A TOUGH WORKOUT: The U.S. Men’s National Team conducted their second training session since arriving in Lyon, France for the 2003 FIFA Confederations Cup at the Complexe Sportif Limonest. During another warm day, the training began with a half-field game of 9v9 possession with one neutral player. Kyle Martino, Chris Armas and Pablo Mastroeni all filled the role of the neutral player as goals were later added to the game. The team then conducted a scrimmage on a shortened field with regulation-sized goals for about 20 minutes. Before the end of practice the players went through a grueling fitness exercise conducted by strength coach Pierre Barrieu. The players and assistants Glenn Myernick and Curt Onalfo ran for almost 15 minutes straight during the exercise, alternating between short sprints from sideline to sideline and long runs around the field.
CONFEDERATIONS CUP FACT OF THE DAY:When the tournament kicks off on June 18 with the first match between New Zealand and Japan, it will mark the first match ever to be played in Europe in Confederations Cup history. Of the previous 60 matches, 44 were played in Asia (28 in Saudi Arabia, 8 a piece in Japan and Korea) and 16 in North and Central America (Mexico 1999).
Entering into his second Confederations Cup, U.S. midfield stalwart Earnie Stewart is still maintaining the youthful exuberance and focused intensity that has characterized his 13 years with the MNT. The U.S. leader in both World Cup (11) and World Cup qualifying (27) appearances took some time to talk about how this tournament compares to others in the world and its importance for the U.S.
How do you think the Confederations Cup compares with other major tournaments?
Stewart: "I think it ranks between the World Cup and the Gold Cup. It’s more like a European championship."
After the team’s success in the 2002 World Cup, do you think there are greater expectations on the team to perform well going into the Confederations Cup?
Stewart: "People on the outside definitely look at it differently. They expect us to do better than they did in the past. For the team, it’s always the same. You want to win every game when you step on the field."
You were one of five members of this squad who were on the U.S. team that finished in third place at 1999 Confederations Cup in Mexico. What are your memories of that event, and how does this team compare to the ’99 squad?
Stewart: "It was a great tournament. Results were great, and we had a great group of guys. It’s hard to compare the two teams between 99 and now. I think you can only do that when the tournament is over."
A lot of the players on this squad have little or no international experience. What type of lessons can the younger players take from these types of matches?
Stewart: "This tournament is great to get a different perspective on what soccer is like around the world. It’s similar to playing in the World Cup in that you see so many different styles, and you don’t get to play this caliber of teams that much. It’s good for younger players to go through that phase, and not play against the same style all the time. It’s very important for their development, especially at the international level."
With less than a year until World Cup qualifying begins, how important is the Confederations Cup in providing the U.S. team a chance to continue player development?
Stewart: "For us, it’s probably more valuable than other teams, especially from Europe. Most of the players on those teams have played in tournaments like the Champions League and have had long grueling seasons, so they’ve been in these types of pressure games. For us, it’s a little different. We don’t have players that play on elite teams in Europe that play a European Cup game every month, where you can challenge yourself constantly. For the American players, especially those from MLS, it’s important to be exposed to this type of competition."
You’ve often said in the past that you don’t care about your statistics, and you never look too far ahead. But after 13 years and all the ups and downs with the national team, do you start to allow yourself a little bit of perspective now that your international career may be winding down
Stewart: "Of course it’s in the back of your mind a little bit. You think of it more that you want to have a lot of fun, and you don’t take it for granted anymore. You realize that it can’t go on forever, and you enjoy the glorious moments a little bit more than you would in the past. When you’re younger, you step over things very easily. Right now, when you have a good game, you can sit down and think abut it a little more and enjoy it, as opposed to constantly thinking about the next time. I’m still a proud person every time I get to play on the national team."