U.S goalkeeper Brad Friedel enters the 12th year of his international career having reached the upper echelon with both club and country. U.S. fans haven't seen "Big Brad" since his outstanding performance in the 2002 World Cup, backstopping the U.S. to a quarterfinal finish in Korea/Japan. That same year at Blackburn, he became the first American ever to be named to the Professsional Footballer Association's Team of the Year in England.
Now 32 years old, Friedel makes his return to the national team as preparation for 2006 World Cup qualifying kicks into high gear. ussoccer.com spoke with Friedel about his time off, the memories of the last meeting with Poland, and his feelings about moving forward with the U.S. program ...ussoccer.com: Coming off the success of the 2002 World Cup, this has been your longest absence from the national team since your career began in 1992. How does it feel to get back?
Brad Friedel: “I took time off after the World Cup because my wife Tracy was pregnant with our first child and I wanted to have our last summer alone. I think directly after the World Cup is also a great time for Bruce to start looking at a lot of younger players and possible changes in position and things of that nature. Now coming up to qualifying I think Bruce will want to see as many of the veteran players as possible. This is my time to come in and I’m excited about it. I’ve never been to Poland, so it will be an experience in that manner as well.”
ussoccer.com: You haven't been to Poland, but certainly you have experience against them. What are your memories of the loss in the World Cup?
BF: “It was funny because they went into the game having lost their first two games, and we heard they were resting about six or seven players, which they did. We probably went into that game a little light-hearted to be honest with you. Therefore, we lost 3-1 and I think they had a couple other chances including a penalty that could have made it 4-1. It wasn’t a great day for us, but we went to the second round anyway.”
ussoccer.com: Were you aware that your penalty save against Poland put you in the World Cup record books?
BF: “I don’t play for records or worry what other people think to be honest with you. I don’t really take notice of stuff like that.”
ussoccer.com: Well, it did. Only one other ‘keeper in history has saved two penalties in the first round.
BF: “Well, there you go.”
BF: “The biggest difference is we had a large overturn. If you look back a year ago today we have 16 or 18 different players on the roster, which is a lot. Saying that, it’s not that we had better players last year or worse players this year, it’s just that we have new players and whenever you have new players it’s going to take time to gel. This year we’ve also had a couple key players get injured. One example is Barry Ferguson, who is a fantastic player, who got injured and has been out for five or six months. It’s just been one of those seasons. The funny thing about it is that the league is really, really tight and with a good run at the end of the season we have every chance to finish in eighth or ninth. I think we’re only six points out of central position. We have big games coming up with Portsmouth, Leeds, Leicester, and Birmingham at home, so we have a decent run in us, provided that we play well and get the points when they are available. With all the frustrating times during the season and all the gelling so to speak, hopefully we can finish in a respectable position and carry on next year.”
ussoccer.com: Have you followed the national team at all during your absence?
BF: “I’ve watched a few games. Last summer I watched two of the Confederation Cup games, very little of the Gold Cup games, and saw the highlights of the Holland game. Obviously, I looked at the results. Sometimes when I know a bunch of the guys on the roster I don’t watch because I know what they are going to do. I do keep tabs on them a little bit and I do get reports from friends of mine that watched the game.”
ussoccer.com: With the 2006 World Cup qualifying campaign quickly approaching, are you excited to get back into the national team program?
BF: “Yeah. It is always a little bit sad not to play with your country when games are going on, but at the same time it works to your benefit so when a game does come along you don’t get stale or anything of that nature because it seems a little bit like a new experience all over again. I haven’t seen our roster yet for Poland, but I’m sure there will be some players I’ve never played with before, so that is always good to see. And with the way soccer in America has been improving, I’m sure there is going to be some young talent out there that I’ll be pleased to see.”
ussoccer.com: With the success of the team in '02, and the improving standard around the region, do you think this qualifying campaign will be harder than the last time around?
BF: “I think each and every qualifying session will be harder and harder as the years go by. I think it will be very difficult to play teams like Honduras, Costa Rica, Jamaica and even the likes of Trinidad away from home. Canada will make a presence as they have some good players. I still think playing Mexico away and at home will be tough games. So, yeah, I think it is going to be harder. I think as the years go by and America gets better and better, we become the underdog less and less. It's easier to play games when you are the underdog. I think we still should have enough quality to get us qualified. And if we are lucky enough to qualify, then who knows in the World Cup. You have no idea who’s going to catch form when, where, how or why. Look at France last time, they were out and they still have arguably the best players in the world on one team. So, who knows? There’s no rhyme or reason some time.”