Wednesday, January 23, 2008

US Soccer making the headlines lately.

With the USMNT coming off of an important 2-0 victory over a domestic heavy Sweden side, focus has primarily changed over to the February 6th match up in Houston with Mexico.

I say that the 2-0 win was important because not only was important for Bob Bradley and his charges to start the season off on the right foot, but it gave those who were the rookies in camp a very good taste of the international level, without suffocating them with an intensive, emotional type of match... just like the Mexico matches. Bob has started 2008 just as he did with the 2007 campaign, so hopefully we will see the same type of success as we saw last season.

One difference from last year to this year is that the USMNT seem to be getting ready to break out the passports earlier this year. The confirmation of the match up against Poland on March 26th in Europe is a very welcome sign for the build up for the start of World Cup Qualifying. Yes it seems that we are always playing against Poland in some way shape or form, but as Bradley has already shown that only a few of the guys who made the trip to Kaiserslautern in 2006 will be on this trip in March. Giving Freddy, Josy, Feilhaber, Little Bradley, Edu all a taste of international matches in Europe, especially against a side that will be in full gear for the Euro Championships is as good a learning experience as anyone can ask for.

Following up that trip to Poland, it seems that the Yanks will be heading over to the Iberian Peninsula for a match up against Spain, this scheduled for June 4th. This is one match up that I am really stoked for. Playing Spain over in Europe is one of possibly the top five best types of matches that the USMNT can schedule. This is a definite gold mine of a match.

This still leaves the March 21st FIFA date open, one that I hope is utilized as an away match as well, maybe against Belgium, or Denmark as they both have that match date open (according to Hell, England seems to be without a match scheduled that date and as they seem to have an open summer schedule, they might want to try and get a match penciled into their schedule quick. Why not try and have the USMNT take on Capello's boys at Wembly in March?

Having the first of the two March matches in England would make it easy for most of the European based players, as most play in England. Hell, Eddie Johnson just joined up with Fulham with a new three and a half year contract. EJ joins Deuce & Bocanegra as current USMNT players. Depending on his health and if he gets a call up, Kasey Keller might make the list of Fulham Yanks as well.

I think that this is a good move for EJ. He is going to get a very different view of how soccer is played and how you get a spot on the roster. He is going to have to be tough on the training pitch and fight against guys who have been doing the training pitch scramble for years, while he was assured of a spot in Dallas and in Kansas City. Just like how having to fight for a starting job seemed to have lifted Freddy's play in Benfica, EJ should get a lift in his play. Hopefully that carries over to the USMNT. Hopefully Fulham avoid getting relegated and remain in the Premier League, but it isn't looking good.

2007 was great season for the USMNT. The team was able to move younger players into spots that were getting vacated by the old guard and they were still able to pick up wins and impress on the pitch. They were able to retain the CONCACAF Gold Cup and book a trip to South Africa for the World Cup preview tournament in 2009, coming back from a goal down to Mexico in their greatest match in recent history. Bradley took a very raw and inexperienced side down to the Copa America and was able to see who would sink and who could swim, and regardless of the match results, I am certain that the travel and tournament experience that the players and coaching staff got out of the Copa America will help us out in World Cup Qualifying and in the finals.

The year was also a great one for the fans. The supporters were able to finally get the sour taste of 2006 Germany out of our mouths and we could celebrate again as Donovan hit a hat trick against Ecuador and as Feilhaber hit his Goalazo against Mexico to win the Gold Cup. We were able to embrace the younger players who stepped up to fill the voids left by Renya, Pope & McBride.

Following the 2-0 victory over Sweden last weekend, the 2008 season seems to have picked up right where the 2007 season left off.



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