Thursday, May 13, 2010

World Stage

TigerBlog Jr. was told that the United States national team was practicing in Princeton prior to the World Cup, and his first response was that he wanted to go watch. When told it was closed to the public, he shrugged.

Then he started to run down some of the names of the players who'd be there: Ryan Boyle, Doc, Paul Rabil, and a few others.

TigerBlog pointed out to TBJ that this was the other World Cup.

TBJ figured it was the U.S. men's lacrosse team who would be on campus, practicing before the World Championships in Manchester, England, this July. Instead, TB steered him back to the correct team, the U.S. soccer team that will be here next week in advance of the World Cup.

Even TigerBlog will admit that the soccer event is bigger than the lacrosse event. Hey, TB is looking forward to the World Cup, which begins next month in South Africa.

The list of preliminary rosters for 31 of the 32 teams was released yesterday. Not shockingly, the only country not to release its roster is North Korea.

Of the 30 names on the U.S. team, TB recognized more than half. This is way up from the number of U.S. players he could name on previous World Cup teams, and this is largely due to: 1) the Fox Soccer Channel, 2) the great job of marketing that soccer has done in the last few years and 3) the fact that soccer is, as TB has said before, a perfect TV sport.

TB was even up on most of the Champions' League stuff, though that one semifinal game where the one team needed to a tie to advance and then went a man-down on a red card early and just packed it in for 70 minutes was soccer at its worst.

Also, TB isn't quite over what happened to Ireland in the final qualifying playoff stage, when an obvious handball by Thierry Henry of France wasn't called, knocking the Irish out.

And TB didn't understand why Conor Casey wasn't on the list for the U.S. team, which still has to be trimmed to 23. Casey was the one who scored the big goals in the final qualifier.

Speaking of trimming the roster to 23, how tough will it be for the seven who don't make the list?

Maybe one reason TB is so into the U.S. team is that it has such strong Princeton connections. It was great to read the wire story and all the other stories online that mentioned how the U.S. would be practicing here all next week.

The reason why, of course, is Bob Bradley, who played at Princeton and who coached the Tigers through the early-1990s, when TB covered a bunch of games for the newspaper, including Princeton's run to the 1993 Final Four.

Bradley coached current Princeton head coach Jim Barlow when Barlow played here in the late 1980s. Bradley's brother Scott is the baseball coach at Princeton.

Bradley left Princeton to take a risk on the new professional soccer league in this country, Major League Soccer, back in 1995, and he would end up being the head coach for three different MLS teams. Eventually, this path led him to the U.S. national team after the 2006 World Cup didn't quite work out for the Americans.

Now who knows what the immediate future holds for him and his team. The Americans start out against England and have a group, unlike four years ago, from which they will be reasonably expected to advance, with games against Slovenia and Algeria after England.

The team showed a year ago at the Confederation's Cup that it could beat the very best teams in the world.

If the U.S. can make a similar run in the World Cup, maybe even get to the semifinals, then Bradley will have stamped himself as one of the hottest coaches in the world. That accomplishment would be one of the great coaching achievements in the history of American sports.

On the other hand, not advancing out of the group four years ago cost Bruce Arena his job as U.S. head coach.

And it sort of starts here, with training camp next week. Closed, of course, to the public.

TB isn't sure about the lacrosse practices.

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