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On the Field - by Wade Barrett

San Jose Earthquakes defender Wade Barrett is spending his first extended period with the U.S. Men's National Team as the team continues its first training camp of 2003 in Bradenton.  Here, Barrett talks about his preparation prior to his arrival, the challenges of playing at the international level, and his future prospects.  The U.S. will take on Canada in an international friendly Saturday, January 18 at Lockhart Stadium in Ft. Lauderdale.  Kickoff for the match is set for 7:30 p.m. ET, and the match is available live via pay-per-view for $19.95 on DirecTV.

I’m certainly happy to be back with the national team.  As a player, it’s the highest level you can reach, and I constantly look forward to improving myself and gaining as much experience as possible.

I had quite a long absence from the national team programs.  I was involved in camps with the U-18’s, and was a regular with the U-20’s in the 1994 CONCACAF qualifying tournament.  Our team went to Honduras and failed to get out of the first round, and that was the end of my national team experience until last year.  For one, I had a long way to come as a player. But perhaps some of the struggles we had in San Jose in the early going prevented some of us from establishing ourselves.  In the early years, I never really fit into whatever style we had.  I felt I was good enough to be on the field, but I kept switching positions and never really had a home at any one position.  When Frank Yallop came aboard, he finally established my spot as the left back on the team.  It’s nice to know your job, so you know what you need to work on.  Better to be a master of one than a jack of all trades.

From about mid-December I knew I was getting called back into camp. Based on the coach’s comments after the El Salvador match in November, I had a good idea that’s what they wanted, but there’s no such thing as a guarantee with the national team.  I had an all right performance in that game. Not terrible, not great. I guess it was good enough to get me another shot, which is always what you want.

Prior to coming to Bradenton, we all got an e-mail from the fitness coach, so I had a sense of how to prepare before arriving.  For a player like myself, who is just getting his first look at the national team, you don’t have the luxury of coming into camp and not being fit.  For a lot of the players, the coaches already know their training habits and their capabilities.  I needed to start on the right foot, so I put a lot of work into getting ready.  Unfortunately, in San Jose, there aren’t a lot of people around to help simulate good playing conditions, so you have to do the best you can. I like running, and out in the Bay Area there are beautiful outdoor parks in which to hit the trails. I’ve been training hard six days a week.

Heading into the new year and with tournaments like the Confederations Cup and the Gold Cup on the horizon, I know I need to show that I belong here on a regular basis.  That’s what anyone coming in to the program in a new cycle needs to do. There’s a handful of us that are fighting to prove that we belong.  Hopefully the coaches will find out more about me as a player, and I can demonstrate that I deserve to be here.

The first couple days were pretty good.  There’s been a lot of fitness, with testing on the first two days.  Those type of exercises are a good opportunity to show the coaches your level of fitness coming in after a couple months off.  More importantly, you can demonstrate how far you can be pushed, and also prove that you are committed. It’s a year round profession, even if it’s not a year round season, and developing and maintaining good habits is important.   You hope that the coaches recognize that from your effort.

To be honest, the fitness parts of training are the easy part for me. Getting back into playing competitively in the small possession games and the full-sided games on the field is the difficult challenge. Certainly not knocking our club training, because we have great players and great sessions, it is a bit of a different level coming into the national team camp.  From the first day everyone is fighting for a spot on the team.  It’s a little different than when you’re with your club team, and you have the entire season to develop.  Here, you have to make the most of your time, and you need to make an impact from the opening session.

The last couple of afternoons we have played full field matches, and they are competitive right from the start. It’s only the first three days of camp, and already its very intense.  Each afternoon one team has gone up a goal, and the rest of the game you had the other team putting on pressure and pushing hard to win.  Nobody wants to be the guy to walk off the field not having won. To have that from the very beginning indicates how intense life at the national team can be.

From my first training camp in November, I’ve learned that at the international level the emphasis is on making quick and sharp decisions. You need to play faster and be aware of everything that’s happening on the field. It’s not so much about formation; it’s more about mastery of the basic skills like connecting passes, being in the right spot, positioning … it’s all those things that need to be really sharp.  Being solid at those skills will get you a second look.

As I said, you can clearly tell how good the competition is with the players in camp.  Having watched the World Cup, you really got to see how good some of these guys really are, and in training it is just as evident.  Pablo Mastroeni is winning balls in the midfield. DaMarcus Beasley is just amazingly quick, and can get past people better than most players I’ve seen.  The way Clint Mathis finishes; the way Landon Donovan moves with the ball - everybody here has something that makes them standout.  In my position, I think the coaches are looking for more of a role player. You have to fit in with the backline, keeping good communication with the center backs and staying organized.  They also expect you to be able to contribute offensively, which means you have to make good decisions when you have the ball and try to get into the attack as much as possible. All this is happening at an incredibly high speed.

To me, it’s inspiring to see how far you can push yourself. I think the success of the 2002 World Cup team has provided motivation for the guys who want to go to Germany in 2006.  They sent copies of “Our Way”, the U.S. World Cup documentary, to all of us who participated with the national team over the last year, and to watch that tape and see what it was like to be part of that team, that’s something that will stick in the back of my mind as we proceed over the next three years.

While my endeavor with the national team takes off, my professional future remains uncertain. Now at the end of my contract, I’ve been a part of MLS for five years, and I feel a thirst for having a new life experience. I’m certainly happy in San Jose, and if I stay there, I know I will continue to grow as a player. For me, I’ve always had a curiosity about playing in Europe, not only for the great soccer experience, but having the chance to learn a new language and a new culture.  At 26 years old, the timing may be right.  It’s really the first opportunity I’ve had in my career to even explore the options, and if I choose to re-sign with MLS, I may never get that chance.  It’s not an easy decision, because I know I need to be playing consistently in order to continue my chances with the national team.  San Jose would be a great place to continue to develop, but if I’m able to explore some opportunities elsewhere and can find a situation where I think I fit the system and will have the possibility to play, I would at least like to look into it.

Right now, I’m focused on making strides over the next two weeks. The best I can do for myself is to show well in training, give the coaches more information about me as a player, and hopefully get a cap against Canada. From there you look to get called back for the match against Argentina, which would be a great thrill in itself, and we go from there.

As a player, your goal is to test yourself against the very best. That’s what we’re doing here in Bradenton, testing ourselves against the best players in the U.S.  If we can form together as a team over the next couple weeks, then we put our product on the field against someone else’s best, and you see how you do.  That’s what makes this so fun.  There’s always another challenge.