Notes from U.S. Men's National Team Training in Korea
MEDIA FRENZY: U.S. Men's National Team head coach Bruce Arena and his team have been swarmed over by the Korean media since their arrival for Sunday's match against the Korea Republic. The contest is the inaugural game Jeju Stadium in Seogwipo. Nearly a dozen TV cameras, including Japanese, Korean and U.K. television stations, were on hand to greet the American team at Inchon International Airport. U.S. training sessions have been heavily covered as well, as Korean sports reporters jockey to glean as much information as possible from the Americans prior to this weekend's match, and the team's up-coming encounters in the 2002 CONCACAF Gold Cup and the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
ROAD WEARY:The team's first training sessions on Wednesday and Thursday were on the light side as the U.S. players worked on adjusting to the local Korean time zone after the long trip from America. The team traveled by bus from the U.S. training center in Chula Vista, Calif. to Los Angeles International Airport, where they flew to Inchon International Airport, west of Seoul, Korea (a 20-hour trek). The players then boarded a bus for a 40-minute ride to Kimpo, Korea's domestic airport, and flew to Jeju island, the southernmost point of Korea. Finally, the U.S. crew took another 40-minute bus ride past Mt. Halla, Korea's highest mountain (1950 meters above sea-level) before arriving in Seogwipo city, their final destination.
GETTING TO KNOW EACH OTHER: The U.S. and Korea Republic National Teams have been taking their familiarization with each other to new levels recently. In addition to seeing the U.S. drawn into Korea's group in the World Cup, the teams will meet Sunday in a friendly and on Jan. 19 in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. As if that familiarity wasn't enough, the teams have been training almost side-by-side at the same location and at the same time in Seogwipo.
TV UPDATE: The USA-Korea Republic match on Sunday (Dec. 9) will be broadcast tape delayed on Monday (Dec. 10) on ESPN at 1 p.m. ET. Just one month later, the team's will square off in the 2002 CONCACAF Gold Cup opener on Jan. 19 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. That game will be available on pay-per-view at 3 p.m. PT / 6 p.m. ET. The United States has never defeated the Korea Republic, holding an 0-2-1 lifetime record in three previous meetings. The teams last met in a prelude to World Cup USA '94, drawing 1-1 in Fullerton, Calif., in March of that year. The Korea Republic will be making its fifth consecutive appearance in the Finals, having qualified for every tournament since 1986, but have an 0-10-4 lifetime record in the competition. When asked if it was an advantage or disadvantage to be playing the team twice in advance of the tournament head coach Bruce Arena said, "I don't know. We won't know until June 10. We will know them much better than we do now, that is for sure."
ALL-WEATHER TRAINING:At the Olympic Training Grounds overlooking beach-front Seogwipo World Cup Stadium, the all-MLS squad has had to deal with several kinds of inclement weather during their training sessions. Jeju island's winter weather greeted the Americans with rain on Wednesday, and Thursday brought strong, bone-chilling winds along with 30-degree temperatures during their workout. Naturally, the first 50-degree day with calm, clear skies arrived when the U.S. team did not train, but instead travelled north to the DMZ to visit American troops at the border between North and South Korea.
WINNING YEARS: With a win or a draw against Korea, the U.S. Men's National Team will finish with a record above .500 for the third consecutive year (something they have not done since a three-year stretch from 1982 to 1984). With a 22-11-11 mark in three years as head coach of the U.S. Men, Bruce Arena could become the first coach to post three straight winning years in U.S. history. Arena's winning percentage of .625 is the best in U.S. MNT history.
U.S. PLAYERS PREPARE FOR DEBUT: Seven American players on the team's current travel roster can potentially make their U.S. National Team debut during Sunday's match versus the Koreans. Those players are: Carlos Bocanegra (Chicago Fire), Danny Califf (Los Angeles Galaxy), Jeff Cunningham (Columbus Crew), Diego Gutierrez (Chicago Fire), Tim Howard (N.Y./N.J. MetroStars), Manny Lagos (San Jose Earthquakes) and Richard Mulrooney (San Jose Earthquakes). In three years at the helm of the U.S., 29 players have earned their first U.S. cap under Arena.
IRON MAN AGOOS: Jeff Agoos, Major League Soccer's 2001 Defender of the Year and a 11-year veteran of the U.S. Men's National Team will become the most capped player in the world without a World Cup appearance with his next appearance for the U.S. Agoos currently has 116 caps for the U.S., one short of Switzerland's Heinz Hermann (117) for most caps without a World Cup match. Agoos was one of the last players cut from the 1994 U.S. World Cup squad and traveled to France with the 1998 team but did not play in any of the matches there. "Goose" is hoping to end that streak and make his first World Cup appearance when the U.S. makes its first round appearances in 2002 versus Portugal, Korea and Poland.
GAME BALL: The recently-unveiled official match ball of the 2002 FIFA World Cup, the lightweight "Fevernova" ball, which has been receiving mixed reviews from players and fans, will be used in Sunday's match against Korea.