Jeff Agoos, a veteran of training camps leading up to the World Cup finals in 1994 and 1998, talks about the unique dynamics of preparing a team in a World Cup year, and what the players will face in the next six months...
After a challenging and successful 2001, it's time for everyone to get focused on the most important task of any national team - preparing to represent your country at the World Cup. It's certainly been rewarding to take a moment to think about everything this team has accomplished over two years of hard work, but now the players, coaches and staff have turned their attention to the mission of building a team that has a chance to be successful this summer in Korea. And the mission has begun here in Claremont.
Training camp so far has been physically tough. The concentration is to increase our fitness level in the January camp to be ready not only for the Gold Cup but also for a rigorous lead up to the World Cup this summer. The mentality so far is very positive and competitive. Every player knows that every opportunity is important at this stage of the game.
This build up in January is very different than from a MLS preseason. The main difference is that the MLS preseason is based on a seven or eight-month season. With the national team, we have the Football Confederation Gold Cup right off the bat, followed by a game in Italy. The window of opportunity to get ourselves ready both mentally and physically is very short, and we must take advantage of the time we have.
In reflecting on the journey of World Cup qualifying, the most important lesson we learned as a unit is to never take anything for granted. I think, mentally, we took a bit of break after we took a lead in the first half of qualifying. We can not do that again. In terms of our team, we need to work on our passing and finishing as well as defending together as a team. This will be a process but, I think, a fruitful one.
As we progress into the year and continue to navigate the course of preparing for Korea, every game has to be treated as if it were an actual World Cup game. This is especially necessary in the Gold Cup since it is a tournament format, and there are not many opportunities to simulate this format prior to the actual event. Therefore, the preparation for Gold Cup as well as the other friendlies is crucial to our success this summer.
One of the difficult elements of this process is trying to develop a group mentality within the team and at the same time compete for a place on the final roster. I've been through it now three times and it's very hard to know that some of the people you not only compete with but are close friends with will not be there for World Cup. You never know. Anything can happen to anyone, including myself. Therefore, you have to do your best all the time which is all you can ask.
As I said, this is my third time participating in the run-up to a World Cup, and for me personally it is both exciting and humbling. You are very excited because this is what you have worked for since you were a kid playing in your backyard. The World Cup is the pinnacle of anyone's soccer career. However, nothing - and I mean nothing - can be taken for granted. That was something I certainly learned from experience. While I wish I could have contributed more during '94 and '98, it certainly was a learning process for me and I wouldn't be here in '02 without them.
This is an important time for soccer in this country, and soon the national team will take the spotlight. We are certainly going to give everything we have, and I hope America will stand behind us and support us no matter what our results. One thing needs to be pointed out, and that is this is our fourth-consecutive World Cup appearance. There are very few teams in the world that can claim that accomplishment, and as members of the soccer community we should all be very proud. But it doesn't end there. We will go out this summer with the mindset of winning every game we can, and we look forward to sharing the experience with everyone who has been with us along the way.