Thursday, June 2, 2011

Notes from USMNT Camp... Steve Cherundolo to MLS? Tim Howard the GM?

USMNT in Cary, NC
Last Saturday I had the opportunity to sit in on USMNT practice as they prepared for their friendly against Spain and the Gold Cup. The MLS players were not yet in camp as many of them had to play that night.

Beyond that the European boys were in, with the exception of Freddy Adu and Carlos Bocanegra.
Watching the team train was an experience I’ll keep with me for a long time. There were moments where it was difficult not notice how hard the team pushed each other. There were also moments where I chuckled to myself at the simple things and watching these men enjoy themselves on the field.

 The training was no different than any other high level team training, but what was most notable was the speed of play. Bob Bradley remained vocal throughout the session. He spoke often about the timing of runs and keeping a high speed of play. If ever there was a slow moment, Bradley’s voice was heard above the players, demanding they move the ball.

Drills such as possession, 5 v 5 with neutrals and small sided scrimmages all followed quick passing drills. Players yelled at one another, pursuing the perfect pass or congratulating a well timed tackle. Voices were heard constantly.

Rob Kinnan Photography

The training session lasted roughly an hour and a half. Several players worked on specific things after practice, particularly finishing. Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Sacha Kljestan and Jermaine Jones all took shots from eighteen yards out and were surprisingly accurate in their finishes. Marcus Hahnemann was particularly fun to watch as he repeatedly extended himself to parry shots away. Evident in particular was the dedication of the younger Bradley. Michael was working on finishing after practice and then continued past the teams regular fitness work to do more on his own. It was impressive to watch.

After training Steve Cherundolo and Tim Howard spoke to the media.

Quick words from Cherundolo:

“The group is really good and we all get along. Its’ like a family here so it’s really nice to be back.” The veteran defender said as he reflected on the new and old faces coming in. “Seeing the younger generation now, they’re further along than I was at that age. That’s the process that needs to continue for US Soccer and at a healthy pace.”

Rob Kinnan Photography
Cherundolo was asked how long he could see himself in the U.S. picture in the coming years. It looks as though he’s prepared to help in whatever way he can. His answer showed the maturity of a player who is not only experienced, but an experienced leader.

“As long as I can contribute to the group then I’m happy to be here. When my time is up, whether that’s tomorrow or after the World Cup 2014 then so be it. I’m happy to be a part of it and when it’s over it’s over.”

Still on the topic of his future Cherundolo made a comment that is worth noting…

“Absolutely, I plan on coming home playing in MLS…if MLS still needs someone of my stature. If I can help an MLS team later in my career then I would love to come home.”

Cherundolo would be an asset to any MLS team. The veteran defender brings with him experience, locker room presence, a healthy bit of prestige and a quality soccer brain. He has a healthy history of fitness and would be a value to the league. Count me in the group that hopes for him to wear an MLS jersey.

Quick words from Howard:

Rob Kinnan Photography
On whether or not there is a pressure to win the Gold Cup. “There is an expectation and we do feel pressure. It qualifies us for the next Confederations Cup and we desperately want to go back to.” Howard reiterated that the pressure is a healthy one and not necessarily something that weighs over the team.

Looking at the younger players in camp and on the roster, Howard seemed encouraged.

“We’ve had some new faces in, they’ve shown well and integrated into the team well. I think that’s the best way to build a team… to bring some guys in on the fringe and incorporate them and they’ve done a good job.”

Howard, a senior member of the national team, and a veteran of Manchester United  and Everton has been part of some big rivalries. When looking at the potential showdown with Mexico in the Gold Cup, Howard had this to say about the competition between the rivalry between the two teams.

Rob Kinnan Photography
“It’s up there with the biggest and the most heated. As a U.S. player that’s how you measure yourself, in how you play in a game vs. Mexico.”

Then what awaits Tim Howard down the road? He’s gone on record saying he does not want to be a player pushing forty and still in the professional game. The natural question is if coaching awaits him. He answers this with a chuckle and no hesitation,  “Definitely not coaching, I’d make a very bad coach.”

If not coaching, what then? “I’d like to be somewhere in the front office, wearing a suit.”

Tim Howard the General Manager? I could see it. Years of experience in both MLS and in Europe at some of the most competitive clubs in the world. Certainly there is knowledge to be imparted there. In talking to him though, he seems to think that future comes in Major League Soccer; “That would be nice, I’m not a hundred percent certain but it’s a thought.”

Rob Kinnan Photography
Before Tim Howard was with Manchester United and then Everton, he was in MLS with New York. The club has changed quite a bit in the time since Howard left but despite this, Howard is encourage by the clubs production of national teamers. He’s right to be.

The roster of players going through the New York system includes Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Tim Ream, Juan Agudelo and of course Howard himself. It’s not hard to imagine Howard being involved in some sort of management or player development.

Two national team legends who appear willing to bring their knowledge and various talents to MLS in the future. It’s certainly nice to see  that Major League Soccer holds merit in the minds of over-seas Americans with so much to offer. 

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