Did You Miss Me?
I’m baack! This is your buddy Jules again and I’m delighted that you could join me for the ribbon cutting ceremony of my new column, The Valentine Chronicles. My undercover act has been blown and every couple of weeks I will brand ussoccer.com with a new installment for your reading enjoyment. I’m cordially inviting you to join the U.S. U-17 MNT Residency down in Bradenton while never having to leave the comfort of your computer room’s swivel recliner or the speedy network connection in your office. My mission for this new series is to give my fans a little insight into the everyday rapture that is U.S. Soccer Residency and my life on the road. Okay, so it’s not always paradise, but you will even be there to share those times of distress with the guys and me.
Before I get the ball rolling today, I just have one question. Did you miss me?
Something to be Proud of
I will kick off today’s installment by going back about a month and giving a special congratulation to a remarkable group of young ladies. Acting as the cyber-voice for the whole country, I would like to say excellent job to the US Women’s National Team and staff for their stellar third place showing in FIFA’s Women’s World Cup. I know that our women were hoping to keep the cup here in the ‘States, but you have done us all more than proud.
There were a couple off-the-field things during the WWC that especially interested me. One was the "The Soap Boxx" from ussoccer.com. This, for those who don’t know, was a clever column written by Shannon Boxx, similar to mine from England/Finland this past summer for our big tournament. "The Soap Boxx" was an inside look into the team’s day-to-day lives during the tournament.
Using her name as a pun, she had a logo that was a cute caricature of Shannon standing on a soapbox. It was similar to those sketches that you pay $85 dollars for on the boardwalk at Virginia Beach. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I am a little bitter and hurt because I WANT A LOGO! Carlos Bocanegra and I didn’t get a logo for our respective columns. All we were given was hideous mug shots, which probably ended up scaring off half of our would-be readers. Well, I speak for myself in that case because Mr. Bocanegra is a good-looking man who could surely squash me with his left hand alone. (I don’t think that a hint could possibly get any more obvious without actually telling the U.S. Soccer Press Department that I would love a logo).
I also enjoyed watching ESPN’s special, "Road Trip" with the U.S. Women. For those of you who missed out on this treat, it was a short, Real World like documentary that followed the ladies as they traveled from city to city in their chartered jet – yes, the women had a chartered jet! The special reminded me of "My Way" and it really showed the different personalities that make up that team and how each member has her own niche. I enjoyed it and it would be great if the U-17s could have a similar special sometime. (Geeze, I am full of hints today!)
American Soccer Television
First off, I would like to thank ESPN and ABC for televising the Women’s World Cup. It was great to see "the beautiful game" on American TV. Saying that, I would like to continue today’s theme of temper tantrums and excessive hinting. The following complaint is directed mainly towards the American media in general.
Here in Bradenton we have a new trailer that we use to change clothes and get ready before training. We have a beautiful Philips 32’ TV and lovely Philips VCR/DVD combo for videos that we like to watch before training. Every Tuesday is a fabulous day because there is great soccer on ESPN. The coaches have to drag us out of the trailer because we finally get the chance to watch our idols on the small screen. But, that is only two hours out of the whole week. There is "Soccer Saturday" which makes it about five hours of soccer on basic cable per week – only five hours. I regret to inform you that there’s over 10 hours of the Teletubbies every week!
My whole life-long struggle came to a head the other day in the trailer before training. Instead of playing a Major League Soccer game or even a match from the Mexican League, we are subjected to the National Lawnmower Racing Finals. Yes, we were forced to watch lawnmowers driving around in a circle. Even though those trimmers can get up to about 90 MPH, it’s just sad that such programming can beat out soccer in our country.
This past week in France was heaven because every time I turned on the tube there was soccer. Europeans, South Americans, Asians, basically everywhere except our great country, is born and bred soccer. It seems that in America, we – meaning anyone who is a big enough fan to read this article – are a minority. We need more soccer on the airways! Okay, okay I’ll step down off my soapbox now.
I’m sorry for my behavior today thus far. Who am I to sit here and demand such things as a logo, a behind the scenes special, a private jet, or more TV time for soccer? I apologize for my offensive behavior and I hope that my hints and demands have not hurt anybody’s feelings. Now I am down off my platform.
Soccer is like war. Before you jump to conclusions about me being insane, please let me explain myself. Soccer is a game of strategy and tactics betweens two sides that are both out to win for their country or team. Sometimes it’s best to exploit the flanks and make a later surge through the middle of the field. Sometimes it’s a low-pressure battle and sometimes it’s a full out barrage of attacking flare.
Often, a side must regroup to accommodate a change in new personnel, such as new soldiers. This year the squadron that is the U.S. U-17 Men’s National Team has enlisted 30 new members, along with an experienced 10 members from last year’s group ready to serve their second term. Being one of three co-captains for this new group, the increased numbers forced a bit of a gasp from me at first. Luckily, Freddy Adu and Danny Szetela (fellow co-captains), Mike Bradley, Tim Ward, Rodrigo Hidalgo, Steve Sandbo, Marcus Rein, and Christian Jimenez are all back in Bradenton for our second year acting as leaders for the new group of ‘88s.
Forty is a lot of players; a lot of guys to keep in line! But, the larger number of players should be a good change. It also allows for a high level, leading to competitive sessions between quality players every day. We push each other to get better because nobody’s spot is safe. It also gives a bigger pool to choose from for events, allowing the best possible team for a travel roster, no matter the age. Of course, there is still a lot to learn for many of the newcomers, but that will come with time.
So far, all is well in the "basic training" stage and the new players seem to be gradually adjusting to the environment of responsibility, self-sufficiency, and "serious fun" here in Residency. In spite of a "lack luster" showing by the ‘88s in Argentina, yielding three losses, the view towards the future is a still an optimistic one. There is a lot to learn for the newcomers, but hopefully it will come in the not-too-distant future. The "Road to Peru" – where the 2005 Under-17 World Championship will be held – has begun. I know that we just finished our "Road to Finland" but things never really end around here. There is always a greater, long-term goal to shoot for. We shoot for the stars. Okay, I’m finished with the inspirational speaking.
Rugrats in Paris
The older half of the Residency group (the ‘87s and one phenomenal ‘89), along with up-and-coming ‘88s Ryan Soroka, Quavas Kirk and Richard Edgar, recently took a trip to the fabled land of smooth-talking Romeos, wine, cheese and bread. Trust me, it was not the food that drew us overseas because it was surely a sub-par performance by our hotel in the cuisine department. Even the girls there were below average by most of the team’s standards. It was the allure of an international tournament held just outside of Paris. Asian power Japan, rugged Poland, and the host France joined us in a "round robin" style tournament.
We kicked off our tournament against a feisty, never-say-die Japanese team. We played a brilliant first half of soccer, with quick ball movement, technical dominance, and attacking flare. Yet, we had nothing to show for our efforts at the half. We came out in the second half similar to the way we left off. Then, against the run of play, disaster struck as the Japanese got a fluky corner kick goal. The ball was played near post and lightly flicked on, past three of our defenders. It found a streaking runner back post who "kneed" the ball in the goal. Now, we were down 1-0 and began to push for a goal as time ran out.
With five minutes left on the clock, we sent numbers forward on a free kick from near half-field, hoping for a knock down goal or a header. A Japanese defender cleared the ball into the midfield, starting what I angrily dub "the counter attack of the century." Seventy yards from our goal, the Asians began a five on two counter attack. They were able to finish their chance, as a good team would, and took the game 2-0 in the end. The general agreement in the locker room after this game is that we beat ourselves. Sometimes that happens. But not to take anything away from the Japanese team, the took care of business.
In our second game we were matched up against a group of huge Polish brutes. Once again, we had most of the play during the first half going into half time with a 2-1 lead. Freddy Adu had two goals in the first half. One was a break away finish and the other was a beautiful piece of play crossed by Rodrigo Hidalgo on the right side that was pounded into the side netting by Freddy’s head. Maybe it’s Freddy’s new Pele-like mini afro hairdo that added to the power on his final blast into the side netting. Not only does he play more and more like Pele every day, but I swear that Freddy is starting to resemble the timeless Brazilian hero as well.
The second half was a much different game with Poland literally on the attack. It was a dirty half with countless foul play and cleats-up slide tackling. Freddy scored again, making that another hat trick for his personal stat sheet and making the score 3-1. Poland notched a last minute goal at the end regulation as they pushed men forward but in the end we were victorious 3-2. Credit to Poland: they were a solid side. We prevailed with a victory, but left the field with battle scars to show for our hard work.
On the final day of competition, we lined up against the French selection. They had won their first two games by a score of 7-0 and showed no signs of a slip up. All in all, it was a good "soccer game." Both teams were technical with quality chances, well organized in defending, and good in game plan execution. It was the game of the tournament. To make a long story short, the French team beat us in the end by a score of 2-0. Once again, the goals came late as we pushed numbers forward, needing to get a win to take first place.
Soccer is a funny game. Sometimes the best team doesn’t win. Of course I am extremely biased, but we probably should have flown back to the ‘States with the first place trophy. I guess it just wasn’t meant to be. However, a special congratulation goes to my band mate, Marcus Rein, for getting "Goalkeeper of the Tournament" honors. Marcus had an absolutely brilliant tournament. Also credit is due to Freddy Adu for taking home the "Golden Boot" award for his outburst against Poland.
Well folks, I’ve got some homework to do and a sinus infection/chest cold to take care of, so that’s it for today. Make sure that you have ussoccer.com bookmarked so that you can regularly check for updates and for my next installment. You can expect my next article in a couple weeks. Well, that is assuming that I keep my "job." My behavior was a bit out of line today and I hope that ussoccer.com chooses to keep me around for the future. Anyways, take it easy, and I will see you before long.