The U.S. men's national team has been training together in some form for nearly two weeks, in two different locations. A vast pool of players became 30, then 30 became 23. On Tuesday evening in San Francisco, 11 of those 23 will take the field in an official game with the American soccer public watching.
"There's a lot of work right now going on the training field, and it's just great to go out on a real field and measure yourself against an international team, and try to implement that stuff," manager Jürgen Klinsmann told reporters yesterday at Candlestick Park, the site of tonight's World Cup send-off series opener against Azerbaijan, powered by Yingli Solar (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2/Univision). "We want to see that the players have a good understanding of each other on the field. We want to see, step by step, things improving."
The transition to a game-day schedule marks the first of many big steps the team must take in adjusting its physical rhythm before its opening FIFA World Cup match against Ghana. Whereas training in Stanford consisted of two-a-day sessions in hot, sometimes muggy weather, Tuesday's matchup against Azerbaijan will take place on a cool night in the notoriously windy confines of Candlestick. While training sessions focused largely on physical fitness, the team now must begin to show on-field cohesion and chemistry against a committed opponent.
To do so will require a mental evolution as well as a physical one. After two weeks of competing with one another – first for spots on the roster, then for a spot in the starting XI – the U.S. now has a different opponent, and a different way to release the tension of preparing for the world’s biggest sporting event.
“As much as anything, playing matches will start to make the time go by quicker,” said midfielder Michael Bradley. “You get to this point and everyone is so excited. You're counting down the days until the World Cup starts. Now, when the games are coming quick, I think it's something we're all looking forward to.”
- Alex Abnos