive note I got to play my first game for the USA last month. It was great to finally get the call. It was after a game against Charlton and I was sitting around when I got a call from my manager.
My first thought was to wonder if I'd done something wrong, but he said, "I have got this fax through, and it's from the U.S. team and they want you to come in for camp in a few weeks. So happy for you, it's about time, you deserve it." It was a short simple call, but one that every player who ever takes the field dreams about.
I was so excited just to get back to the States and into camp, but in training early in the week before I was due to leave, I was doing defensive drills and slipped on the soft ground.
I felt my groin tense up, but I played on. By the middle of training I couldn't run anymore, so I went in to see the trainers. I know my body pretty well and I was nervous. I got a scan that day and when the trainer called me that night he had bad news. He said I had a grade two tear which would require a two to three week recovery time.
I was even more nervous now. I was supposed to leave for my first call up in just less than a week! I hadn't been seriously injured all season and the week before I leave for my first national team camp, I pull a muscle. Go figure.
Earlier in the season when I'd tweaked my ankle, one of the trainers told me to eat lots of pineapple, mixed seeds and ginger. All have a natural anti-inflammatory. In the first few days of an injury, you can't really take medicines and such because the muscle is still bleeding internally, so only natural medicines are effective.
For the second time this season, I was having so much pineapple and seeds that I was turning yellow and growing a beak.
A few days later I went for another scan and the tear had gone from a grade two to a grade one in a matter of three days! The doctor at the hospital said he had never seen such an improvement. Thank you Mother Nature. Grade one injures usually take just a week to cure, so I was on track to make the camp -- the only caveat being that I'd need to ask if the U.S. team would let me sit out of practice for the first two days, after which I'd be fine.
I had a few conversations with Bob Bradley and since we had two games during the ten days, he said I could still come in and train as soon as I could. I was going to get on that plane no matter what.
Going into my first camp injured I was a little bit nervous. I was concerned if the muscle didn't heal and what the other players were going to think when I showed up as the new guy and didn't even train.
The first few days in camp I tried to keep my head down and make sure I got my leg right. Bob Bradley calmed me as well by letting me know there was no pressure to hurry up and get back. He told me he knew the situation, not to worry and that I should take my time and make sure it's OK.
The trainers were great as well, and to get made fun of from the likes of Taylor Twellman and some of the others made me realize that we've all been in that situation before, so it made it much easier.
It was later in the week when I finally trained, so I knew I probably wouldn't have a chance to get on the field for the game against Ecuador, but I was happy just to be back to 100 percent and out there sweating in the Florida sun with the rest of the guys.
The rest of the week was great, I got to know a lot of the guys and the game against Ecuador was a fantastic result, winning 3-1. I sat on the bench with the team but didn't dress. It was great to watch the first game though because it gave me a little bit more of an idea of how they play at the international level.
Following the Ecuador game we went to Dallas and trained for a few more days to prepare for Guatemala. Oguchi Onyewu, one of the other center backs, had gone back to his club team in England, so I knew I would probably start. Before the game, it was business as usual, trying to find out about our opponents and the forwards I would be marking.
Jimmy Conrad, who I would team with at the back, told me a few things about the guy we would be marking, but stressed that the most important thing for me was to go out and enjoy it. I had worked too hard not to.
The occasion didn't really hit me until the national anthem started. With all of us lined up, hands on hearts, the star spangled banner rang out, and chills went down my spine. It was definitely chills of excitement and pride because playing for your country is the highest honor you can get in the sport. It means everything to put on the Red, White, and Blue because you are representing your country, your home, and everything that it represents. It was a great honor for me and everyone who has been with me for this journey.
The game could have gone a little better. They sat with all 11 players behind the ball and held out for a 0-0 draw. We had a few chances to put the game away but it wasn't to be, and they seldom tested our defense, so I was a little disappointed. After the game our captain Landon Donovan said it wasn't good enough, that we should be beating teams like that if we want to get U.S. soccer to where it should be, and he couldn't be more right. But all in all it was a great occasion and a proud moment. Hopefully it won't be my last.
The past few weeks, like most of this season, has had its ups and downs. We have had some forgettable performances but also fought our way to a quarterfinal spot in the FA Cup, one of the biggest and most prestigious cup competitions in the world.
I think we have West Ham's number this year. In a matter of two weeks, we knocked the Hammers out of the FA Cup, and seriously dented their chance for survival in the Premiership. Both were tough affairs, as you would expect from a team like West Ham. One of our goals, in the second game, was from a penalty. It was our first and only penalty kick of the season, which tells you a lot about how the refs treat teams like ours.
Up until a few weeks ago, we were the only team in all of the English leagues not to have received a penalty. Maybe that's just our honesty not to dive in the box (I'll get to that later), or maybe it's because refs don't give teams like us the benefit of the doubt. Either way, it was nice to finally get one and see it converted.
We have had two games recently that we would like to forget. One a few weeks back when we lost to Bolton after a scrappy corner kick.
The second game was the other day against Everton. Going into the game, we knew it was going to be a tough game, but hoped that we could catch them on a bad day. Things started well, but then in a space of two minutes, things changed for the worst with Everton scoring twice.
The second goal came after one of Everton's players got behind our defence. As he cut across our box, one of our other defenders and I lunged in for the ball. He lost control of it sending himself up in the air and the ball towards the sideline. The ref didn't like what he saw and called it a penalty. I think instant replay could have really helped me out this season.
It was yet another controversy with people saying that diving is now part of the game. As defenders, we are already at a disadvantage, but with more and more forwards now looking for Oscars, and most of the time receiving their prize, I think the only solution is to start up instant replay. It's something I think they should take a look at as soon as possible, because it's starting to tarnish the game. And making defenders look bad in the interim.
The next few weeks will make or break our season. With Charlton coming to our place this weekend, it's another key relegation game. We also have the quarterfinal of the FA Cup, where we'll face Plymouth, a Championship side -- so we have a good chance at making it to the semifinals. Although we are enjoying our cup run, Premiership survival is the No. 1 priority. I just hope we can get maintain our fighting spirit.